Labor Matters: Learn from Exit Interviews

February 26, 2012 06:47 PM


**Extended comments highlighted in blue

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau
I recently received a phone call asking about questions to include in an employee exit interview. No one likes to lose a good employee. When you do, you should take every opportunity to learn from the departing employee and do everything you can to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Ideally, an exit interview is conducted in person, but sometimes that is not possible. Maybe the employee is not comfortable with an interview and would prefer to fill out a questionnaire instead. That is a decision to be made case by case. 

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At the same time, an exit interview should never be mandatory. Do what you can to make departing employees comfortable. Invite them to participate by indicating that you are seeking their input to make things better for the next employee and the business. This is their chance to offer constructive feedback.
It is important to remember that this is also a chance for the employer to learn. That means the interviewer needs to ask leading questions and then listen!
Listening is the hardest part of conducting an exit interview. Many people cannot stand silence; when there is a break or hesitation in the conversation, they feel compelled to speak. Fight that urge. Wait for responses. Give interviewees time to think and frame a response. They might finally respond with something like "I don’t know," but on the other hand, they might give you some really valuable information.
Don’t be defensive or take negative comments too personally. You asked for honest responses, so accept them if they are given. The objective is to learn how to improve your business as a place to work.
Questions should be written out in advance so you can stay on track and learn as much as possible from the interview. You will probably get more honest responses if someone other than the employee’s direct supervisor conducts the interview. You might have a farm consultant or a senior manager do it.
Here are some sample questions:
  • How was your time at our dairy?
  • What specifically did you do?
  • Was this within your abilities?
  • Do you feel you received the proper training?
  • Were the protocols within what you have learned and in accord with your ethics?
  • What is your primary reason for leaving?
  • Were there any procedures or policies that made your job difficult?
  • Would you recommend that a friend work here?
  • Were there some things about working on this farm that you especially liked or appreciated?
  • Would you ever be interested in returning to work on this farm? Why or why not?
  • Are there things or ideas that you can suggest to make this farm a better place to work?
  • Are there important parts of your job (skills or knowledge) that we should make sure are passed along to your replacement?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add?
These are just a few sample questions; some could probably be combined and made more concise. The questions you want to ask may well be different. If you want some ideas, a simple web search for "exit interviews" will connect you to many sites with good basic outlines for exit interviews and lots of sample questions you can use or adapt. Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions after the interviewee’s responses if it is appropriate.
The last step in an exit interview is to thank employees for their contributions to the farm and wish them well. If they were willing to give you an exit interview, your working relationship was probably pretty good. Maintain that relationship with a "thank you" and a handshake. You never know when your paths may cross again and how you might be of help to one another if you part as friends.
Finally, be sure to do something with what you learn from the interview. You might hear some unpopular comments, but you asked the questions because you want to improve. Celebrate and reinforce the positive comments, but also consider the responses that are less than complimentary. Think about how accurate they might be and how they could be addressed to make your farm a better place to work.
Why not make your goal to be the farm employer of choice with potential applicants lined up waiting for an opening? You can be that employer if you take advantage of what you learn from employee exit interviews.


Chuck Schwartau is an Extension Educator at the University of Minnesota. Contact him at

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