Improve Employee Retention with Retention Interviews


The employee that you rely upon the most will leave you.

They may not leave you holding the bag, but, one day, the person or the people who keep the whole show running are going to go on to the next step in their career. When that day comes, it is definitely in your best interest to be prepared.

The idea of doing your job forever might sound like hell. It might sound like heaven. It all depends on where the job you’re doing fits into the course of your career path, and the same holds true for the jobs of your employees.

If the job that an employee is doing is at the end of their career path or toward the end of it, then they may be with your company for the long haul. If their job is not very far down their career path, then you should anticipate an employee leaving that job at some point in the not-so-distant future. In fact, a new survey reveals that 33% of employees knew whether they would stay with their company long term within the first week on the job.

The length of an employee’s tenure, however, can be increased by supporting their ability to take the next step in their career and looking for ways for this step to be in your company.

If you can empower your employees to climb the ladder at your company, then your best and brightest employees won’t have to look very far for their next dream job. Even if it turns out that their dream job is in another company, emphasizing career progression as part of your company’s employee policy will strengthen your employer brand and improve retention for top talent.

Conducting periodic Retention Interviews is one of the best ways to emphasize the value your company places on career progression. When conducted correctly, these interviews will show you exactly what your top performers are planning to do with their talent, while showing these top performers that you care about keeping them around. Some of your employees will have highly detailed career plans, while others might just want to make more money. They key, is to know what your key players are planning to do, then empowering them in doing it, even if that means letting them go.

Talking about an employee’s next job might sound uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be. Nobody does the same job forever, so it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about the next step with your employees. Retention Interviews provide a structured format in which to have this conversation, and are the most effective way to get to the employee data you need. Retention Interviews, however, can only reveal this data if employees feel safe discussing this sometimes sore subject. By making the purpose of your Retention Interviews clear for your employees (discussing their next step so that you can support it) they will be much more likely to be open with you about their career plans.

In the age of entrepreneurs, employers need to start practicing higher levels of transparency when it comes to the next step in the careers of their employees. If you openly support the career progressions of your employees, your employees will be more likely to envision your company as the next step toward their ultimate goals. If you can have an honest conversation with your most valuable employees about where they see their career going, you can ensure that those employees view your company as part of that career.

Conducting Retention Interviews

Conducting Retention Interviews is the most effective way to have a structured check-in with your employees about the next few steps in their career. If you want them to open up, however, it must be perfectly clear that there are no wrong answers.

Think about it this way. If your boss came into the room right now, tapped you on the shoulder and asked “Hey, when are you planning to quit,” how would you react?

Would you be speechless?
Would you say something like, “Well, I never…”
Would you say something like, “Well, I wasn’t…”
Or, would you say something like, “June 1st.”

This is not the right way to ask. In order to learn about the plans of critical employees, they need to feel comfortable telling you about their career plans. This cannot be done if they don’t trust you or if they believe they’re being bench-marked in some way.

Explain to them that you’re here to help them take the next step. You know they’ll be leaving one day, and so do they, but bringing this fact out into the open will start your Retention Interview on the right foot. Tell them that you’re interested in their career progression, and that you want to know more about their plans so that you can support those plans. You can even let them in on your own five year plan to establish trust between you. No matter how you say it, make sure that your employees know that now is the time to lay their cards on the table.

They may bring up some things that are hard to hear about people or processes that are making them want to quit. They may bring up another position at your company that they’re interested in trying. They may spend the whole time trying to pitch you on their restaurant idea. No matter what “surprises” your employees have for you, it is always better to spoil the twist for yourself than to be completely blind-sided at the last minute.

The Retention Interview should be conducted to answer the following questions:

• Where Are You Now?
• Where do You want to go?
• How are you going to get there?

Employee Retention Interview Questions

Where Are You Now?

The first part of your retention interviews should be devoted to discussing where your employee currently is on their career path. Your goal is to learn how they relate to their current job, and how that job relates to their career.

You need them to give you the whole truth, which requires that they trust you. Make sure that they know that this is a “Retention Interview,” and that it is the perfect time to bring up their career goals within your company as well as outside your company. You should also let them know that this is the time to discuss any procedural or environmental factors that are making them want to quit.

Once you’re confident that the employee understands the format of the Retention Interview, you can start asking questions that will determine where they are now.

  • Where does your job fit in with your ultimate career goals?
  • How have your skills and experiences led you to this point?
  • Are you using the skills that you want to be using in your next job?
  • What are you doing 2 years from now in the best case scenario?
  • Are there any ways in which your enjoyment of your job could improve?
  • Are there any controllable factors that make your job unpleasant?

Asking these questions will prove to your employee that you have their best interests at heart, as long as you listen. Your goal is to collect data, and your employees will give you a lot more of this data, if they can see that you care. No matter what answer you get from an employee, your role in the Retention Interview is to be a career resource, not a salesperson. It is always worth it to point out if your company offers a position they hope to have one day, but it is also worth noting when an employee has their mind made up. They may change their mind, but only if you can prove to them that you’re interested in their general career progression, not just retaining them.

You’re definitely interested in retaining them, but this is best accomplished by offering selfless support and being a real resource for them. If you can frame the conversation in this way, you can get the honest truth about where your employees see your job in relation to their career goals.

Where do You Want to go?

Once you know where they see themselves in their career, the next thing to discuss is where that career is headed.

Ask them, “Where do you want to go?” If you’ve established trust with the employee, then they are likely to let you in on their plan. If not, then you’ve got some more work to do. In any case, these questions will help to guide this stage of the Retention Interview:

  • What is the next natural step forward from your current position?
  • What are your ultimate career goals?
  • Is this career in our industry?
  • Do you see opportunities for advancement in our company?
  • Do you see opportunities in our company that align with your career goals?

Again, pay attention. As you learn what your employee’s next move is, and when they plan to make it, record this data in an organized, actionable way. Once you’ve conducted retention interviews for all of your employees, all you have to do is look to this data to see how many hires you’re going to have to make this year and the next. However you track this information, make sure that you pay special attention to the most pressing flight risks and the most crucial roles for continued company operations.

This is also a good point to talk to them about a future at your company. If there is legitimate overlap between what they want to do and what your company does, then there is a chance of steering them into more senior positions at your company. If this overlap is wishful thinking on your part, then there isn’t much of a chance of retaining them past their intended flight point.

As long as you aren’t too pushy, all of your employees will probably appreciate knowing that you’re planning for their future. They may not be interested in another job at your company, but knowing that the option is there will secure their respect and increase the chances of their staying for longer.

Put another way, if you can get your employees talking about where they want to go in their career, they will be more likely to spend more of that career working for you.

How are you Going to Get There?

Everyone has a dream job, but this is the stage of the Retention Interview in which you assess the planning power of your employee. Some employees will have a clear, step-by-step plan forward. Others will have an end goal in mind and a whole lot of question marks standing in between now and then. If an employee has career goals that fall outside your company, you should show them how their job or other jobs at your company can help them to their goal. If this path doesn’t exist in your company, then you shouldn’t try to sell them on it.

Just being able to predict when an employee is likely to leave is hugely advantageous, so you shouldn’t push your luck. Talk with your employees about how they plan to reach their ultimate career goals and offer support when it’s asked for. If they have a precise plan, don’t suggest they take another job at your company unless that job is on their career path. If they don’t have a crystal clear plan, look for ways in which different jobs at your company can help them to reach their goals.

  • How many more positions will you hold before reaching your dream job?
  • Which skills will your dream job require?
  • How many of these skills do you currently posses?
  • How many years of experience does someone with your dream job posses?
  • How many years do you think it will be until you reach this level?

These are the dirty details that some of your employees have yet to consider when planning their next move. By discussing the steps that they want to take in a supportive fashion, your employees will show you just how prepared they are to make the next step. This will give you your best chance to suggest the opportunities that your company can offer in terms of relevant jobs, training and experience.

If you conduct Retention Interviews on an annual or semi-annual basis, you can create a complete data sheet for when your employees are planning to leave. This information will also allow you to retain certain employees into the next step of their career or even further down their career path. Finally, this information will also show you policies and environmental factors that are causing your employees to leave. By conducting Retention Interviews in a structured way that provides value to your employees, then they will have no problem letting you in on their plans for the future.

The future is never written in stone, but a solid plan based on solid data never hurts. Conduct Retention Interviews consistently and effectively to see what your employees are planning. Only then can you be sure that your own plans won’t be derailed by unpleasant personnel surprises.


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