Monday, January 15, 2001

Exit interviews debated

Self-interest may taint information

By Janie Magruder
Arizona Republic

        One thing President Clinton won't have to do this week before he leaves his job of eight years is participate in an exit interview. There's no boss to conduct the conversation anyway.

        But many job-hopping Americans, including the estimated 5.1 million workers who were reported in a recent federal Monthly Labor Review to be looking for new jobs, are being asked to tell their present employers what got them searching for a new one in the first place.

  Be prepared to answer these questions, which could surface during your exit interview:
  • What are the reasons you decided your career goals could not be met here?
  • Did you speak with your supervisor or anyone in management or human resources concerning your career goals?
  • What could have been done to make your job more rewarding?
  • What would you change here?
  • What makes the company a good place to work? And a poor place?
  • How does your new position compare with your old job in terms of responsibilities, opportunity to achieve goals, environment, supervisor and pay/benefits?
        “Turnover is an obsession with most companies because of the tight labor market,” said Peter Hom, an Arizona State University management professor and author of the new book Retaining Valued Employees. “It's a pervasive concern.”

        While some companies use exit interviews to try to persuade departing employees to stay, others want information on what's good and bad about the work environment and what opportunities and benefits the employees are seeking elsewhere.

        Still, Mr. Hom said he's skeptical of exit interviews, saying they're not the most accurate way of obtaining information.

        “People are not going to be forthcoming when interviewed by their employer or supervisor. They may want a good recommendation, or they don't want to burn their bridges.”

        He said a better way is using an independent source in a confidential setting months after an employee leaves and emotions have settled.

        The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers these tips for employees facing exit interviews:

        • Be honest about why you're leaving. A company can't change its ways if it doesn't know what's wrong in the first place.

        • Don't make it personal. If you're leaving due to differences with your supervisor, explain that without resorting to gossip or personal attacks.

        • Don't go overboard. Some day you may have to rely on a reference from this employer.

        • Be constructive. Allow yourself time to compile several clear reasons about your decision and deliver them succinctly.

        In a survey of SHRM members last year, 89 percent said their organizations conduct exit interviews to determine why employees resign. Of those, 98 percent handle them internally, and more than half have initiated changes based on the information gleaned from them.

        But Karl W. Frederick, a recruiting consultant for Atlanta-based, believes change is rare.

        “Asking departing employees for the hard information is easy compared with actually taking corrective action,” he said. “It's much easier to give lip service with employee surveys and public pronouncements than it is to do anything.”


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