Tips for a Great Exit Interview & The Best 20 Questions to Ask
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Tips for a Great Exit Interview & The Best 20 Questions to Ask

Post Author - Julia Masselos Julia Masselos Last Updated:

Understanding why employees leave is an important aspect of learning how to make your company a better place to work.

Exit interviews are a goldmine of information, offering insights into your company culture, highlighting areas for improvement, and providing valuable data that can enhance your recruitment and retention strategies.

When done right, exit interviews can leave a positive, lasting impression on departing employees and even turn them into advocates for your brand. However, many HR teams also get them totally wrong.

We’re here to help you leverage exit interviews to their full potential by walking you through their benefits, sharing our top tips, and ending with a list of the 20 best exit interview questions to ask.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Exit interviews give you a behind-the-scenes look at company culture, employee experiences, and why people are leaving, helping you spot areas that need fixing.

  • Analyzing what departing employees say can help you tweak job descriptions, improve employee morale, and tackle issues causing turnover, which boosts retention.

  • Honest feedback from exit interviews can lead to positive changes, such as better reviews on job sites and a stronger reputation as a great place to work.

  • Using a standard set of questions and keeping things confidential encourages open dialogue, ensures you get consistent information, and makes employees feel safe to share.

  • Acting on the feedback, like updating benefits or launching new engagement initiatives, shows employees you value their opinions and helps improve the workplace for everyone.

What happens during an exit interview

The HR manager most often conducts the exit interview. It usually follows a questionnaire-based structure, which helps standardize the process and ensure fair and consistent data collection.

The main purpose is to gather honest feedback from employees about their experience with the company, why they’re leaving, and suggestions for improvement to retain top talent in the future.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Create a comfortable, non-confrontational environment that fosters open and honest dialogue. A good exit interview provides a safe space for experiences to be shared in an honest yet professional way.

Benefits of exit interviews

A well-structured exit interview can be a valuable tool for helping HR teams understand the current state of the company culture, job expectations, and so much more.

At this stage, the employee’s decision to leave has already been made, and they’ve probably also reached the end of their notice period with nothing left to lose.

While it might seem uncomfortable to have them speak about their experience, this actually makes it the perfect opportunity for a frank conversation and to learn what they really think, which can help your overall recruitment and retention strategy in the long run.

Let’s look at some more benefits and reasons why every company needs an exit interview.

Gauge employee morale

Employees already on their way out are often more comfortable speaking openly. The benefit here is that if one employee feels a certain way, chances are they’re not alone. The right exit interview questions can help you gauge team dynamics and prevent problems before they get out of hand.

By acting on the feedback you receive, you can improve employee morale and prevent further resignations from the same team.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Employee exit interview questions are most effective when they include both open-ended and closed-ended options. An exit survey can complement the interview, allowing the departing employee to share their thoughts more privately.

Build a stronger employer brand

Exit interviews are important for collecting honest feedback on company culture and the work environment. Making positive changes based on employee feedback can result in better reviews on job sites and help create a stronger employer brand.

Plus, it is a great chance to leave a lasting impression on employees before they go. If they can see that you’re willing to listen, learn, and adapt to constructive feedback, they might be more likely to recommend you to their network — and possible future candidates!

Improve employee retention

Analyzing exit interview data can help reveal issues and recurring patterns contributing to employee turnover. By identifying the problems within a team, you can easily find the right solutions to improve employee retention rates.

A positive workplace environment boosts productivity, collaboration, and work output for current and future employees. This proactive approach to addressing concerns can significantly reduce turnover and maintain a stable workforce.

Hire better replacements

Feedback from exiting employees can also provide insight when refining job descriptions, improving the hiring process, learning about company culture, and identifying qualities to look for in future candidates.

Understanding why they started seeking alternative employment can highlight areas for improvement in recruitment strategies and ensure that new hires are a better fit for the company culture and role expectations.

Key benefits of exit interviews

6 tips for good exit interviews

Before conducting a departure interview, familiarize yourself with a few best practices. These can help you make the most of it while assuring a positive experience for both you and the employee.

#1. Review the employee’s file beforehand

Nothing is worse than coming unprepared to a meeting, especially one as important as an exit interview. So, review the departing employee’s file to get perspective on their history with the company, performance, and any past feedback.

Tailoring each interview to the employee will not only help you have a more productive exit interview but also show you value their contributions to the organization. Having these details top-of-mind also makes you more likely to ask better questions and end the working relationship on a positive note.

#2. Use an exit interview template

We recommend using a standardized set of exit interview questions to ensure consistency when speaking to departing employees. A template can help ensure that you cover all your bases and touch on all the most important aspects of their departure.

Standardized questions make it easy to look for common themes and trends among different employees. For example, you may want to include a set of questions that cover:

  • Motivations for leaving the company

  • What’s coming next for the employee

  • What the organization did well

  • What the organization can improve

  • Feedback on support, training, and development opportunities

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

An interview template or scorecard is actually something we recommend when hiring employees, too. As with exit interview templates, regular interview templates help keep all interviews consistent, something that can help improve fair hiring if you stick to it long-term.

#3. Don’t involve managers

Line managers might think it’s a good idea to do exit interviews for their employees. After all, you’ve worked with them and want to send them out properly, right? While it might be well-intended, this could actually make things worse.

Namely, this discourages honest negative feedback from most employees where their relationship with their manager might have played a role in the employee’s decision to leave.

A much better approach is to have an HR representative or neutral third party conduct the exit interview and extract meaningful insights. This helps collect information on managers and identify growth opportunities for leadership members. More than anything, it provides a better final employee experience.

#4. Consider confidentiality

When employees leave, make sure they know their exit interviews will remain confidential. They might want to speak about other employees, workplace culture, work-life balance, or working conditions. However, they might feel uncomfortable doing so, especially if they feel their exit survey might get back to current employees.

By putting employees at ease, you can receive feedback confidentially and enable a more open dialogue. Reassure your departing employees that their constructive feedback will help the organization improve, nothing more. If you must share some information with other team members, ensure it’s anonymized and summarized.

#5. Stay positive

Regardless of the information departing employees share with you, it’s important to maintain a calm, professional tone throughout the exit interview. Remember that the goal is to improve the company culture and help determine where the company should focus its efforts next to make new employees as happy as possible.

Remaining positive and showing appreciation for your soon-to-be former employees’ contributions creates a respectful and open atmosphere in the exit interviews.

#6. Implement employee feedback

Collecting the feedback is only half the job (the easy half, at that). Now, you need to implement the feedback you’ve received — it’s useless if it’s just sitting in a file!

What this looks like will depend on what was shared with you in the exit interviews, but it can look like:

  • Revising employee benefits

  • Introducing employee engagement initiatives

  • Ensuring employees are getting enough training

  • Identify areas of improvement based on common themes shared in the offboarding process

Why this matters? Implementing changes based on exit interview insights can lead to significant improvements in the workplace and demonstrate to remaining employees that their opinions are valued. This implicitly encourages them to share candidly in their exit surveys, as they know their words will directly benefit their peers.

6 Tips for Good Exit Interviews

20 great exit interview questions to ask

The best exit interview questions are thoughtful, open-ended, and designed to elicit meaningful feedback. Here are 20 sample exit interview questions you can use to detect common themes between resigning employees.

Reasons for leaving

1. Why have you decided to leave?

      Perhaps the most obvious question to ask is why the employee is leaving. Common reasons include getting a better offer elsewhere, changing careers, feeling like they can’t grow anymore in the role, or wanting to take some time off.

      2. What prompted you to start looking for alternative employment?

        If they got another offer, you can ask why they started looking. Sometimes, it will be for reasons you can’t control, but other times, it can highlight problems like messy internal communications, unclear leadership, or an unattractive compensation package.

        3. Have you shared your concerns in the past, and how do you feel it was handled?

          This gives you insight into the employee’s perception of the management style and whether they felt they were being taken seriously. You might hear something like, “Every time I raised an issue, my manager listened, but I never saw the follow-through I needed to feel the issue was resolved.”

          4. How would you describe your relationships with your manager and peers?

            The manager-subordinate relationship is among the most influential relationships on job satisfaction. If it played a role in the employee’s resignation, you want to know about it. For example, “While I learned a lot from my boss during my tenure, I struggled to feel like they truly had my back because of XYZ.”

            Employee experience & culture

            5. How would you describe your relationship with the wider team?

              This question probes the defining factor that led to their decision to resign. If nothing was wrong with their wider relationships, they probably decided to leave for other reasons. If that’s the case, you might hear, “My team was full of inspiring, intelligent, and ambitious colleagues I learned a lot from, and I’ll be lucky to get such a team in my next position.”

              6. Were there any aspects of the job or company culture that you found particularly challenging?

                Asking this can shine a light on any aspects of your culture that might need revision or upkeep. For instance, “I noticed I was getting email replies from colleagues over the weekends, which indicated an expectation for us to sacrifice our personal hours for work, which doesn’t align with how I navigate my work/life balance.”

                7. Would you recommend us as a place to work to a friend?

                  This is a great litmus test for your employer brand. Is it strong enough that people would be willing to refer you? You might hear, “I’ve had a very fruitful time here, growing my skill set and meeting some excellent colleagues. Ultimately, whether I recommend you will depend on the positions available and whether they match the skills of my friends and family.”

                  8. What would make this a better place to work?

                    Welcome feedback on culture and work environment. You could get some really creative answers or some surprising revelations. Suggestions might relate to clearer company policies, better benefits, or more manageable workloads.

                    Role-specific questions

                    9. What did you enjoy most about your role here?

                      This helps with future recruitment. It’s a good filter for the type of personality that will do well in the role. For example, if they say being on calls all day with prospects is their favorite part of the role, you might want to focus your recruitment on more extroverted personalities who can handle high volumes of calls with ease and joy.

                      10. Do you feel your job description changed over time? If so, how?

                        Understanding this will help you craft an accurate and representative job description when hiring for this position. Listen closely to what they share about the changing scope over time and any skills that are essential to success in the role.

                        11. Did your interview for the role set the right expectations?

                          This helps refine the kinds of questions and information presented at the interview to better manage expectations with candidates who will apply for the newly open position.

                          12. How has this role prepared you for your next career move?

                            Top talent is always looking to grow and move up fast. To retain them, you need to be able to match their pace and hunger; otherwise, you’ll struggle.

                            Progression and training

                            13. How well did the company support your professional growth and development? Did you get all the tools and resources you needed?

                              If they didn’t, they’ll let you know. You can then use this information to adapt your resources for future employees and avoid the same problem. You can even ask them for specific tools, courses, or materials they feel they would’ve benefited from and why.

                              14. Did you feel like an appropriate career path was developed for you?

                                This helps keep your career progression program competitive and in line with the expectations of ambitious employees. The best talent wants this, and without it, might say, “While I’m grateful for my time learning and growing with this company, I simply feel I’d like to grow faster than I can here.”

                                15. What did you think of the way you were managed?

                                  Determine whether the management style was effective, empowering, and within the scope of the culture. You should always approach this topic positively and professionally while expressing areas for improvement. For example, “Management was very supportive overall, but I felt at times I’d have liked to be trusted with a little more responsibility.”

                                  16. What benefits or programs did you feel were missing from the organization?

                                    This is a chance to gauge how attractive your benefits package is compared to the wider market. Employees might give you some great ideas of new things to consider, including what they felt wasn’t such a draw.

                                    Suggestions for improvement

                                    17. What could the company have done differently to retain you?

                                      Sometimes, employees leave through no fault of the company. It’s simply time to move on, or they want to try their hand at something different. But if something about the company they didn’t like played a role in their decision, you need to find out what it was.

                                      18. What advice would you be willing to offer to help us improve employee retention?

                                        This is another way of asking them what they would have liked to have seen during their tenure and what might have made the outcome different. They might tell you something about a clearer progression path, more training and resources, or more autonomy and trust in their work.

                                        19. In your eyes, what should we be mindful of when recruiting your replacement?

                                          No one knows the role better. They might say, “Someone who can negotiate well will excel in this role. I don’t think management realizes how much that skill plays into the success of this role.”

                                          20. What are the biggest risks for our company?

                                            This answer might surprise you, but it’s important to ask as it could reveal a big blind spot—from a culture mishap to a toxic manager or a lack of creative thinking.

                                            Exit interview questions to ask employees

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                                            Julia Masselos

                                            Julia is a freelance writer and fierce remote work advocate. While traveling full-time, she writes about the intersection of technology and productivity, the future of work, and more. Outside work, you can find her hiking, dancing, or reading in a coffee shop.

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