An exit interview is a survey conducted with an individual who is separating from an organization or relationship. Most commonly, this occurs between an employee and an organization, a student and an educational institution, or a member and an association. An organization can use the information gained from an exit interview to assess what should be improved, changed, or remain intact. More so, an organization can use the results from exit interviews to reduce employee, student, or member turnover and increase productivity and engagement, thus reducing the high costs associated with turnover. Some examples of the value of conducting exit interviews include shortening the recruiting and hiring process, reducing absenteeism, improving innovation, sustaining performance, and reducing possible litigation if issues mentioned in the exit interview are addressed. It is important for each organization to customize its own exit interview in order to maintain the highest levels of survey validity and reliability.
The exit interview fits into the separation stage of the employee life cycle (ELC). This stage, the last one of the ELC, spans from the moment an employee becomes disengaged until his or her departure from the organization. This is the key time that an exit interview should be administered because the employee’s feelings regarding his or her departure are fresh in mind. An off-boarding process allows both the employer and employee to properly close the existing relationship so that company materials are collected, administrative forms are completed, knowledge base and projects are transferred or documented, feedback and insights are gathered through exit interviews, and any loose ends are resolved.
Exit interviews in business are focused on employees that are leaving a company or when employees have completed a significant project. The purpose of this exit interview is to glean feedback from employees in order to improve aspects of the organization, better retain employees, and reduce turnover. During this interview employees will be asked why they are leaving, what specifically influenced their decision to leave, whether or not they are going to another company and what that company they are going to offers that their current company does not. Businesses can use this information to better align their HR strategy with what employees look for in an organization and enact programs and practices that will influence top talent to stay at the organization.
In the past, exit interview data was being collected by the organization but not much was being done in terms of interpreting the data and making it actionable. Today there are metrics, analytics, benchmarks, and best practices that help organizations make sense of and use the data towards proactive organizational retention programs. Recently an array of exit interview software has been developed and popularized. These programs facilitate and streamline the employee separation process, allow surveys to be completed via the web, make separation and retention trends easy to identify, and amass actionable data which can increase organizational effectiveness and productivity. Additionally, some of these programs make it possible to quantify data gleaned from the surveys to more accurately understand why employees are leaving the organization.
Common exit interview questions
Common questions include reasons for leaving, job satisfaction, frustrations, and feedback concerning company policies or procedures. Questions may relate to the work environment, supervisors, compensation, the work itself, and the company culture.
- "What are your main reasons for leaving?"
- "What did you like most/least about the organization?"
- "What, if improved, would have caused you to stay at the organization?"
- "Would you recommend the organization to others as a good place to work/study/join?"
Exit interview participation rates vary depending on the method used to conduct the exit interviews. Paper-and-pencil exit interviews provide the lowest participation rates at approximately 30 - 35%. The highest participation rates are achieved using online exit interviews. The average participation rates for organizations using online exit interviews is 65%. 
Exit interviews in education are conducted with students who have graduated from an educational institution. These interviews are meant to gather information about students’ experience while attending that institution, what they benefited from, what was missing, and what could be improved to enhance the experience of the next generation of students who attend that institution. This type of interview can also point to areas in which the institution should invest more or less resources to enhance a student’s learning and development experience.
Exit interviews in associations are administered to members who decide to end membership with an association. These interviews provide feedback to an association regarding what caused the member to leave, what can be improved, and how resources can better be allocated.
Methods for conducting exit interviews
There are various methods of conducting exit interviews, each with their benefits and disadvantages with regards to the depth of participation, various biases that may happen, or the format of the information gathered.
- Voice - In-Person or Telephone
A voice interview can be conducted by an internal agent (i.e. an HR department) or an external agent (i.e. HR exit interview consulting firm). Questions are normally asked in a structured order. Voice interviews allow for higher complexity and depth of participation than other methods, because it allows the interviewer to pose follow-up questions, capture ideas through tone indications, probe for answers and clarifications, and ask for examples. However, this allows for bias on the part of the interviewer and the interviewee. This bias can represent itself in the way a question is asked and the length of an answer to a question. Also, an employee may find it difficult to verbalize constructive critique (particularly when the interview is conducted face-to-face) due to social pressure not to upset the other participant (the interviewer).
A voice interview needs to be administered by a professional, and while this allows for higher quality data to be gathered, it is the most expensive option. Data collected needs to be entered manually into a tracking system.
Exit interviews taken in paper form allows interviews to be conducted with those who do not have Internet access, and allows for the option of anonymity. However, it takes longer to receive feedback, and respondents who are not literate would find it difficult to use this medium. Information must also be entered into a tracking system manually for this medium.
- Web - Exit Interview Management Systems
Interviews conducted through a Web interface have the advantage of having a high reliability, flexibility, and privacy[clarification needed], as it is completed by the respondent. The exit interview would also be accessible at the convenience of the respondent, anywhere where the respondent can find Internet access, and they would receive quick feedback. However, a respondent would not be able to complete the interview if they do not have Internet access and may find it difficult if they are not literate or have sufficient technical knowledge.
This method has a low administration cost, and data is entered automatically into any relevant system. Statistics and reporting information can be accessed in real time.
- Interactive Voice Response
IVRs are reliable methods of taking exit interviews because they are accessible by phone, a very widespread and reliable technology. However, IVRs have fallen out of favor due to the cost effectiveness of web based options that yield data at similar or higher quality. In comparison to other options, it is difficult to get rich data from an IVR, or to adjust and change it, since any changes require new voice recordings to be made.