Exit interviews provide organizations with a wealth of information about their operations without forcing them to spend a ton of money hiring consultants to assess business processes and company culture.
Because they’re conducted when employees have already put in their two-weeks notices, companies benefit from honest answers — these people have nothing to hide.
Simply put, exit interviews allow organizations to see exactly what it’s like to be in the trenches and benefit from:
- Getting a better idea of employees’ thoughts, behavior, and work perception
- Discovering potential issues within HR
- Aiding the knowledge transfer process
- Assessing the general employee experience to improve future hiring, onboarding, and engagement tactics
- Collecting post-employment feedback with minimal costs
- Improving future employee retention efforts and lower turnover
- Clarifying any work transition issues or work that the employee can’t complete before leaving
Unfortunately, almost 80% of exit studies are conducted using poor methods. As a result, HR managers aren’t able to correctly identify 40% of the drivers of turnover, especially when interviews are conducted close to the final day of employment.
Since exit interviews are only effective if interviewers ask the right questions, let’s take a close look at 15 exit interview questions that should be included in each one of them.
So, what to ask in exit interviews? Let’s jump right in.
Effective exit interview question you need to ask
1. What made you start looking for a new job?
In some instances, employees might leave because they’re offered a well-paying job they’ve had their eye on for a while. In other cases, they might leave because the company is dreadful to work for and they’ve been looking for a way out for months.
You can’t expect to keep all of your employees on board forever. But if a number of your workers are leaving because they simply don’t like your company, it’s time to switch things up.
2. Were you given the tools and support you needed to thrive in your role?
Everybody knows about the myriad of tech gadgets and platforms out there designed to increase productivity and make work easier.
If departing employees overwhelmingly feel as though they were never given the tools they need to succeed, you need to start increasing your IT spend and investing in platforms that make sense for your company.
3. How would you describe our company culture?
According to our Employee Engagement Report, work culture is strongly correlated with worker happiness. The better the culture, the more likely employees are to be happier — which means the bigger chance they’ll stick around.
If you notice that employees use words like “awful,” “toxic,” “depressing,” and “nasty” to describe your culture during exit interviews, don’t be surprised when more and more workers jump ship.
4. Would you recommend our company to a friend?
You can’t expect to attract top talent if all of your employees say there’s no way they’d ever encourage anyone to apply for a gig at your company.
If departing employees answer accordingly, ask what the company could do to make them change their minds.
Some employee exit interview answers might include increasing pay, investing in professional development, or allowing employees to work from home occasionally.
5. What could the company have done better?
Even if your outgoing employees are leaving for normal reasons and value the time they’ve spent working for you, it’s almost certain there are at least a few things that could be improved.
If workers are leaving because they think your company is terrible, that’s a whole different story.
In any case, this question should give you some ideas as to which areas you should focus on improving.
6. Were you satisfied with the management of the team?
This is a targeted question that helps HR managers point out potential issues an employee might have had within a team. When issues materialize, maintain an objective view when assessing the situation so you can find out exactly what the problem was.
Did the employee want more freedom? Were they looking for a managerial position too? Was management too severe? Did they not offer guidance?
Pair this main question with another one like How do you think management could improve in the future? to understand all of these core problems.
7. What did you enjoy the most at your job?
To keep things positive during exit interviews, ask about the things they enjoyed, too. Have them share a positive experience, one thing they’ll miss, and maybe even discuss what kept them at your company for so long.
This will reveal the strong points within your employee management program. Oftentimes, we’re tempted to focus on the same negative aspects when we conduct exit interviews. Use the opportunity to uncover the good, too.
8. Would anything change your mind about leaving?
People can leave for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons can be easily fixed.
Maybe employees want a new role to develop their career. Or maybe they’re looking for higher pay.
When you hold exit interviews early on, employees still have a chance to change their minds. If you can offer what the employee feels has been missing, there’s a high possibility that the employee will at least consider sticking around.
9. Were you offered enough professional development opportunities?
Ever notice persistent problems throughout your exit interviews or feedback surveys?
If a ton of people who are leaving are saying that they didn’t have opportunities to advance their skills, you may need to take a fresh look at your learning and development program.
Professional development is one of the main factors people take into consideration when choosing a new job. It’s also one of the main reasons employees stick around.
10. Would you consider working at our company again in the future?
Just because people leave doesn’t mean they won’t come back at some point.
In the age of boomerang employees, more and more workers are leaving for bigger opportunities only to wind up back with a previous employer later on.
If your employees are leaving and they have absolutely no intention of returning under any circumstances, you’re doing something wrong.
11. Were you able to discuss your problems with anyone on the team?
In the age of remote work, many employees are feeling isolated, which causes a lack of engagement. Not having someone to turn to for help or fearing negative feedback and critique are unhealthy signs that show your team hasn’t developed strong bonds yet.
If employees who are leaving feel like they have no one to bring their issues to, something needs to change.
12. Did you receive the recognition you needed?
According to our Engagement Report, only one-third of workers receive the recognition they need.
Recognition is what keeps us motivated and aware that our work is making an impact. When employees’ efforts aren’t recognized, they feel useless, which makes them look for a job somewhere else that provides the recognition they deserve.
When employees who are leaving indicate that they didn’t feel as though their contributions were valued, you need to improve your employee recognition program. As a result, you will increase your employee retention metrics.
13. Have you received proper training during and beyond onboarding?
Without a question, onboarding is the most important part of an employee’s experience.
Onboarding sets expectations. If employees feel as though they weren’t given the help to succeed from the outset, there’s a much higher chance they’ll look for a new position in the near future.
If exit interview survey data suggests that your onboarding processes are suboptimal, redirect resources toward onboarding.
14. What were the main factors you considered when choosing a new job?
This is an effective exit interview question. The more factors you meet, the less likely you’ll be to have a high turnover problem.
Rely on this question to spot the HR areas where you’re lacking. If you can’t provide the benefits you once promised, take them out of your next job descriptions and focus on other benefits instead.
15. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your time here?
Give them a chance to add in any extra details on the things they didn’t like as well as what they enjoyed.
It’s your final opportunity to have your departing employees take the wheel and freely express their thoughts.
Best practices for conducting an exit interview
To help you maintain a good list of standards throughout the exit interview process, we’ve prepared a series of tips and pitfalls to avoid.
1. Have the meeting early
If possible, don’t postpone the exit interview for the last day.
Schedule the meeting at a time that’s convenient for both parties and doesn’t interfere with their other activities — like saying goodbye to colleagues or signing any leftover paperwork.
This makes for an exit interview that’s not rushed. And the employee will have a clear mind, too.
2. Stay consistent
Are multiple employees leaving? Have you been dealing with a sudden increase in employee turnover?
Keep roughly the same list of effective exit interview questions so you can get different points of view on the same topic.
Don’t tell an employee what someone else shared. But bring up similar issues so you can get an alternate opinion and compare it to the others.
3. Have a solid purpose and communicate it from the start
Ideally, you’ll want to have a list of questions beforehand so you’re not just making them up on the spot.
Have a goal for each question. Communicate the purpose of your meeting with the employee from the start, so you’re aligned when it begins.
Telling them how you want to gather feedback on the company’s workflows and get any recommendations for the future will make it easy for them to know what to focus on.
4. Conduct the interview in person
Don’t just send a link to an online survey. Employees are less likely to complete it and they’ll have no motivation to go into the details that will truly make a difference.
For the best results, hold meetings in-person — or, in the age of COVID-19, over Zoom. Don’t involve people who might influence the employee’s feedback or could distract them, interfering with their speech.
5. Maintain a comfortable interview environment
Just like you don’t want people to interrupt the employee or take their attention away, a good atmosphere helps keep the tension off their shoulders.
Don’t make the exit interview too formal. You can even hold it over a lunch break or cup of coffee so you can truly discuss the problems like friends rather than colleagues.
Using feedback to improve employee engagement and retention
Collecting feedback is half the battle.
The real action happens after the exit interview. Use the data you get from your meetings to improve your employee retention strategies.
Employees didn’t get enough recognition? Start a large-scale rewards program.
Were they not getting the career development opportunities you promised? Incorporate these as early as the onboarding stage.
Did they simply want a new project to work on? See if you can create a scheme where employees get to change the project they’re assigned to every year.
Remember that exit interview feedback isn’t something you can only get when people are leaving. Similar questions can be used to inform the HR team through engagement survey questions at any time of the year.
Asking these questions will give you the feedback you need to improve professional development, identify recognition needs, set personal growth goals, and help employees feel proud of their work.
Such surveys are a leading indicator of employee retention. Leadership can work to spot problems and improve those areas way before someone decides to leave.
TINYpulse Retention can help you track attrition and spot the exact reasons people leave, giving you a quick idea of how to improve retention.
Keep in mind that the answers given in exit interviews provide deep insight into what’s working and what needs to be changed. If you use the information you gain from these interviews to make the job more enjoyable for existing workers, you should see an increase in retention statistics.
Looking to improve retention? Bookmark this guide with employee exit interview tips and get back to it when you need some more inspiration for your next exit interview.