HR conducting an exit interview with a departing employee

Losing an employee hurts. Whether you let them go, or they accepted another job offer, the situation is always tough and one side usually feels the burn. However, the departure of an employee shouldn’t be entirely marred by negativity. They are leaving for a reason and you now have the opportunity to find out why. This is where exit interviews come in. When the time comes for an employee to leave, don’t just show them the door. Use this as an opportunity to gather some insights from them with exit interview questions. Below we discuss our top exit interview tips and provide you with an exit interview checklist that you can follow at your own company.

What Is An Exit Interview?

An exit interview is the process of gathering information from departing employees to discover which factors drove them to leave the company. The goal of exit interviews is to increase employee satisfaction and retention rates, while also driving overall organizational improvement. Exit interview questions are often administered by Human Resource professionals but can be conducted by Hiring Managers as well.

Why Are They Important?

Developing successful, happy employees and retaining them is essential for any successful organization. With exit interviews, you have the unique opportunity to evaluate why an employee has decided to leave:

  • Maybe professional development opportunities at your organization are limited
  • Maybe your pay is too low
  • Maybe they were a bad hire
  • Maybe it was simply time for them to move on

Regardless of the reason for their departure, knowing that reason is invaluable. No one understands the faults and strengths of an organization like its employees and because these employees are on their way out, they can give you honest and unfiltered feedback.

Keep in mind though, every employee’s experience and opinions are unique. You can’t conduct one exit interview and take everything that employees tells you as truth. Exit interviews should be conducted consistently with all departing employees so that over time, you can develop a macro overview of trends influencing employee retention.

Exit Interview Tips: Exit interviews are not just for employees who are voluntarily leaving. Going through exit interview questions with employees that have been laid off or fired is extremely valuable as well. While these may be more uncomfortable there is still valuable information to be gained as to why that employee was not able to succeed in the role.

How To Conduct An Exit Interview

1. Provide Context

There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding exit interviews. Departing employees often view them as an uncomfortable final slap on the wrist before they depart. To eliminate these misconceptions, explain your purpose for conducting exit interviews and detail what will be included in the process before hand.

Make it clear to your employees that exit interviews aren’t disciplinary, you simply want their honest feedback. Furthermore, inform employees that their information will be used for organizational improvement going forward. This allows them to understand the bigger picture behind exit interviews and even if they didn’t leave on the best terms, they will be sympathetic towards the cause.

Lastly, make it clear to your employees that their responses are anonymous. Interview feedback isn’t useful until it has been normalized across an aggregated set so individual feedback should never be presented alone. Beyond this, keeping exit interview results private is important for HR confidentiality.

2. Schedule The Exit Interview

Exit interviews should always be conducted in person, either by a designated member from HR or by the Hiring Manager of the departing employee. When you send along the invite for the exit interview, include an overview of the questions that you will be discussing. This will get your employee reflecting on their own experiences before the meeting and will better prepare them to provide you with useful feedback.

3. Conduct The Exit Interview

Best Questions to Ask

Knowing which questions to ask during an exit interview can be a challenge. Once you have your exit interview scheduled, you should have an exit interview checklist of questions ready to go. Below are the questions that we ask during exit interviews at Newton:

1. How are things?

The first key for successful exit interviews is getting your employee comfortable. People are most honest when they are relaxed so make it clear that this is a friendly conversation. Start with small talk:

  • How’s your day going?
  • Excited for the new job?
  • Any vacation plans?

2. What drove you to start looking for a new job?

This is the most important question you will ask during the exit interview. Here you are trying to uncover the initial motivation for them leaving.

3. Why did you accept this new job? What are you most excited about in the new role?

These questions help you assess the competitive landscape of the job market that you operate in. Knowing what other companies are offering that you aren’t is important for forging your talent acquisition and retention strategies moving forward.

4. How was your relationship with your manager?

Did you have clear goals and know what was expected of you? Did your manager help you achieve these goals and develop professionally along the way? Did they provide you with the tools and resources that you needed to grow?

5. What did you like about working here?

Knowing what you are doing right at your company is invaluable. You can choose to double down on these efforts or instead, refocus your efforts on other areas where you may be lacking.

6. What didn’t you like about working here?

As important as it is to know what you are doing right, it may be even more important to know what you’re doing wrong. Additionally, you want to gauge the magnitude of the “wrong.” Did these factors play a major hand in your employee not succeeding in the role or choosing to leave for another company? Also, you want to determine if employee churn is a product of the role they held or something larger like company culture.

7. What did you like most about your role?

Similar to question 5 but now diving into the specifics of the role. What aspects motivated them most and brought them fulfillment in the role? Don’t be afraid to discuss specific roles and responsibilities that the employee held.

8. What did you like least about your role?

Similar to question 6 but now diving into the specifics of the role. Maybe the role wasn’t right for your employee or maybe how the role operates within your organization isn’t ideal. Discuss work duties and responsibilities. What aspects deterred them from being successful in the role or drove them to look for other opportunities?

9. Did your role meet your expectations from when you first accepted the job? In what ways was it different, good or bad?

This may be the second most important question on the list. Are you advertising your jobs to set appropriate expectations and are you meeting those expectations? Are you offering opportunities for professional growth and development? A large part employee satisfaction, and therefore, employee retention, come down to setting expectations, meeting them, and then building upon them.

10. If a friend or family told you they were considering applying here, would you recommend it?

This is a great way to gauge your employee’s true sentiments towards your company. If they would recommend working there to friends or family, then you know they hold you in high regard. If not, this is a red flag and you should ask follow-up questions to distill why.

11. Would you consider returning to this company in the future?

This serves as a nice follow-up to the previous question and is another good way to gauge sentiment. If someone is willing to return to your company in the future, then you know there are no hard feelings. If not, this may be a red flag. Either way, have a few follow-up questions to figure out why.

12. If you could make changes to improve your experience here, what would they be?

This is a great final question to try and uncover anything that you haven’t already surfaced. Think of this more like a free form response giving your departing employees the opportunity to cover that “anything else?

Using The Data To Improve

Once you are done conducting an exit interview, it’s important to remember that the results should never live in a vacuum. You should aggregate the data and results across a collection of exit interviews to tease out commonalities and trends. These insights then need to be presented to leadership and action should be taken to improve any issues.

Handling exit interview data in this way can highlight areas of improvement:

  • How can we better retain employees?
  • What are other companies offering that we aren’t?
  • How can we modify roles to make them more appealing to future employees?
  • What aspects of our organization are keeping employees satisfied? What aspects are driving them away?
  • Which roles or departments have highest turnover rates? Why?

Exit Interviews, Check. But How About Job Interviews?

Now that you have your exit interview process down, you should have no problem offboarding employees. But how about getting employees in the door. Do you have a good process in place for recruiting, interviewing, and hiring new employees? Check out the 13 Signs of Inefficient Hiring below to find out!

13 Signs of Inefficient Hiring

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