What is an exit interview, and what is it for?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who is leaving an organisation (including those who are retiring), and another person (e.g. HR manager), to discuss the employee’s reasons for leaving the organisation, how they felt about their time working there and to facilitate handover or knowledge transfer.

As an organisation, having exit interviews shows that you are willing to engage in discussion with staff who are leaving and are open to suggestions about improving the role, organisational culture and any other matters which may come up in the interview.  In order for departing employees to have faith in the process, it needs to be run thoughtfully and confidentiality must be assured in order for the interviewee to feel that they can be open and honest in the discussion.

Best practice for exit interviews

  • Develop a policy detailed how exit interviews happen, when and by whom.  Interviewers should be trained (as for recruitment panels) in order to conduct the interview in a calm and professional manner, making the experience a positive one for both the interviewer and interviewee.
  • Invite the departing employee to an exit interview – don’t compel them.  Their participation in an exit interview is voluntary.  Consider offering an alternative to a face-to-face interview in the form of a questionnaire (again, participation must be voluntary)
  • Consider using an external agent to conduct exit interviews, as this can help interviewees to be more open about the real issues when there is complete confidentiality
  • If the exit interview is led by someone within the same organisation as the departing employee, it is important to ensure that the person interviewing is not a manager who has responsibility for the individual or who will be involved in future reference writing
  • Consider that the environment for the interview and choose a location where both people can relax and talk without being interrupted
  • Think about who the interviewer will be and what questions they will ask.  Ensure that the interviewer is trained to handle this type of conversation
  • Carry out the exit interview as soon as possible after an employee hands in their notice.  Don’t wait until they are about to leave, as this gives little opportunity to follow up on issues they mention during the interview and help both parties to feel like they part on good terms

Devising exit interview questions

Develop a bank of questions to give you a resource to drawn on.  Choose the most appropriate questions for the circumstances of the person who is leaving, their role, the situation of your organisation, and the circumstances under which they are leaving.  Although some types of questions are more suitable for managers, giving people at all levels the chance to comment on broader or “higher” issues can yield useful insights for your organisation.

Use questions beginning with ‘what’ and ‘how’ to encourage interviewees to share their opinions on a matter.  If necessary, use “why” questions to encourage the employee to explore their response further.

Sample exit interview questions

Joining our organisation

  • Were there any expectations you had when you joined the organisation that were not met?
  • Were you developed/inducted adequately for your role(s)?
  • How could the induction process be improved?
  • What is your main reason for leaving?

Your role

  • What did you most enjoy about the job?
  • What has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in your time with us?
  • Would you recommend working here to a family member/friend and why?
  • What could you have done better or more for us had we given you the opportunity?
  • How could we have enabled you to reach your full potential?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to make fuller use of your capabilities and potential?
  • What extra responsibility would you have welcomed that you were not given?

Organisational culture

  • How do you feel about the organisation?
  • What can you say about communications within (a) your department and (b) the organisation?
  • What could you say about communications and relations between departments, and how these could be improved?
  • How could you have been helped to better know/understand/work with other departments necessary for the organization to perform more effectively?
  • How would you describe the culture of the organisation?

Performance and appraisal

  • What can you say about the way your performance was measured, and the feedback to you of your performance results?
  • How well do you think the appraisal system worked for you?
  • What would you say about how you were motivated, and how that could have been improved?

Working conditions

  • What suggestion would you make to improve working conditions, hours, shifts, amenities, etc?
  • What do you think about the physical environment you work in?  Is there anything that needs improving or upgrading?

Management and structure of the organisation

  • What can you say about the way you were managed (a) on a day-to-day basis and (b) on a month-to-month basis?
  • What, if any, ridiculous examples of policy, rules, instructions, can you highlight?
  • What examples of ridiculous waste of material or effort could you identify? e.g. pointless reports, meetings, bureaucracy
  • How could the organisation reduce stress levels among employees where stress is an issue?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to have made better use of your time?
  • What things did the organisation or management do to make your job more difficult/frustrating/non-productive?
  • How can the organisation gather and make better use of the views and experience of its people?

Retention

  • Aside from the reason(s) you are leaving, how strongly were you attracted to committing to a long and developing career with us?
  • What can the organisation do to retain its best people (and not lose any more like you)?
  • Have you anything to say about your treatment from a discrimination or harassment perspective?
  • Would you consider working again for us if the situation were right?
  • Are you happy to say where you are going (if you have decided)?
  • What particularly is it about them that makes you want to join them?
  • What, importantly, are they offering that we are not?

Knowledge transfer

NB: Start thinking about using these questions when it is known that the employee will be leaving – don’t leave this until the very end of their period of employment.

  • How might we benefit from your knowledge, experience, and contacts prior to your departure?
  • Would you be willing to take part in a briefing meeting with managers/replacements/successor/colleagues so that we can benefit from your knowledge and experience, prior to your leaving?
  • What can we do to enable you to pass on as much of your knowledge and experience as possible to your replacement/successor prior to your departure?
  • How and when would you prefer to pass on your knowledge to your successor?
  • We’d be grateful for you to introduce [successor] to your key contacts before you go – are you willing to help with this?
Advertisements

Library careers: routes in and what does this type of work actually involve?

This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.

I participated in the Library Routes project in 2009:

Library Routes – How I became a librarian

I have taken part in the Library “Day in the Life” project twice.  Many people blog, tweet or otherwise record their day in terms of how long they spent answering emails etc, but I wanted to take a difference approach in which I blogged about a specific aspect of my job each day.

Round 5, July 2010

Welcome to Laura’s Dark Archive! – in which I launched this blog, described my current role and explained my route into working in libraries

In print or on screen? Investigating the reading habits of undergraduates using photo-interviews – the summary of a presentation I had attended

Library Day in the Life round 5, day 1 – on the theme of  “what else do librarians do all day?”

Visit from another college librarian – explaining the context of the library I work in and the importance of professional networking with colleagues from other libraries

Collection management – outlining the balance between acquisitions coming into the library and the need to weed the collections

Project Management – describing the various projects I had on the go in the library that summer and how their timescales fitted together

“Chips and Mash” Mashed Libraries event, Huddersfield, 30th July 2010 – summarising an event I had attended

Round 6 – January 2011

Gather ye data while ye may – to highlight the importance of data gathering and monitoring

Library Committee – explaining the formal meetings I have each term in which library policies and procedures are ratified or changed

One-to-one meetings – to highlight the importance of my role as a manager within my job

Knowledge capture – explaining the importance of shared information in any team

Philip Pullman adds his voice to the campaign to defend public libraries – libraries in the news

Top tips for getting things done – some advice for how to work efficiently

Thoughts

I don’t think my path into librarianship was unusual: there is quite a lot of cross-pollination between careers in libraries and education – but I find that I am unusual in having a background in science.

If you’re considering a career in libraries, try to offer as wide a range of skills as you can.  Customer service is important, as are numeracy and skills in strategy, analysis and planning.  Being a manager of other people is a part of most jobs above a certain grade level, and it’s a great opportunity for your own development too.  I would like to see more people coming into the profession with a positive attitude to one day being a manager.

Job titles – what’s in a name?

In the course of ordinary conversation, I am often asked about the job I do.  I used to reply that I am the Librarian at St Hugh’s College, and this answer was well understood among colleagues at the University of Oxford or in academic circles at Cambridge.

However, to those who aren’t familiar with these universities, or academic libraries in general; this answer doesn’t tell them much about what I do.

To many people, a “librarian” is someone who staffs the enquiry desk at a library.  They don’t recognise any difference between “librarian” and “Librarian-with-a-capital-L”.  The difference between “Librarian” and “Library Assistant” is lost on many people.

I have started describing my job in terms such as “I run the library at St Hugh’s” or “I manage an academic library” to help the listener more accurately imagine what my job involves and understand why an MA/MSc is required in order to do the job.

I am beginning to wonder if making a change to my official job title (e.g. Librarian-in-charge) might help other people to understand my role better.  And since “librarian” is such a generic word to the general public, perhaps using a different (new?) word for people who manage libraries might be a more effective way of having our professionalism recognised than trying to re-educate people about what the word “librarian” means.

Are you a Librarian, Learning Resource Centre Manager, Information Assistant, Assistant Librarian, Senior Library Assistant, Academic Liaison Librarian, Graduate Library Trainee or similar?  How closely does your job title describe the role that you actually perform?

Designing good interview questions

These notes are adapted from a session run by Cathy Hamer at the Bodleian Libraries.

Why do we ask questions at interview?

The main purpose is to assess the interviewee’s abilities, so to be fair to all candidates, a consistent approach is necessary.  Careful planning of questions allows the candidate to do most of the talking, demonstrate how their skills and experience fit the role, and their responses to be assessed against the selection criteria for the role.

Open vs closed questions

Closed questions allow only short answers, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no.  Example: Did you have supervisory responsibilities in your previous job?
While closed questions may be suitable for confirming details at the end of an interview, they do not allow the candidate to elaborate on their experience.  Open questions use words such as ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘where’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’. Example: ‘How do you set priorities in tackling your workload?’.  Using an open question increases the amount of information the interviewee can give you, and helps you learn about their opinions and attitudes.

Multiple questions

Asking more than one question at once causes confusion and often the candidate will only answer the last or easiest questions.  Example: ‘In your last job, what were your responsibilities in terms of monitoring the budget, and what was the system for balancing and checking the cash account?’.  Don’t ask multiple questions – separate out the questions and ask them individually.

Leading questions

A leading question is one which indicates the required response, for example ‘Presumably you will get on well with your work colleagues?’.   The interviewee can only provide a useful answer by interrupting or disagreeing, as they are unlikely to say ‘No’.  Instead, ask a more open question such as ‘Tell us about your experience of working in a small team’.

Discriminatory questions

Questions relating to the candidate’s sex, age, marital status, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or disabilities are an obvious no-no.  For example: ‘How old are you?’ and ‘Do you have any children?’.

Hypothetical questions

These are a type of open question, and can be very helpful in assessing a candidate’s thinking skills and how quickly they can respond to a new situation.  Example: ‘How would you go about planning the move of this unit/office to another building?’

Quantifying questions

These are a type of closed question which can be useful in ascertaining how many people the candidate has managed or the size of the budget for which they have had responsibility.  They are best used in conjunction with a follow-up question to allow the candidate to give a more descriptive response.

Behaviour-based questions

Examples: ‘Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision that involved a large expenditure’ or ‘Describe a situation in which you had to work to a tight deadline.’
Past job behaviour is a good guide to future performance, so asking for prior examples can be useful in predicting if the candidate will be able to demonstrate the necessary skills in the new job.

Probing questions

Every conversation is different, even though the main interview questions will be the same for each candidate.  Sometimes you will need to probe a bit further for more details, or to validate a claim.  Be careful not to lose the thread of the main question. Probing questions can also be useful to help the candidate back on track if they have gone off on a tangent in their answer.

Tips

  • Well in advance, determine which aspects of the selection criteria you are going to assess at interview
  • Design a question for each skill that you wish to assess
  • As far as possible, keep questions open and only ask one at a time
  • Avoid closed questions, giving away the ‘correct’ answer
  • Address any gaps on the application form
  • Use a combination of application form/letter, task and interview to assess each candidate against all the selection criteria for the job
For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.

Knowledge management

Here is a summary of a recent Mind Tools article about knowledge management that I found interesting.

What is knowledge?

Data is a specific fact or figure, without any context; information is data that’s organized; knowledge builds on the information to give us context (remember this from library school?).

There are two different types of knowledge, explicit and tacit:

Explicit knowledge includes things that you can easily pass on to someone else by teaching it or writing it into a record. This kind of knowledge can be captured in a staff handbook or workflow.
Tacit knowledge is less concrete. It may relate to the best way to approach a certain person for their help or co-operation, or how to unjam the photocopier. This type of knowledge is usually acquired by experience.

Why is knowledge management important?

Sharing information within a team or department means that when a person is away on holiday or off sick, or moves to a new job, their knowledge persists in the organisation.
As well as time and cost savings, an environment which fosters the sharing of ideas can help increase innovation, build trust and improve relationships.

Implementing knowledge management

There are two different ways of managing knowledge: using technology-based systems, or using softer systems.
Examples of technology-based systems include a co-authored staff handbook or wiki. It is easy to access this information, but it takes effort to keep it up-to-date. Good for capturing explicit knowledge.
Examples of softer systems are shadowing or mentoring. Better for sharing tacit knowledge.
A successful knowledge management strategy should try to use both approaches.

Tips for implementing knowledge management systems

  • Identify tacit knowledge, then brainstorm ways of sharing it
  • Start with a small team to avoid information overload
  • Some people may feel uncomfortable about sharing their hard-won knowledge, so make knowledge exchange part of the organisational culture and find ways to reward people for sharing it freely
  • Make the processes of capture or sharing easy. Easier participation makes for increased involvement and success

Giving and receiving references

These are my notes adapted from a presentation I attended last week, given by Ruth Newman (Bodleian Libraries)

See also: How to write a job description and How to shortlist

What is the purpose of a reference?

  1. It provides information about a candidate’s employment history
  2. It backs up (or not) the statements made in the application form
  3. It provides an opinion on the candidate’s suitability for the post for which they are applying

For jobs at The Bodleian Libraries, references are sought for the successful candidate once a conditional offer has been made to them – this is to ensure that any information relating to absence or disability is not revealed until this stage in the recruitment process.

Questions asked of referees by The Bodleian Libraries

The above-named has applied for employment within The Bodleian Libraries and has given consent to our approaching you to provide a reference (copy of permission attached).  In particular, we would be very grateful for information on the following (where applicable):

  • The candidate’s relationship to you as a referee and how long you have known them in this capacity; The dates of the candidate’s employment with you, and job title;
  • The candidate’s ability, in your opinion, to meet the stated selection criteria for this post;
  • The candidate’s performance during their employment (for example, quality of work, relationship with colleagues, communication skills, attendance and time-keeping);
  • The candidate’s reason for leaving your employment;
  • The candidate’s current salary / salary on leaving;
  • The total number of days the candidate has taken as sick leave in the past 12 months, and the number of occurrences;
  • Whether there have been any disciplinary or other formal employment proceedings against the candidate which are still considered ‘live’ (including any in process at present / at the time the employment ended; and
  • Whether, in the event of a suitable vacancy arising, you would re-employ this person.

If you do not wish the candidate to see this reference, please mark it “strictly confidential”.  Any information you can give will be treated in the strictest confidence.  However, you are advised that under the terms of the Data Protection Act, all references are potentially disclosable to the applicant.

References may be written or verbal.  If a verbal reference is taken it should be written up and sent to the referee for confirmation that it is an accurate reflection of what they said.  Email correspondence is sufficient for this.  A conditional offer of employment is made subject to the receipt of two satisfactory references.  Alarm bells would include over 10 days’ sickness, negative comments, mention of disciplinary process in progress (6-12 months is the usual ‘live’ period for disciplinary issues).  If the references take longer than expected to arrive, the candidate’s start date should be delayed until they have been received, and are considered satisfactory.

Things to consider when reading a reference

  1. Who is the referee?  It is usual practice to use the current and previous line manager as referees, so if the reference is written by someone other than these people, investigate further.
  2. What have they included, and what have they omitted?  Compare their comments against the list of questions asked of referees.

Legal considerations

There is no legal obligation to give a reference unless explicitly stated as part of an employee’s contract; however, if the employer normally gives references for staff it will legally be regarded as an implied contractual term.

I have no legal right to see a reference written about me by my line manager, but I can ask to see my personal file once I am in my new job – and it should contain the reference!

There is no legislation specifically designed to cover the provision of reference, but it is covered in other legislation relating to (among other things) disability and sex discrimination.

If you are asked to provide a reference for someone:

  • The reference must be given by someone qualified to give the opinions sought – if in doubt, ask for help from your HR advisor
  • Reply on headed paper/from your work email account [note: not for a personal reference]
  • Reply promptly
  • You have a duty of care to the person about whom it is written and to the recipient of the reference, so the reference must be factually accurate, supported by evidence and fair
  • It is good practice for the subject of the reference to be aware of its contents, so give them a copy of the reference and discuss it if necessary.  Employees should be aware of any complaints or negative comments which will be included in the reference before it is written
  • Avoid any personal or discriminatory comments.  Comment on the job description and selection criteria, keep the tone professional and refer to the person’s performance at work
  • Mark the reference “strictly confidential”
  • Bodleian Libraries staff are asked to include a disclaimer e.g. “given in good faith and confidence, without legal liability on behalf of the author or Bodleian Libraries” to ensure they are covered by professional indemnity insurance.

For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.

How to shortlist

This follows on from my earlier post about how to write a job description

Selection criteria: essential and desirable

When preparing the job description, the selection criteria will develop as you define the role and decide which criteria are essential or desirable.  A quick test to see if a criterion is essential (E) or desirable (D) is to consider if the candidate must already have the skill or experience (E), or if it can be learnt on the job (D).

Criteria may be moved between the E and D categories depending on how many candidates you expect to have applying for the job: if you anticipate a large number of applications, you might consider moving some criteria from D to E in order to narrow the field.  However, you may only do this before the job is advertised: once it’s out there, the criteria must stay and E or D in order to be fair to the people considering applying for the job.

Shortlisting

All the people on the interview panel should be involved in shortlisting the candidates.  Use a shortlisting matrix to evaluate each candidate against the selection criteria:

A variety of scoring systems may be used:

  • Simple tick or cross to show the criterion is met or not met
  • Marks out of 10 for how closely the candidate and the criterion match
  • Different criteria may be weighted according to their relative importance

It can be helpful to have several rounds of shortlisting.  For example, applicants for a graduate trainee position are required to have an undergraduate degree.  The first round of shortlisting would assess all candidates on that single criterion, and subsequent rounds would involve the remaining selection criteria.

Interviews

Aim for about 5 interviewees.  Have a few reserve candidates in mind in case any interviewees drop out.  List the reserve candidates in priority order.  Allow at least 5 working days between shortlisting and interviews.

Tips

  • Remember to compare the candidates against the selection criteria, not against each other.
  • Keep a record of the shortlisting matrix.  This is very helpful if any candidates ask for feedback on why they were unsuccessful in being called to interview.
  • When advertising the vacancy, state clearly the closing date and time.  A cut-off time of 12:00 (rather than 17:00) can be helpful if any applicants have any last-minute problems with submitting their documents, and allows time in the afternoon for packs to be produced for the interview panel who will then begin shortlisting.

For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.