Ah, exit interviews. Something that polarizes organizations and strikes fear into both the employer and ex-employee. The truth is, though, if you craft the right exit interview questions, the process isn’t something to be feared, but rather an opportunity to learn.
When an employee is on their way out, you need to accept that their mind and heart are already elsewhere. Getting exit interview questions answered honestly can be tricky. Especially if the employee is leaving because they’re unhappy.
Happy or not, while they’re working their notice period, their focus is going to be on tying up loose ends and handing work over.
If an employee agrees to an exit interview (and they have every right to decline), make sure that it adds value to the employee experience and your company. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. And, remember, colleagues - even ex colleagues - talk. If one exit interview was a monumental waste of time, chances are they’ll tell members of the team, and you’ll find that the decline rate when asking for exit interviews will shoot up.
Carefully consider what information you want from an exit interview and how you’ll use it. That’s the starting point, and it’s something you should base all of your exit interview questions on.
Also, appreciate that the employee is doing you a favor by being honest; they’re no longer invested! So, craft the interview in a way that shows your gratitude, and keep your exit interview questions on-topic.
With all this talk about exit interviews, it’s best to go back to the very basics first.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview isn’t as formal as a hiring interview, and you’ll find that the atmosphere is very different between the two.
When conducting or taking part in an exit interview, the company will have a discussion with an employee who is leaving the organization. It’s an opportunity to ask exit interview questions, which will allow leaders to put strategies in place to refine the employee experience. When conducted properly, it’s a chance to gather super valuable feedback to reduce the turnover rate.
Why should you conduct an exit interview?
Exit interview questions should help you understand what motivates your employees to re-enter the job market and to accept other job offers.
If you approach exit interviews correctly, you can implement changes that will help curb employee attrition. If you just have a generic list of questions, you’re unlikely to get employee buy-in, and you’ll learn nothing.
Your exit interview questions should be well thought out and directed at the specific employee who’s leaving and their workplace circumstances. Exit interview questions aren’t a one-size-fits-all, as there are many conditional factors that should play a role in choosing your questions.
That way the employee feels respected, even though they’re going, and they’ll be more likely to open up.
Remember, people tend to shy away from conflict. So, they’re far more likely to skirt around the truth to avoid conflict. That’s why you need to place emphasis on keeping the exit interview a safe, embracive, and warm setting.
The do’s and don’ts
Your prime reason for conducting an exit interview is to get feedback on your organization, primarily on what was done well and what wasn’t. The second reason is to acknowledge the person behind the employee, irrespective of why they’re leaving or how you feel about it.
A disgruntled employee who feels slighted can do your employer branding a lot of damage, particularly online. Treat people well, and they’re likely to treat you the same. The law of reciprocation - used often in marketing - applies to most areas of life. That extends, of course, to the workplace.
Here’s a list of what to do in exit interviews and what to avoid:
Exit interview “do’s”
- Do have exit interviews managed by an experienced HR staff member.
- Do first ask the employee if they’re willing to partake, even if it’s an online survey.
- Do compile a shortlist of pointed exit interview questions that are relevant to the situation.
- Do tell employees that their honesty will be appreciated, not judged.
- Do reassure employees that their comments will be used for statistics and improvement and won’t be widely shared.
Exit interviews “dont’s”
- Don’t allow bias or disappointment to creep into exit interviews.
- Don’t assume anything; keep an open mind.
- Don’t subject an employee to an exit interview unless you’re going to use their feedback constructively.
- Don’t just send an employee an emailed list of generic exit interview questions and expect them to respond.
- Don’t forget to thank employees afterward if they do partake in an exit interview.
- Don’t make the employee feel uncomfortable, judged, or like you’re not “on their side”.
Use exit interview questions to find trends, weaknesses, and areas of improvement
Irrespective of how an employee has responded to exit interview questions, once it’s done you need to focus on the information and not the employee.
People leave a role for many different reasons. Relocation, job dissatisfaction, being subject to discrimination in the workplace, finding a better-paid position, career change - and so many more.
It’s crucial to use the information to make changes and understand why your best employees leave so that you can stop it from happening again.
Honest feedback can identify problem managers or toxic workers who cause trouble and even workplace bullies. It can also pinpoint weak leadership or managers who don’t give their employees positive recognition and constructive feedback.
Workplace safety - psychological or physical, can be another concern that could make staff resign. There are many other reasons and variables, but exit interview questions that are answered truthfully allow you to take action and implement change to benefit existing and future employees.
Examples of exit interview questions for mixed roles
Don’t give into temptation and create a word document with 10 exit interview questions that you’ll use for every individual. It’ll be a massive waste of everyone’s time.
You can’t ask everyone the same questions because each position is different and people experience the workplace differently. Junior staff and interns have limited work experience so often their expectations can be bordering on unrealistic.
That said, their youth and lack of experience are most likely to make them more open and honest in intern exit interviews.
General staff could be more guarded because they’d like to leave on a good footing, even if there were issues that prompted them to leave. There could be an underlying fear that saying too much could result in poor past employment references further down the line. That’s why the reassurance of strict confidentiality is essential.
Management and executives are privy to far more than anyone else, and they have a good feel for the industry and marketplace. You will want to know what they’re thinking and why they’ve lost faith in the company. A senior and impartial HR practitioner must manage these exit interviews.
It’s important to know that - regardless of the seniority of the role - you can gain just as much value from one to the other. It’ll be packaged in a different way, though, so your exit interview questions need to reflect that.
So, with that in mind, use these exit interview questions as a guide to craft your own list. These should be built upon, adjusted, and personalized to the employee, their role, and the seniority level.
Remember to allow employees to expand on “yes” and “no” answers by adding “if yes, why” and ‘if no, why”. The more information you can gather, the better. So if asking a closed question (a question that can be answered in one or two words, “yes,” “no,” “I do,” “I don’t,”), make sure you follow up with an expansion into an open question to allow them to elaborate.
Underneath each question, you’ll understand what each question reveals. This will help you interpret, analyze, and make changes.
Exit interview questions for interns
- Do you feel that your mentor gave you the support and training you needed?
This question will give specific feedback on the intern’s mentor, making it an easy interpretation. The answer will reveal the mentor’s impact on the intern. Remember to ask “why” or “can you give me an example of that?” to gather an even clearer idea.
- Were your colleagues supportive and did you have all the necessary resources?
This exit interview question extends to the team the intern is working in. If there’s a problem with support, it may be worth holding a training session about how employees can work together and show support for others.
- Was there anything you didn’t like about your internship? Equally, what did you like about your internship?
Asking an intern what they did and didn’t like allows them to answer more honestly, as they’re able to follow up with something positive. Plus, you can gain valuable insight into the impact of your internship program, and make changes if necessary. You can learn just as much from what went well as you can from what didn’t. So, try for as much elaboration as possible.
- Do you think there’s room for us to improve our internship program?
This question follows the previous one and allows the intern to build on their answer. These can be jotted down in bullet-point form and used to reevaluate your internship program.
- How did you experience our company culture? If you were to describe the company culture in 3 words, what words would you give and why?
Asking for specifics (ie: in 3 words) allows the intern to really focus on their answer. Plus, those 3 words should - if you’ve got it right - mirror or, at the very least, link to the way you present your company culture in your employer brand.
- Is this the type of company you’d choose to work for in the future?
This reinforces the strength of your internship program. If the answer is “yes”, then great. If “no”, it’s crucial to understand why. No matter the answer, it’ll reveal either the strengths or weaknesses of your employee experience.
- Can you tell me 5 things you’ve learned from your internship?
Again, this question focuses on a set number of answers. It allows for greater focus. Feel free to adjust the number higher or lower. Your intern should be able to answer this, and it’ll highlight whether further development into the shape and mechanics of the internship program is needed.
- Would you recommend our internship program to other graduates or interns? Why/why not?
This is fundamental. If the intern would not recommend the program to others, that tells you a lot about their experience. Ask them to elaborate to uncover the reality behind the “yes” or “no”. Recommendations are crucial to keep your internship program afloat. People talk. So, your aim should be a sky-high rate of “yesses” to this question.
- Do you feel you’ve been treated as an equal within your team? Why/why not?
Age discrimination in the workplace is a real thing, and unfortunately, it works both ways. Whether an employee is older or younger, they can sometimes feel discriminated against for their age. Further, there are gender, race, sexuality, and many other forms of discrimination. If anything is flagged up here, you must act on it quickly.
Exit interview questions for general staff
- What was the motivation for you to re-enter the job market?
This gives you a baseline understanding of why an employee started “shopping around” for a new role. If you’re spotting patterns - say, for example, 4 of your recent leavers mentioned employee burnout, then you’ll need to act on it.
- Was it something you gave careful consideration to or was it an impulsive decision?
The length of time that an employee has dedicated to making a decision can reveal a lot. Lengthy consideration suggests that they enjoyed some aspects of their role.
- Was your decision motivated more by money or the workplace environment?
This exit interview question gives you a straight answer in terms of motivation. If salary was the problem, is there any movement in the budget? However, if the workplace was the problem, there needs to be a deeper exploration into why.
- What salary and benefits will you be getting now?
This gives you a chance to understand what other companies are offering compared to yours. If the salary is lower, for example, and the benefits are better, perhaps that demonstrates a problem with your employment benefits. Equally, if both the salary is lower and there aren’t as many benefits, there must be a bigger reason influencing their decision to leave.
- Did you get the tools, resources, and support you needed to succeed in your job?
This yes or no question should be elaborated on. It will shine a light on specific team members and their impact.
- Did your role evolve from your original job description and were you happy with that?
Did the employee need to complete tasks that weren’t a part of their job description? And did that leave them feeling frustrated, as they didn’t “sign up” for it? How can you avoid this in the future?
- Did you ever feel that you couldn’t cope with the volume of your workload?
In 2021, burnout was the leading reason why employees quit their job. The world is moving faster than ever before, and employees carry this weight as best they can. But burnout can create catastrophic effects. So, if the answer to this is “yes”, there needs to be intervention. Because if one employee feels this way, you can bet others do, too.
- Were you given adequate training to keep your skills updated, or for new responsibilities?
This question will highlight your career progression and personal development strategies. If there’s a problem, it could lead to dissatisfaction. That’s a one-way ticket to a higher turnover rate.
- Was there adequate performance management, and did you get regular feedback?
Having a lack of feedback - be that positive or negative - can be frustrating. Especially when it’s asked for and not provided. This is made worse when something goes wrong but could have been prevented by performance management and/or feedback.
- Was feedback, in general, more positive or negative?
This will demonstrate the delivery of feedback. It’s important to balance negatives with positives to keep up employee morale. Equally, it’s crucial to have clear goals and areas to work on. This question will show whether the right balance has been struck.
- Were you allowed to respond to feedback and do you think you were heard?
If negative feedback has been given, it’s so important to allow the employees an opportunity to respond to it. Avoiding this and taking the “I’m in charge and this is what I think” route will make your employee feel a sense of injustice.
- Did you ever face any unconquerable challenges because of a lack of support?
Support plays a large role in the workplace. It demonstrates good teambuilding ethics. If an employee feels a task is impossible due to lack of support, there needs to be an adjustment to the way these tasks are implemented. More collaboration, for example, could help reduce the number of “yesses” to this response.
- Were you given the authority and autonomy to meet your responsibilities and succeed?
Being micromanaged is incredibly frustrating. And, if someone is subjected to a high level of micromanagement on a daily basis, it can cause someone to drop out. Employers need to feel a sense of trust that they’ll get the job done, and this trust diminishes when they’re not allowed the freedom to complete a task without high levels of intervention.
- Were you given recognition and acknowledgment for your contributions?
Employees need to feel recognized for their efforts. That’s not to say you should go overboard - that then becomes a little forced. However, better to go for too much than too little. Not having any acknowledgment for their efforts can cause a trace of bitterness. They’ve worked hard for the development of your company, and even if they are being paid for it, they deserve gratitude.
- Was there anything about your job responsibilities that could have been changed?
The answer to this exit interview question will map out areas of a role that need working on.
- Was there a clear career development path mapped out and discussed with you?
People must feel that their role has a path of progression to walk down. If they feel they’re stuck at the same level for the rest of their working lives, their ambition is not being considered.
- How did you experience the workplace environment?
The workplace environment will reflect the company culture. If there are any issues with team members, this may be reflected here. Plus, if the actual environment has problems - too hot, too cold, too dark etc - these will be valuable points to use for improvement.
- Was communication, collaboration, and teamwork encouraged?
These 3 concepts will show how big a role teamwork plays within the organization. If the answer is “no”, then it’s best to hold a training session and monitor its impact.
- Was the environment in your department and in the company inclusive?
Inclusion and diversity plays a huge role in workers' lives in 2022. It’s crucial that this question is acted on if the answer is “no”. Ask for more details.
- Is our company culture true to how we promote our employer brand?
The company culture should be a mirror of your employer brand. If it’s not the case, work needs to take place to adjust this. If not, new employees will feel they’ve been tricked over time, and your turnover rate will reflect this.
- Did you ever feel intimidated or threatened by any colleagues or management?
This exit interview question reveals a lot about your company’s safety. Immediate action needs to take place if anything is highlighted here. And you must reassure the employee that they’re in a safe place and answers will be confidential.
- Was there anything in your department or the company that made you feel uncomfortable?
Again, this question works on the same basis as the previous one. Make sure you stress confidentiality, show empathy and understanding, and demonstrate no judgment.
- Was workplace safety a concern for you at any stage?
Company safety is crucial for employees. It’s a basic human right. If they’re attending your office and they don’t feel safe, there’s a very real chance that others feel that way, too. Turnover rate aside, this needs to be addressed as a matter of importance.
- Was morale good with your colleagues/department?
Is there a sense of negativity looming in the department? If so, you need to get to the bottom of it. No one wants to work in a negative atmosphere.
- How can we improve the working environment in your department/the company?
The answer to this exit interview question will be incredibly useful if patterns begin to emerge. Even as an individual answer, assessing the changes they recommend will be a good use of your time, as they’ll be demonstrating changes that emerged from a very clear problem they experienced.
- If we were to take on your recommendations, would it improve employee morale?
When asking this question, it’s best to ask the previous one first. This will then be an extension of their answer.
- Are our company policies and procedures easily accessible and user-friendly?
Company policies can have a tendency to be dry, overbearing, and difficult to implement. If that’s the case with your organization, you should reassess their impact. Perhaps running a survey to current employers about your policies and procedures, and making changes accordingly.
- Do you think that working here improved your skills, experience, and career prospects?
The answer to this exit interview question will show the employee’s satisfaction with the job role and progression opportunities. If “no”, it’s important to ask for specific feedback. Then, you can take their points on board and make changes.
- What did you enjoy most about working here?
You can learn a lot about your employee’s experiences by asking what they did enjoy. Plus, they’ll be far more likely to open up as it’s a positive question. You can follow up with “what would’ve made you like enjoy it even more?” rather than “what didn’t you enjoy about working here?” because it’s far more appealing. It simply adds to that positive framing of the previous question.
- Would you refer a friend or family member to work for us? Would you recommend us as an employer of choice?
Employee recommendations should play a role in your hiring process.
If the answer is “no”, other team members could feel this way, and it may be costing you excellent employees and talent.
- How can we improve the employee experience and engagement?
Specific feedback with open questions gives you greater things to work on. The employee experience may need clarifying, so be sure to provide some examples.
- How can we improve as a company?
This is a straightforward question, and it should reveal some helpful tips for moving forward. Try to spot the root cause. So, if, for example, they answered “you could improve by lessening workload”, you’ll know that workload is a clear problem.
- Would you ever consider working for our company again?
A simple “yes” or “no” answer will reveal the employee’s experience tenfold. Ask for elaboration on either end. If “yes”, ask what changes would need to take place for this to happen. If “no”, try for further elaboration.
- Is there anything else that you would like to add?
This is an opportunity for the employee to raise any worries, concerns, or bad experiences. It’s important to listen, take on board what they say, and allow them to feel safe and unjudged.
Exit interview questions for management and executives
- Why did you initially decide to work for our company?
This exit interview question will show the appealing areas inside your job descriptions and recruitment ads. These areas are clearly strong, as they resulted in the candidate’s application. So, they’re elements you should continue to use and build upon.
- What changed and made you decide to look for other opportunities?
The reason for leaving could be one of many. It’s important to understand their key motivation for leaving, as you can rectify it and avoid good talent slipping through the net in the future.
- Were you given the support you needed to meet KPIs and succeed?
Management and executives need as much support as interns. It’s just that they need it in a different way. If the answer is “no”, ask them to follow up - if they can - with an example. Being able to picture it with a real-life example will unravel further issues.
- Was communication, collaboration, autonomy, and innovation encouraged?
This question speaks volumes about teamwork. If someone feels their creativity isn’t valued or they aren’t trusted to get the job done, it can quickly lead to frustration. Further, if a reluctance to change is extreme, it can feel like a losing battle.
- Were your recommendations and ideas heard and given adequate consideration?
As a rule, people are change-adverse. They recognize the risk level, and it sometimes prevents changes from being implemented. If your employee is struggling to implement any changes, it can lead to feeling like they can’t do right for doing wrong. That becomes overwhelming and frustrating and can be a root cause for leaving a company.
- How is the morale of the management team and executives in general?
Positivity starts from the top. Management teams need to create a positive atmosphere and boost morale. If this isn’t happening, there needs to be some changes, as it’ll drip feed into other members of the company.
- Was the salary and benefits package you received competitive and market-related?
If your advertised salary is considerably lower than your competitors, you’ll need to address this. It’s unlikely that people will apply for your role when another company is advertising the same role at a higher salary.
- What made you accept the new job offer to work for that company in particular?
Knowing what your competitors are doing to attract employees will be infinitely valuable. Don’t copy, but gain influence.
- What was your decision motivated by?
This exit interview question is open to the individual. Their response will highlight areas of lost opportunity for your company and where those opportunities have been gained in other organizations.
- Was there anything that we could have changed to prevent you from leaving?
This will highlight the key areas of dissatisfaction. While there may be a list, the first 1 or 2 responses they give will often be the areas they struggled with most. Make sure to take this on board and look for patterns in other exit interviews.
- Do you think our company culture and vision have changed since you started here?
The company culture should be an extension of your employer brand. If it has adjusted over time, you need to know why. Plus, this should be modified within your messaging and recruitment process.
- Do you think that the company culture and vision have evolved adequately to still be competitive enough?
This question should be asked in tangent to the previous one. Should the vision of the company have evolved, you should ask for clarification and their opinion.
- Do you still believe in our company and brand?
Even if an employee is leaving, unless there have been drastic problems, the answer should really be “yes”. If it’s anything other than “yes”, there needs to be further exploration, and this needs to extend to your current employees, too.
- Did we create a culture that attracts talent we need to succeed?
At management level, they’ll have further opinions on company culture and recruitment tactics. Their response will be useful, especially when asked for further details.
- How can we improve our products, service, and the company as a whole?
This question revolves around the company and its clientele rather than working culture. But it can still be useful to ask the question. There may be specific areas of the organization that needs work. The answer to this question, specifically if you spot trends, can help you improve the business as a whole.
- Would you recommend our company to anyone else?
Recommendations are key in your hiring process. If the answer is “no”, that speaks volumes about their experience and should be acted on. Equally, you can discover your areas of strength should they say “yes”.
- Would you ever consider working for our company again?
Losing talent at a managerial level is a great loss. So, this may be a chance to leave the door open for them.
- Is there anything else that you would like to add?
This final question should allow the employee to have their voice heard and address any points they’ve yet to mention. It’s crucial to listen and create a judgment-free, safe space.
What should you avoid asking in an exit interview?
There are some rules of thumb when it comes to creating your exit interview questions. So, here’s what not to ask in an exit interview:
- Are you leaving because of [employee name here]?
- Were you unhappy at work?
- Do you feel you’ve given your best at our organization?
- Your exit came as a shock to me, and I’m disappointed in the way you went about it. Can you tell me why you choose to do it in that way?
- Do you believe you’ll experience better working life in your new role?
- What did your new role say about [xyz] in your interview?
The main rule is to ask questions related to the employee, their time at your organization, and how to improve. It should never revolve making a candidate feel guilty, unsafe, or judged. These questions demonstrate all 3 of those negative elements.
Conduct interviews depending on the situation
If planned and well-conducted, exit interviews can be a hive of valuable information. Be prepared for the potential of unexpected revelations and even some negativity directed at the company or individual employees. Exit interviews aren’t personal, and not everyone leaves bursting with employer brand love. That’s okay; things happen!
The reason that someone is leaving can guide you to problems no one knew existed because most people tend to keep things that make them feel personally uncomfortable to themselves.
Of course, you have to carefully consider whether the employee is being honest and there isn’t a margin of revenge in their responses. Investigate accusations thoroughly, and don’t be afraid to take action where necessary.
Using an HR survey tool gives you the metrics and analytics you need to identify recurring trends. Platforms like Checkster can easily be integrated with your HR system and even your applicant tracking system to improve your talent analytics for better future hiring decisions.