15 essential exit interview questions
Exit interviews can be a valuable opportunity for you to gain a deeper understanding of your employees’ experience and can provide you with actionable insights to transform your company culture.
Equally, they can also be a startling wake-up call for employers, as outgoing employees revealing the weaknesses of the business. To get the most out of these discussions, check out our template of essential exit interview questions, along with a handy guide to possible responses.
Why do you need to have exit interviews?
Exit interviews provide an opportunity for employees who are leaving to speak their minds about the company. If someone is leaving due to feeling disgruntled, you can find out their true feelings and try to make peace with them - so they do not leave with bad feelings towards the company.
Exit interviews also give the company an opportunity to find out what a member of staff really thinks about the business and its culture. As the employee is leaving, they are likely to be very honest, so you may find areas in your organisation that could be developed, thus improving staff retention in the future.
What questions should be asked in an exit interview?
1. What made you decide to start looking for another job?
This is a great starter question as your interviewee’s responses will allow you to structure the discussion from here on out. For example, if they cite better pay elsewhere, you can ask them how the salary they received working for you differs from their new job. You could also find out how much market research they’ve done to ascertain their salary benchmark. Or, if they cite company culture or leadership reasons, you can ask more specific questions about immediate and top-level management within your firm.
2. Would you consider working with us again?
This question can be tricky to get right. If an employee has decided that they would be happier in a different role at another firm, it’s your responsibility as an employer to respect that decision. However, it’s also important to figure out whether there’s anything you could do internally to hold on to your interviewee, especially if they are performing well and fitting in with the rest of the team.
If it’s an issue with pay, could their salary package be upped, or could they take on a more senior role? Or if they’re unhappy with some of their responsibilities, could their role be redesigned to better suit their skillset? Great employees can be tough to find and if there’s anything you can do to hold onto one, now’s the time to do it.
3. How was your relationship with your immediate manager?
This question is a great opportunity to evaluate how well your team structure is working and iron out any managerial issues within the company hierarchy. If your interviewee mentions any issues that were borne out of uncertainty, you could perhaps think about organising some top-up training for your managerial team. If there was a clash of personalities that led to him or her not working well with their immediate manager, now is the time to apologise that that wasn’t picked up on sooner.
4. What do you think of the company leadership?
Companies tend to work best when there is a sense of cohesion between all levels of leadership and a clear corporate direction. However, there will be times when this isn’t possible, perhaps if you have new external hires starting at the very top of the chain. Give your interviewee a chance to voice their true opinions, without judgement, about the way that the company is being run. They may have opinions which they have been afraid to voice before, but could provide you with invaluable insight for you for the company’s future.
5. Is there a clear HR department?
A designated HR department is an essential part of any modern business. While this can seem like a big investment for a small business, it’s an important one to make, for your employees’ well-being and morale. Having someone impartial and discrete to turn to when you’re in a difficult situation at work can be a godsend for employees, as it may not always be possible to speak to an immediate manager. Exit interviews are also a good time to establish whether there are clear reporting processes in place, for issues relating to the employee themselves or another team member. It’s important that all staff know exactly who to go to with any sort of problem.
6. Did you feel adequately rewarded for your hard work?
Every employee appreciates being (figuratively speaking) patted on the back and told that they are doing a great job. But now’s the time to consider whether you could go further as an employer in terms of rewarding your team. Not only is it a crucial factor in employee retention, but an excellent rewards system can also help you to attract new talent and fill roles left empty by outgoing employees. Consider how you reward your team, whether that’s with a congratulatory email or a monetary bonus, and how often.
7. Was there any aspect of your role that you struggled with? Would you have benefitted from additional training?
Although this question might feel like a case of ‘too little, too late’, it’s worth asking, as it allows you to re-evaluate your current team’s training, as well as the training that you now provide to new employees. Perhaps your interviewee would have benefitted from additional technical training to better understand data management systems, or maybe they felt they were lacking a proper understanding of holiday policy. By collecting that feedback, you’ll have a better insight into your remaining team.
8. Do you feel that your job description changed since you were hired? How?
A slight shift in job responsibilities is normal in any role, particularly if you’re working for a small business or within a growing team. However, if your interviewee says that they ended up doing an entirely different role than the one that they were hired for, this could highlight a significant gap in your workforce. Similarly, if they ended up picking up responsibilities that they weren’t trained for, that’s a sign that you need to reconsider how your team is distributed, and quickly identify any major gaps, so that you can hire the right person to fill them.
9. Did you have all the necessary resources to succeed in your role?
‘Resources’ can encompass anything from the right staples for your stapler, to necessary computer programmes. It’s important not to overlook the role that technology plays in a modern office, as it can be immensely useful in streamlining processes. Similarly, if the right tech isn’t available, it can really slow you down, meaning that unnecessary time is spent on administrative tasks. Listen carefully to this answer, and consider whether you need to invest in some additional materials for your team - it could increase productivity by a mile.
10. Do you feel that there’s a good balance within the workforce?
Diversity can be a difficult topic to address but can be a contributing factor to employees deciding to make the move elsewhere. For example, if your team is weighted significantly towards one gender or the other, this can affect the experience of the minority group in the office. Hearing an outgoing employee’s opinion on this may affect your future hiring policy, so it’s worth taking the time to listen.
11. What was the best part of working with us?
Many employers are unsure about asking this question, as it can feel like fishing for praise. But exit interviews should focus on the positive aspects of an employee’s time at the company. It’s important for them to reflect upon the good parts of working for you, as it will give them insights into their strengths which they can then take with them into their next role. Plus, a little praise never hurt anyone!
12. What can we do better in the future?
As much as praise is important, so is constructive criticism. And while you may have addressed specific aspects of your interviewee’s role in other questions, this is a chance for them to raise more general issues that they think the company could work on. These may be simple to solve, such as having a better payroll system, or more complex, such as an issue with managerial structure. Listen carefully and take criticism on board with grace.
13. Do you have any concerns that you didn’t have a chance to raise while working here?
This question allows you to identify whether there are any departments or processes that simply don’t join up. It’s all very well having theoretical structures in place, but they have to work in reality too. The only way of establishing gaps is to test your processes, which your workforce effectively do for you. So if a member of your workforce relays to you that those processes aren’t working, it’s your responsibility to listen to that and take action.
14. What skills do you think someone else would need to take on your role?
No-one knows more about their role and responsibilities that an outgoing employee. This question could allow you to get a jump on your recruitment process and attract the best candidate for the position, as you’ll be able to target those with the perfect skills for the job. Make sure to ask to follow up questions about technical skills as well as personal attributes - fitting in with the company culture will be vital for the new team member.
15. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Exit interviews tend to be structured by employer questions, so this is your opportunity to hand the reins over to your interviewee and allow them to speak about anything that hasn’t been covered. Listen attentively and respectfully to anything they say here, and make sure not to interrupt or correct them if you believe what they are saying is incorrect. By ensuring that they feel listened to, you’re safeguarding a good future relationship and ensuring that they move on to their next role with nothing but positive memories of their time working with you.
As an employer, you might be dealt some uncomfortable truths in exit interviews. If possible, try to take them as a suggestive set of guidelines, rather than a slew of direct personal criticism. Accept any praise for your company gracefully and take a proactive approach to criticism, resolving to change any perceived negative aspects. By viewing an exit interview as a learning experience, you’ll be guaranteed to get the most of out it.