How do you feel when an employee hands in their notice? You may feel a mixed bag of emotions ranging from hurt and offended to understanding and supportive. These are common reactions when a staff member chooses to leave your team, but don’t let your feelings about the change keep you from using this experience to learn and grow as a company.
Employee exit interviews are a perfect opportunity to get honest feedback and suggestions from your past hires. You can use these insights to improve employee retention, company culture, and the overall work environment at your business.
Learn the basics about exit interviews and the best questions to ask departing employees in this guide.
What Is an Employee Exit Interview?
An exit interview is an essential part of an organized and strategic offboarding process. Exit interviews are optional meetings that take place between an exiting employee and a human resources (HR) professional.
In an exit interview, the departing employee will be asked open-ended questions about their role and experience with the company, like why they decided to look for a new job or whether they had a good relationship with their manager.
The answers to these questions give HR staff and management insight into how the company can improve employee retention and satisfaction, as well as indicate red flags related to role responsibilities, management styles, or toxic work environments.
Exit interviews are generally only offered to employees who have chosen to leave a company, not to staff members who have been fired.
How to Conduct Exit Interviews
Exit interviews can be conducted in a variety of formats:
- Over the phone
- Via video chat
- Through email
Before an exit interview, create a template of questions to ask and use it to guide the conversation. Feel free to give a copy to the exiting employee at the beginning of the interview so that they can follow along with you.
It’s best to schedule an exit interview with the departing employee and a single HR representative. If the outgoing employee’s manager or supervisor is there, the staff member who is leaving may not feel comfortable answering certain questions truthfully.
Most often, exit interviews take place on an outgoing employee’s last day and are optional, meaning if the departing employee doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to.
Best Exit Interview Questions to Ask Departing Employees
The point of having an exit interview in the first place is to learn valuable information about how staff members truly feel about your company and your desirability as an employer. If you hold an exit interview off the cuff, you’ll miss out on asking meaningful questions that encourage constructive feedback.
Regardless of how you conduct an exit interview, you should have a list of strategic and purposeful questions prepared in advance. Avoid questions that could be considered discriminatory, unprofessional, or accusatory. It’s not helpful for the exit interview to turn confrontational or become an airing of grievances for the employee on the way out the door. Focus on asking positive questions and gathering information that will genuinely help you to become a better employer in the future.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of the most popular opener, role-specific, and company-based questions to ask former employees in an exit interview.
Opener Exit Interview Questions
1. What Made You Start Looking for a New Job?
Asking why the employee considered looking for other employment is a typical question to ask at the beginning of an exit interview, and it will help you to understand what motivated an employee’s decision to leave. Depending on their answer, you may want to ask follow-up questions to gain more insight. For example, if a specific incident caused them to begin looking elsewhere, did they approach management or someone in HR to discuss it, and how was their concern handled?
2. What Does Your New Position Offer That We Don’t?
Asking what enticed the outgoing employee to accept a new position is a great way for you to learn about how competitive you are as an employer. Common answers include flexible work hours, remote work options, better benefits, or a higher salary. Your former employee’s answer may indicate that you need to work harder to keep your competitive edge as an employer.
3. Were You Satisfied With the Perks, Benefits, and Incentives We Provide?
Vacation, health benefits, bonuses, and flexibility are all important workplace perks and benefits that influence employee retention. Although a single perk — or lack thereof — may not be what causes an employee to leave, take note of any feedback you receive about the overall compensation package that you offer.
4. Were You Happy with Your Compensation?
Asking whether your outgoing employee felt fairly compensated can tell you a lot about whether the pay you offer for a role realistically reflects the perceived value and importance it brings to your company. If an exiting employee wasn’t happy with their compensation, ask them why. Is it because they felt their skills were undervalued, or because they didn’t like how you structure raises or bonuses? Use this information to figure out how best to approach the role in the future. For example, should you increase base compensation, consider hiring an additional employee to split the workload, or change the incentive structure?
Role-Specific Exit Interview Questions
5. Did You Feel Valued and Supported in Your Role?
If an employee didn’t feel supported in their role — either by their manager, team, or the company in general — that’s an issue you need to address for any new hire you bring on to fill the newly vacant role, and possibly for your remaining staff. If your exiting employee didn’t feel supported or valued, ask them what could have been done to change that.
6. How Was Your Relationship with Your Manager?
Employees whose managers are incompetent or who treat them poorly almost never last. But it can be hard for them to bring up issues or complaints while they work for your company. Asking this question gives former staff members a chance to address any issues they felt uncomfortable bringing up in the past.
7. Were Your Accomplishments Recognized?
A major factor in motivating staff is to recognize their workplace accomplishments. Without recognition, it can be hard for employees to tell when they’ve done a good job. How a former staff member answers a question about whether their achievements were recognized can help you to determine whether management staff or your company as a whole needs to do better to make employees feel valued.
8. What Were the Best and Worst Aspects of Your Job?
Ask what is working well and what isn’t for the specific role at your company. For example, an exiting employee may have really enjoyed working with their team members but found the project management software to be outdated or difficult to use. This information can help you to revamp the role before you make a new hire.
9. Did You Have the Tools and Support You Needed to Do Your Job Well?
Certain roles require specific software, hardware, or feedback to be successful. If an exiting employee didn’t feel as though they had what they needed to get the job done, ask them what they would recommend for future hires.
10. Were You Given Clear Goals and Objectives?
Employees who aren’t sure what their priorities are or what they’re working toward often end up frustrated and unmotivated. Asking your exiting employee whether they were given direction and purpose in their role can demonstrate that the position needs a more hands-on approach in the future or that you need to revisit your review process to set and evaluate individual goals.
11. How Could We Have Helped You More in Your Role?
Some roles morph and change over time. In a fast-paced company, nontraditional responsibilities or even role-specific industry trends can be overlooked. Asking how the company could have helped the former employee can clarify whether the duties, responsibilities, and expectations for a specific job need to be reassessed and how to make the role more straightforward and less stressful in the future.
12. How Can This Role be Improved for Future Hires?
One of the benefits of conducting an exit interview is that you can use it to inform the job description you write for your next hire. Current employees can give you valuable insight into the true day-to-day tasks and responsibilities the role requires. You can use this feedback to write an accurate job description for the role at your company as opposed to simply basing it off a list of typical duties related to the job title.
Company-Based Exit Interview Questions
13. Would You Ever Work for Us Again?
Asking whether the departing employee would consider working for you again can be very telling when it comes to the overall experience that your company offers. If an exiting employee says yes, it suggests they had a positive experience and that your company has plenty of redeeming qualities, even if there may be areas of improvement to address.
If they say no, on the other hand, you need to determine the root cause of the problem so that you can avoid having demotivated, disgruntled, and unsatisfied staff members in the future.
14. How Can We Improve Company Culture?
Company culture influences everything from your reputation as an employer to employee engagement, so it’s important to know whether there are ways you can make your culture more positive. If an employee isn’t sure how you could improve, ask them how they would describe your company culture instead. This will give you insight into whether the way you perceive your company culture is the same as how your employees experience it.
15. What Is the Company Doing Well?
Use an open-ended question about what the company is doing well to start a conversation. Exiting employees could answer this in a number of ways, from your competitive position in the marketplace to the compensation and benefits you offer, to your mentorship program and training. What an employee thinks your company is doing well tells you a lot about what they value.
Pay attention to what areas they compliment. For example, if all they have to say is that they appreciated having free parking, that indicates general dissatisfaction with their employment experience. However, if they point to a variety of positives like having a great team, offering good compensation and benefits, training, or company culture, you’re likely on the right track.
16. What Is the Company Doing Poorly?
Because an exiting employee doesn’t have to worry about getting reprimanded for what they say, they’re more likely to be honest when asked about where the company is falling short. Try not to be offended by their answer or argue with their assessment, and instead genuinely listen to what they have to say.
Every company has its faults, so you can expect every departing employee to have something to say. They may even bring up issues that you’re already aware of, like limited office space or dated office equipment. Regardless of their answer, take it for what it is — an opportunity to learn how to improve as a company and employer.
17. How Was Your Onboarding Experience?
Onboarding is an essential aspect of every employee’s experience at your company. How someone is welcomed to and trained in a new role has a big impact on employee retention and even company culture. Many employees leave early in their tenure, especially if they weren’t onboarded well from the start. Especially if the departing employee hasn’t been with your company long, you can take note of what they thought was done well and what wasn’t during their onboarding experience to learn how you can better acclimate new hires in the future.
19. Would You Recommend This Company to a Friend?
Asking whether the departing employee would recommend your company to a friend can give you a clear idea of their overall feelings toward your company. Knowing whether outgoing employees would recommend your company can also help you gauge your reputation as an employer.
Knowing an outgoing employee would not recommend your company to a friend indicates serious dissatisfaction. Although your exiting employee may decide not to leave a negative Glassdoor review, they may not recommend you to colleagues within their professional network.
Alternatively, exiting employees who have generally enjoyed their employment with you may be willing to reach out to their networks to help you to fill their open position and refer potential hires from their LinkedIn or other networking groups.
Although negative comments about your company can be hard to hear, it’s difficult to improve without them. Employee feedback is essential in building morale and engagement, positive work experiences, and high retention rates.
Use exit interviews to encourage open, honest conversations about your company and the employment experience that you offer. Understanding what you do well and what you can improve are the first steps in building a strong reputation as a competitive and considerate employer.