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Re-Thinking Exit Interviews (Part 1)

By John Pate - CEO, Founder of

By John Pate On Feb. 23, 2018

Full disclosure: I’ve never been asked to either conduct an exit interview or been on the receiving end of one. As a serial entrepreneur, employee and business manager, one might presume I would have participated, in one form or another, in at least one exit interview over the last 40 years.

Never happened.

Add to this that “everyone” in HR will tell you, “Exit Interviews are a wonderful tool and a best practice for any company.” The contradiction is striking.

So, that’s where’s the disconnect?

Let’s get on the same page. Exit interviews, historically, have been a conversation – in theory, a dialogue – between a person leaving a job/company and that company. Face to face is the typical method but telephone calls and written forms are used as well.

It’s also fair to say that leading one is a “skill”. Just like conducting a job interview, the exit interview requires skill – more skill I submit - because of the wide range of emotions involved. A person who’s leaving or, perhaps, “being left” (fired), does not have the attitude of a job applicant. The applicant has one goal: Get the job. And they will do and/or say whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

Not so for the person leaving a company. If they resigned, you’re communicating with their body because their mind “left the building” the moment notice was given. (Okay, not “everyone”. There are exceptions, but I’ve been hard pressed to find someone (anyone) who’ll disagree with that statement.) I think because, they’ve experienced this scenario enough to know, generally, what’s taking place.

If they were fired - terminated, discharged, let go, sacked (in England) – you decide which phrase is more politically correct – they quit listening the moment you said they no longer had a job. The idea one could glean meaningful information from a person in this state is, to say the least, optimistic.

So, if there’s limited value, why do them?

There are several reasons and here’s just one: Because there are times when a company can learn about behavior so blatantly wrong, it deserves your company’s attention - immediately.

Here’s one example (a true story):

A woman resigned from her job with a multi-unit convenience store company. In her exit interview, she said she’d taken the job because she “was promised full time employment” but her schedule hadn’t reflected that. When asked why, her supervisor told her, because she was married and “had help at home”, the full-time hours were going to people who were single. And then, as punishment for raising the subject, she was sent home for the day, denying her even more hours.

If that story doesn’t make you cringe, you’re in the vast minority of people who’ve heard it. If it didn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re not a business owner. To state the obvious: This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The only missing ingredient is a plaintiff attorney.

Of course, the story is only one version of what happened. It may not be true, but it could be. In the mind of the person who provided the story, it is absolutely true. And in today’s world, it doesn’t take much to turn a “maybe” into reality.

But the only reason the story was heard is because the former employee had the opportunity to provide it. In theory, every former employee should have that opportunity but how can that happen in today’s “do more with less” business model? But assuming it could, consider these three questions:

What are the chances this person would get a “face to face” exit interview with an unbiased company representative?
And, if the exit interview took place, what are the chances the person asked to conduct the exit interview would be someone other than the source of the problem?
Then, assuming either #1 or #2 took place, what are the chances the information would get to the company leadership so corrective action could be taken?
My guess is “slim to none” on all three.

There’s a better way to conduct exit interviews. The information is too vital, too critical, too valuable to your company to not have it. And all you have to do is ask.

To attend a webinar or view a demo, contact

Mar. 02, 2018

Re-Thinking Exit Interviews. What Former Employees are Saying (Part 3)

Author: John Pate

Feb. 24, 2018

Exit Interviews - The Data (Part 2 of 3)

Author: John Pate