Conducting an Exit Interview

Rod Stephens
July 15, 2008 — 1,946 views  
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Your company should have a reason to conduct exit interviews. If that reason is “because everyone else does it,” then my advice to you is reconsider whether you should conduct exit interviews. You should conduct exit interviews only if your motivation is to learn how to improve your team, make your company more competitive, or preempt potential claims.

Ideally, an exit interview it should be conducted in a private office, away from the employee’s usual work area and by an individual outside of the employee’s supervisory chain. The individual selected to conduct the interview should be neutral, non-threatening, and a good listener. Remember, this is an exit interview and not an inquisition.  That means that the exit interview should be a dynamic and interactive process.

The interviewer should commence by establishing the parameters. For example, in many cases the interviewer will explain that the purpose of the interview is to address administrative issues, answer any questions the employee may have about their final paycheck, benefits, COBRA and related issues and obtain the employee’s insights into how the company can be improved. The following issues must be addressed: receipt of final paycheck, entitlement to vacation or sick pay, primary and secondary contact information, the effect of termination on employee benefits, and eligibility for rehiring. In addition, the employee should be provided with copies of company policies on non-disclosure, confidentiality, and the return of company property. As the interviewer proceeds through this process, the employee should be given the opportunity to ask questions.

Successful interviewers use a checklist, admit what they don’t know, and conduct the interview using open ended questions that allow the employee to elaborate on matters of interest to the company. Some suggested questions are:

1. Can you explain the reasons for leaving our company?
2. What aspects of your job do you like the most and what aspects do you like the least?
3. What do you like or dislike about our company’s management?
4. If given the opportunity, what would you change?
5. What prompted your decision to leave?
6. What is it about your new position that makes it more attractive than your current job?
7. Would you ever consider returning to our company in the future? If so, under what circumstances?

If you are aware that the employee has made a claim of discrimination or harassment, then make sure to address the issue with employee. Find out how they felt the investigation was handled and whether it was handled to their satisfaction. If their input is negative, ask the most powerful one word question, “why?” After listening to their answer, ask questions that will assist in determining whether the employee suffered retaliation following their report.

Too often employer’s want to shy away from asking questions that may elicit negative information. Many young lawyers have the same fear. It’s as if they believe that if you don’t ask questions that can elicit negative information, well it must not have happened. The truth of the matter is that if you know the good, the bad, and the ugly, you can take preventive measures. The same holds true when an employee departs. Don’t make the costly mistake of squandering an opportunity to learn about potential claims while memories of the parties and witnesses are fresh. The exit interview is your last opportunity to find out about matters that have of the potential of becoming a lawsuit. At the very least it will allow your organization to commence the damage control process. 

Next week we will discuss what to do if, during the exit interview, you learn there are workplace problems.



Rod Stephens


Rod brings a unique perspective to the table in that he represents management and employees. We feel this allows us to offer a broader perspective to our clients in that we understand cutting edge employment law issues and how they are perceived by management and employees. Employment law matters can require immediate response in times of crisis. On those occasions, you can take comfort in the knowledge that we are prepared to provide the type of response that takes advantage of years of experience.