Exit Interviews: 6 Questions to Gain the Utmost Value From Lost Talent


I help talent leave. For many of them, change is hard. It inconveniences them, disrupts their rhythms, and makes them feel very uncomfortable and uncertain, even if it excites them at the same time. By the time people come to me to help them, they are usually in pain. Sometimes it’s even physical.

Most people will try everything else before they actually follow through with any plans to leave, unless they are getting tapped by recruiters who wave more money and better conditions and growth opportunities at them.

Resignation – a great word that describes both the state of mind of people who decide that there are few to no options left, and the act of leaving a job itself.

According to CultureAmp data, the top reasons talent leaves a company are lack of growth opportunities, poor leadership, and poor managers, in that order. Sometimes the managers or leaders get blamed for a poor or non-existent talent development system.

There is more loss to talent resignation than just losing a single person, their skill, their intelligence, and their experience. I speak about that here. The bleeding can be profuse.

The best way to control the bleeding, if you can’t stop it, is to conduct, or have a 3rd party conduct, exit interviews.

I asked the Quora community what they would tell their former boss if they could be sure there would be no negative consequences. One person answered and another upvoted that they wouldn’t burn a bridge by giving them negative feedback. Yes, the question was specific about their being no negative consequences, but it just goes to show that some people will still fear consequences, even if you tell them there are none. For this reason, you may want to engage a firm like Epic Careering to procure more truthful feedback.

If you want to keep the feedback coming and truly prevent future losses of talent, don’t punish employees and former employees with negative references or diminished separation packages. In fact, go the other direction.

Offer any separated talent an incentive to provide comprehensive feedback via an exit interview. A moral incentive is that their leaving is not in vein and it will serve the people they have to leave behind. Many of my clients’ driving reason for staying in a job so long is because of the people they feel they may now screw over by leaving.

A monetary incentive may be more effective, but you have to make sure people don’t feel paid off for a positive review. It may even be better for the monetary incentive to come from the 3rd party in the way of a $100 gift card, much the way surveys and studies do it.

If you decide to conduct your own, even if through your company’s human resources department, here are primary questions to ask:

  1. What could the company or your manager have done differently to prevent you from wanting to leave?
  2. Did you confront your manager about your reasons for wanting to leave prior to making the decision, and, if not, why not?
  3. What do you think the company and its leaders can do to make X a better company to work for?
  4. Would you refer a friend or family member to this company as either a customer or employee? If so, why, and if not, why not?
  5. Is there anyone you would like to recommend to fill your position? Please provide their name, contact information and why you feel they would be a good fit.
  6. What was the best part of working for this company?

Exit interviews aren’t the only way to uncover why the company is losing talent so that an effective solution can be identified. Glassdoor is another way, but by the time the information is out there, it’s for the whole world to see.

If someone really feels strongly about their experience, good or bad this may or may not prevent them from going straight to Glassdoor with their rating. However, giving them this outlet may prevent those who would use Glassdoor simply to help leaders learn a lesson for the sake of all who remain and all who may consider employment.

If you don’t currently have a way for employees to share their feedback while still on the job, you are probably guessing how to keep your employees. Some companies guess wrong and think that benefits are going to keep employees around.

This is what we refer to as “golden handcuffs.” They may keep employees around longer than they would, but they don’t keep employees engaged. Engagement surveys can help you assess this, but not all are created equally, and still, if they are conducted internally, as I share in the video I mentioned above, the honesty a company needs to prevent future losses of talent can be muted. Delegate to a 3rd party firm like Epic Careering.

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, will be an Associate Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department in 2019,  and is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.

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