Exit interviews and job reference calls: Getting people to talk candidly
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Exit interviews and job reference calls: Getting people to talk candidly

Exit interviews and job reference calls have two things in common:

  1. You need information from a person who has no obligation or incentive to give you anything more than useless generalities.
  2. Attempts to get the information often lead to awkwardness and discomfort on both sides of the conversation.

Fact is, many HR executives and managers are missing out on huge opportunities to get valuable information that could help the company. The reason is that they see exit interviews and reference calls as mere formalities. If they bother to do them at all, they usually just go through the motions and collect a few bits of information that provide very little real value.

Maybe it’s time to change that.

What if there were a way to ask questions in a totally nonthreatening way? What if the person were able to answer the questions candidly without feeling he or she was giving away too much or taking unnecessary risk? What if you could get incredibly valuable information from exit interviews and job references without spending a minute longer than you currently are?

Well, a simple technique exists that will allow you to do just that: The “Pick a Number Technique.”

Instead of asking questions that demand verbal answers, ask questions that demand only a number. For example:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how supportive was your boss? Or
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate our company at developing its people?

Let’s say an employee is leaving because she really hates her boss. She feels he’s a know-it-all who doesn’t take her seriously.

Will you get a straight answer if you ask this employee, “How supportive was your boss?”

Um, probably not. She’ll think, “If I were totally honest, I’d give him a 2. But why make an enemy? I certainly won’t give him a 8 or a 9, so maybe a 7. No, a 6. That won’t offend anyone. Heck, it’s above average.”

That’s a lousy score. You want 9s and 10s at your company, not 6s. And you now know that unhappiness with her boss was a major reason why this employee is leaving. But you didn’t put her on the spot. And if several other of this manager’s people quit and give similar scores, you’ve most likely discovered a leak in your bucket and you can take action to fix it.

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