Tech & Work

Exit interviews: What are they good for?

Everyone I've ever spoken to who has given an "exit interview" to their company upon leaving its employment has always described it with a shrug of the shoulders and a "for what it's worth." Is it me or do exit interviews have an almost mythical reputation for being a waste of time? I've never heard of anything changing at a company as a result of what comes out of an exit interview.

The Pollyanna in me would really like to think otherwise. (And yes, despite the impression I give, there actually is a bit of Pollyanna lurking in me, behind the snarky cynicism and just to the left of that big, heaping helping of apathy.) Believe me, I would really like to hear stories that contradict the fact that exit interviews seem like so much busy work.

I once read an interview in inc. magazine with Michael Bloomberg, before he was Mayor of New York. In it, he said that when someone left his company (Bloomberg Inc, a company he built into a $1.3-billion, 4,000-employee provider of global news and financial and business information), he took it as a personal insult. He considered those leaving to be "contravening his code of loyalty" and he didn't wish them luck or even shake their hands on their way out the door. He couldn't have cared less about what came out of an exit interview, unless an entire department left at once and that would signal a problem to him. (You have to wonder, though, how he would define loyalty when business cuts or layoffs were called for?)

Now, if I'm honest with myself, I'd say that if I owned a company and someone left my employment when something better came along, I would feel a little hurt. It's human nature. But I would make sure that the leaving was for something better and not because of a problem with my company. I wouldn't want an exit interview just to be an exercise in "See how it looks like we care?" The truth of the matter is that people are conditioned to look out for themselves in the corporate world because the corporate world has not made a great practice of loyalty itself. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't heed the thoughts of those employees as they leave.

I've been around long enough to know that there are also people who cause great rejoicing in management circles when they turn in their resignations. The manager is all like, "You're leaving I really hate to hear that but I hear that Amway is a great opportunity can I help you with the door on your way out, buh BYE!" But even those people could have some insight that could improve your company's functioning. You should never be afraid of feedback. It gets me how easily people will ask the opinions of others for things as trite as, say, the way an outfit looks, but will shy away from getting feedback about things that really matter. Exit interviews could answer questions like, "Is there sexual discrimination going on in my company?," "Is the behavior of one of my managers causing problems?", or "Does my company's butt look big in this mission statement?" OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the point.

I'd like to hear from HR managers about their take on exit interviews. I'd also like to hear from those who have given them. Do you think they were seriously looked at?

About Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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