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Exit Interview
When employees leave your company, one of the first questions you ask is why? As an employer, you want to understand why your employees decide to leave your company. Employees leave for a multitude of reasons: better job opportunities elsewhere, job dissatisfaction, reduction in hours, or personal reasons. Whatever the reason might be, exit interviews are one of the best ways to understand why they are leaving and to help you know how to prevent more turnover in the future.

What Is an Exit interview?

An exit interview takes place when an employee decides to leave your company. Typically exit interviews take place when an employee decides to leave voluntarily, but you can still conduct one in cases of involuntary terminations. An exit interview is typically conducted by a HR representative and involves the employee who is leaving the company. They can be as informal or as formal as you want. However, generally the HR representative will have a series of questions prepared that they will ask the employee. These questions could include why they are leaving, what job they accepted elsewhere, feedback on the company and its culture and any other questions they think might be important to ask the employee.

Why Are Exit Interviews Important?

Exit interviews are a great opportunity for companies to get feedback on what they are doing well and what they could improve as a company. They also allow the employee to speak more candidly with the HR representative than they would with their supervisor. Employees are more likely to speak openly about their experience at the company when they are on their way out of the company since they don’t have to worry about any repercussions based on what they say.
  • Feedback. This is probably the most important reason to conduct an exit interview. As a company, you are always looking for ways to improve. Much time and thought is put into sending out surveys and gathering feedback from employees. However, current employees are often less likely to be honest and candid with their feedback. Gathering feedback from an employee leaving the company is a great opportunity to get someone’s opinion on your company.
  • Data. The more exit interviews that you conduct, the more data you are able to gather about how you fare as a company with things like pay, benefits, culture, training, etc. Over time, you can have a large sample size of data that allows you to look at the trends and see what you need to improve on. Data is one of the best tools you can use in HR to understand the employee experience and to provide you information on what aspects of your company you need to focus on to improve.
  • Positive experience. One frequently overlooked aspect of an exit interview is that it provides the opportunity to ensure that one of the employee’s last interactions with the company is a positive experience. It gives the employee a chance to reflect on the good things that happened while they worked at your company. You can talk about the things that went well while they were employed there. You can make sure that you leave a positive, lasting impression on the employee.

How to Conduct an Exit Interview

When conducting an exit interview, you want to make sure that you set enough time aside so that the employee can share whatever feedback they want. Conduct the interview with only two to three people and in a private place so that the employee is more willing to speak openly about the company.

Step 1: Schedule the Interview

You want to give the employee enough of a heads up for the interview so they can plan enough time for it and put it on their calendar. Ideally you can schedule it at least a week before the meeting takes place. The meeting doesn’t have to happen on the employee’s last day of work, but should be sometime in their last week. The last couple weeks of employment can be quite busy for an employee, so make sure you provide them enough time to plan for the exit interview.

Step 2: Prepare a Set of Questions

Prior to conducting the interview, come up with a list of questions to ask the employee. The interview doesn’t have to be formal. Ultimately, the interview is an opportunity for the employee to share their experience while working for your company and to provide any feedback, but you do want to have a set of questions to direct the conversation in the right direction if needed. These questions should be geared toward getting feedback on your company culture, pay, benefits, holidays, time off, etc, as well as questions about positive and negative experiences the employee had while employed there.

Step 3: Conduct the Interview

When you start the interview, explain the reason for the interview with the employee. Help them understand what you are trying to accomplish with this exit interview. Set the expectation that you are wanting to get feedback as a company, good and bad, that will help you grow as a company. Ask the employee to be as honest and candid as possible so that the company can know what they need to improve.

Step 4: Ask Prepared Questions

After you have set expectations and made it clear to the employee that you are there to listen, go through and ask all the questions you have prepared. Make sure you give the employee adequate time to answer each question. Try to have a variety of open-ended questions and straightforward questions so that you can provide the employee with a chance to give you the best feedback possible.

Step 5: End the Interview

After your last question, it may be appropriate to give the departing employee one last chance to say anything they have yet to express by asking something like, “is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?” Once the employee voices any final concerns, close the interview by thanking the employee again for all that they have done with the company. Try to be specific on what they accomplished while working there. Give them one last chance to provide any other feedback or comments they might have for the company.

Tips for Running an Effective Exit Interview

Running an effective exit interview is more than just preparing a set of questions to ask the employee. You want to make sure the employee feels heard and validated. Give them a chance to truly express themselves while also gathering the feedback and data you are hoping to gather.

Tip 1: Listen

This can not be overstated enough: make sure you listen. When conducting an exit interview, you go in with a plan, but you want to make sure the employee feels heard. This will go a long way in ensuring the employee is open and honest, leaving the employee with a positive experience and developing good rapport with the employee so they might come back to work with you or refer someone else to your company. By listening to the employee, you show them that you truly do care about them, even if they are leaving your company.

Tip 2: Take Notes

When conducting an exit interview, you will want to take notes of what the employee says. If you don’t take notes while conducting the interview, you will likely miss key details or comments. These notes could be simply writing down key things that they say, or you could create a survey and fill the survey in as you ask the employee questions.

Tip 3: Focus on the Employee

When conducting an exit interview, make sure you are focused on the employee. This includes looking at them when you are talking to them. This can be hard to juggle as you will also be taking notes as you ask them questions, but make sure you are focused on the employee instead of hiding behind your computer screen. Go back and forth between your computer screen and the employee. If needed, make small notes during the interview with key points, and finish up with your notes after.

Tip 4: Ask Follow-Up Questions

After asking your prepared questions, don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions after the employee says something. Sometimes you need to ask follow-up questions to dig a little deeper into an issue the employee had while working for your company. You don’t want them to feel like they are being interrogated, but you also want to ask questions based on the information they provide.

22 Exit Interview Questions to Ask

Here are some examples of questions that you can ask during the exit interview. Review these questions every few months so you can add or change them based on the needs of the company.

Personal Questions

It's helpful to begin with personal questions when conducting exit interviews because these questions are often the easiest to talk about for employees. The following personal questions are designed to understand the mind of the individual and the process they followed in finding a new position.
  1. What prompted you to begin looking for another job?
  2. What were some of the biggest factors that led you to accept this new position?
  3. What does your new position offer that is more attractive than your present job?
  4. How long ago did you start to feel like you wanted to search for a new job?
  5. Is there anything we could have done to keep you here?

Job Questions

Exit interview questions related to their job are often the most critical. It’s likely that no one in the company knows the job as intimately as the employee leaving it. This is a great opportunity to find out the good and bad about the job, as well as to ask questions in relation to the manager, the skills necessary to perform, and what to look for in a possible replacement.
  1. Did you feel like you had the tools and support to do your job well?
  2. Did you feel like your manager was invested in your success?
  3. Did you feel like your manager was easy to talk to/easy to work with?
  4. Do you believe that you were fairly compensated in this position?
  5. What did you like most about your job?
  6. What did you like least about your job?
  7. Did you feel like there were opportunities for career growth/development?
  8. What skills are the most important to excel at your job?
  9. If you were hiring your own replacement, what would be important to you in evaluating candidates?

Company Questions

The final category is company questions. These questions can give you real insight into employee morale, company culture, and employee engagement. Oftentimes, if some employees begin to leave because of issues with any of these things, it’s safe to assume that there are other employees in your organization who have similar feelings. Gathering this data about your company can often help you predict how much or how little employee turnover you might expect in the near future.
  1. What are some positive and negative experiences you’ve had during your time at the company?
  2. Overall, were you happy with the benefits offered at our company?
  3. How would you describe our company culture?
  4. What would you change to make this company a better place to work?
  5. Would you ever consider working for this company again in the future?
  6. On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to recommend a friend to work at this company?
  7. What are the toughest challenges you foresee for our company in the near or long-term future?
  8. If there is anything you could change about our company, what would it be?

Use Exit Interviews to Retain More Employees and Build a Strong Culture

Exit interviews can be difficult for both sides. Depending on the situation, you might be saying goodbye to an employee you’ve known for a long time, or you might be speaking to someone you’ve only just met. Either way, be respectful and come prepared with thoughtful exit interview questions. When you’re equipped with good questions, listen respectfully, and are gracious to your departing employee, you will find these interviews provide critical insights and constructive feedback that your company can build upon. By harnessing this data and making changes based on the information, you’ll lose fewer employees and build a stronger company culture.
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Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.
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Frequently asked questions
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