Asking employees the right questions — at the right time

Exit interviews get mixed reviews among HR professionals. But if you’re going to do them, you need to do them right.

Andrew Lu, writing on FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog, laid out a framework for conducting these goodbye gabfests without getting into legal trouble.

He suggests five steps:

  • Use prepared questions — the same ones, every time. This way, you can’t be accused of targeting specific departing employees with especially snarky or embarrassing questions.
  • Make the exit interview optional. In other words, put the decision of going through the final sit-down in the employee’s hands. If he or she says no, that’s OK; you probably weren’t going to learn much from that person anyway.
  • Stay neutral. Basically, the interviewer should stick with open-ended questions and give the employee time to think about his/her response. Taboo: Questions of a personal or medical nature.
  • Reassure them. Emphasize that nothing said in the exit conversation will be held against the departing worker or affect the kind of recommendation your firm might be asked for in the future.
  • Thank them. Make it clear that such sessions are designed not to rehash what might have gone wrong during the employee’s tenure, but to give HR information that might help the company hang on to its valued workers.

‘Stay’ interviews

There’s another side to this exit interview discussion, and Jacque Vilet, in a blog post on, posed the question:  “Exit interviews? Why don’t we focus on stay interviews instead?”

He described a process whereby a company he worked for got its top performers together, two or three at a time, and asked them a series of questions:

  • Why do you stay at this company?
  • If you have been contacted by a head-hunter, why have you not been interested?
  • What are the things that you enjoy most about your job?
  • If the company could do anything better, what would it be?

The results? Top management loved the feedback — the executives were glad to hear what they were doing right and what could be done to improve retention and morale.

Reprinted with permission from and


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