In this article, we'll cover how to conduct exit interviews, what questions to include, and how to make the most of the information you gain from those exit interviews.
- What is an exit interview?
- Exit interview guidelines
- Exit interview tips and best practices
- Exit interview questions
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is an organized discussion between a company representative and an employee choosing to leave the company. Exit interviews include questions about the employee’s experiences during their time working with the company and provide a point of closure for both parties.
Why is an exit interview important and what are the benefits?
An exit interview gives employers a chance to learn why the employee may choose to leave their job.
It also allows employees to give valuable feedback and sets the stage for an amicable relationship moving forward even after the employee leaves the company.
If the employee is deciding to leave because of issues within the workplace, you can figure out what those issues are, and prevent other employees from leaving for the same reasons.
The main benefits of exit interviews include:
- Solving workplace issues
- Finding the root cause of the employee’s choice to leave
- Getting valuable feedback to improve the company
- Gives you a clear picture of the real employee experience
- Stay competitive when employees leave for another company
Exit interview guidelines
If you’re not sure how to conduct your exit interviews, you can use this guide as a template and modify it as needed.
1. Create your list of questions
While exit interviews can (and should) become an open conversation that allows for extra commentary, a list of questions is the best starting place.
These questions will guide the exit interview, and ensure that no critical parts of the conversation are forgotten.
Your questions should cover many aspects of the company in general, the employee’s specific role, and their reasons for leaving.
Note: It’s a good idea to allow extra room for comments that may not be pre-planned in your questionnaire.
2. Include everyone
Any employee that leaves your organization should go through an exit interview. Even if the employee, in particular, is disgruntled, aim to conduct an exit interview whenever possible.
This may not be possible in every case (i.e. an employee simply walks off the job or is not amenable to the interview), but you should still make every attempt to get an exit interview.
While interviewing an unhappy person may not be pleasant, it can give them a chance to air their grievances and give you insight into why they’re unsatisfied.
Skipping interviews means that you also skip the opportunity to get valuable information about the employees’ perspective on the company and their roles within it.
3. Find a suitable time
Employees all have different schedules and commitments within their days, and it’s important to consider that so you don’t miss getting an exit interview. Having set times throughout the day where you’re available for exit interviews is important.
Don’t wait too long, nor schedule the interview too early. An employee that still has to work another week before they leave may not be as candid. However, a former employee that’s asked to do an exit interview a week or more after leaving the company has no real motivation to do an interview that doesn’t directly benefit them.
Whenever possible, conduct your exit interview near the end of the employee’s last day at work.
4. Choose the right interviewer
Employees often don’t feel as comfortable giving raw feedback to their direct supervisors, especially if the feedback contains complaints about their supervisor in question.
While it may be helpful to have management within the same department conduct the interview (and they may have more department-specific knowledge to draw upon), try to avoid using a direct supervisor.
In fact, many employees feel more at ease giving honest answers during exit interviews with the supervisor above their own.
You may choose to use another supervisor within the employee's department. However, another tried and true interviewer would be someone from the human resources (HR) department. This is their area of specialty and they may be able to conduct more impartial interviews for both the employee and the department as a whole.
5. Conduct your interview
Make sure to take notes when needed and record any noteworthy comments that may be useful for future analysis.
Introduce yourself (if the employee and yourself aren’t already familiar), and briefly remind them that you’re here to conduct the exit interview. It may also help set the tone to review the main topics you plan on covering.
Your exit interview questions should be in an order that smoothly transitions from one topic to another (i.e. what was your role? Next, what were your main responsibilities, and do you feel your compensation for your role was fair?). This allows you to conduct the interview in a more natural feeling order, while still covering the questions on your list. However, don’t stop your interviewee if they have other information to offer- you’re not bound to the order of your question list. Make notes of it as you go along.
In concluding the interview, thank the interviewee for their time and their answers. Ask for permission to contact them in the future if you need clarification or extra information. If needed, make sure you have the proper contact information.
6. Use and spread your knowledge
The exit interview itself is every bit as important as what you do with the answers you get after you conduct it.
Exit interviews give you a wealth of information you may not otherwise ever find out. Gathering this information and spreading it to management are simply the first steps, however. Once you have the feedback, you need to assess what portions, in particular, are the most valuable.
- Are there issues consistently brought up in exit interviews?
- Do employees often have the same reason for leaving the organization?
Pinpoint these crucial areas, and then work with management to create a plan to make changes within the company that can solve these issues.
It may be tempting to only provide certain feedback (especially that specific to a certain department) to certain areas. However, a comment about leadership in accounting could also be valuable for leadership in other departments to assess their own performance.
Note: Remember, while sharing the information you do need to respect the interviewee’s privacy.
Exit interview tips and best practices
This list of tips and best practices will help you streamline a successful exit interview process.
1. What to say in an exit interview
It’s important to phrase questions and responses correctly to achieve the results you want in an exit interview.
Open-ended questions are incredibly important since it allows people to give a more personal response that you can’t get from “yes or no” types of questions.
Make sure your interviewee knows that you’re looking for honest feedback and that their answers won’t reflect on future references from the company.
Ask targeted questions, but also allow the interviewee to lead as much of the conversation as they feel comfortable with.
2. Don’t let the questionnaire take over
Yes, you do need to keep a list of questions to cover during an exit interview. However, there are plenty of valuable insights you can gain that might not be specifically covered in your questionnaire.
Let the questions lead the conversation, but don’t cut off your interviewee when responses lead to other relevant topics being brought up. You may find that some of your most unexpected (and helpful) information comes from organic conversation.
3. Follow up after the interview
The initial exit interview doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. You should conduct interviews near the employee’s last day, although you can still follow up afterwards. Some people may not feel comfortable giving specific answers so close to their last day or may change answers after moving to another company and having time to reflect.
Likewise, if there are answers that management feels are especially helpful, you can follow up with a call or email to get expanded feedback.
4. Keep the pressure off
Let employees know that this interview is to help the company get honest feedback and valuable insights from an employee perspective. Make it very clear that there won’t be any repercussions for their feedback.
Keep the atmosphere relaxed, casual, and open so that your soon-to-be former employee can answer all questions fully and truthfully.
Another part of keeping a relaxed environment is making sure the employee doesn’t feel outnumbered.
Tip: You don’t need a group to conduct the interview.
Exit interview questions
Here is a list of exit interview questions you can use, and the reasons they may be pertinent to your company.
1. What was your job, and what were your responsibilities?
This is a small question in the scope of the interview, but it’s there for clarity. It also helps when you track responses to your exit interview.
2. Did you receive sufficient support and training?
Even with a regular training program, employees may find knowledge gaps that would otherwise go unnoticed, which means you need to update training materials.
Support refers to resources, tools, software, and assistance available to employees that they need to successfully complete their jobs.
3. Were there other things you needed to help in your role?
This helps you ensure a smoother workplace for new and existing employees that may not feel comfortable asking for extra resources.
4. What is the most difficult part of your job?
As employees leave, they may feel more comfortable airing grievances with their supervisors, coworkers, or the requirements of their job in general.
5. What is the best part of the job?
This feedback can help you determine what keeps employees happy, and allow you to enhance this aspect of the workplace.
6. What is your main reason or reasons for leaving the company?
Figuring out the driving factors for employees leaving may not help you keep the person you’re interviewing, but it can help you avoid losing other valuable employees.
7. Is there anything the company could have done to prevent you from leaving?
This question supports the previous one. Here you can learn what could be done to prevent employees from leaving for the same reason or in similar cases shortly.
8. How do you feel about your supervisors and management?
Sometimes problems in a department trickle from the top down. While employees may not complain while they’re employed with the company, they’re more likely, to be honest about management issues when leaving.
9. Is there sufficient communication within the company? Your department?
Communication is key and without it, workers can quickly fall behind.
This question can help you discern if there are communication issues within the company at large or even in certain departments.
10. Do you feel you received fair payment and benefits?
If your employee is leaving because of pay or benefits, they’ll typically tell you when you ask their reasons for leaving. However, you may also find they leave the company for a similar job in another organization that provides better insurance, higher wages, etc.
11. How was the working environment during your time here?
This question helps you get an inside view of how employees see their day-to-day environment at work and includes everything from relationships with coworkers to inclusivity in the workplace.
12. Did you get sufficient feedback on your performance?
Learn about if management is properly communicating with their team about expectations or performance.
Without sufficient feedback, employees can’t correct issues or may feel dissatisfied if they are doing a good job and don’t hear about it.
13. Would you return to work for this company or recommend it to a friend?
You may be able to regain valuable employees in the future with the proper changes, and satisfied employees that leave for another reason may be able to recommend a suitable replacement for their role.