Make an Exit Interview Count – 5 Key Questions to Ask

While an exit interview is often a bittersweet experience, they are an incredibly valuable resource for both employers and employees and provide keen insight on company operations from a reliable, first hand source.

Depending on the individual moving on and their department and position held, the information presented in an exit interview can offer crucial details surrounding the work environment. 

They also allow for an opportunity to receive critical feedback on the organization as a whole, as well as an individual manager, employee experience, and the potential reasons why departing employees have decided to leave.

Of course, it is essential to maintain a proper perspective. While there may be instances in which exit interviews may be unpleasant and uncomfortable and reveal some harsh truths, a majority of the time, they are due to departing employees moving on to bigger, better opportunities to further their career.

Whether the reasons are related to a positive or negative experience, exit interviews are crucial for organizations to understand how best to promote a healthy, professional workplace where employees can thrive.

This article will discuss the importance of an exit interview, conduct exit interviews, and specific interview questions to help managers and organizations utilize them to their full potential.

In this article, we will cover:

What is an Exit Interview?

exit interview definition

In human resources, an exit interview is a meeting where an interviewer and an exiting employee have the opportunity to host a discussion about their reasons for leaving the company during one of the worker’s last days of employment.

Reasons for conducting an exit interview relate to any instance where an employee leaves a company, including when they resign, when they are fired and in the case of retirement.

Exit interviews are a significantly beneficial tool for management at the executive and departmental levels of an organization to learn more about the reasons behind the employee’s decision to leave. They also set the stage for receiving valuable feedback on the position and overall organization and provide the employee with a safe environment to voice any constructive criticism or share any concerns.

Conducting an exit interview allows management to take the specific and, ultimately, genuinely truthful information presented in these meetings and directly translate it over to day-to-day operations to minimize employee turnover and create a more productive, comfortable working environment.

Exit interviews are also a useful tool for driving better employee retention. Companies can learn of specific issues or faults in a position or particular process that they may not otherwise have been aware of, allowing them to improve or rectify any significant concerns.

Employee turnover is one of the first things potential applicants look for when considering employment at a new business. Find out more in  Why Employee Turnover – 5 Causes and How to Fix Them.”

Why Are They Important?

Exit interviews are incredibly valuable opportunities for an organization to reflect on its leaders, consider areas of improvement, and ultimately conduct a productive conversation with an individual with firsthand experience of what it’s like to work at that specific company.

The benefits are plentiful.

Perhaps one of the best examples of why exit interviews are necessary is that they allow departing employees to give their unfiltered feedback regarding the company. In reality, this individual will no longer be working at the organization and will likely feel more comfortable openly and honestly sharing their views with the interviewer regarding the workplace, their specific manager, and their overall experience with the organization.

In this way, an employer can gain crucial insight regarding day to day operations and whether the organization genuinely puts forth a hospitable, accepting environment or more toxic work culture

These employees no longer need to fear professional or executive repercussions for voicing their sincere thoughts. However, of course, their conciseness or bluntness will be within reason as they likely will not want to burn a professional bridge.

HR can then relay the information and data from these interviews to managers who can consider implementing any necessary changes to help make conditions more favourable for new hires.

The opportunity to learn about any necessary alterations is especially vital in the context of new hires. It is particularly pertinent when the employee’s concerns regard anything to do with training, whether it’s not receiving enough or whether the current methods are ineffective for the actual needs and skills necessary for that specific job.

Suppose the individual leaving the company is in a management or leadership position. In that case, an exit interview is also an excellent time to consider promoting internally and gaining insights surrounding who that particular person thinks might be a good fit for succession.

While an exit interview is an excellent chance to hear what areas can be improved upon, they are not always solely riddled with negativities. Exit interviews also provide the opportunity to hear what the business does well and perhaps help with focusing more resources on those related fields.

A toxic work culture can steadily lead to a decline in employee morale and increased turnover. Learn more about the Blatant Signs That You’re Working in a Toxic Work Culture and Solutions to Solve Them.”

How to Conduct an Exit Interview

When it comes to conducting an exit interview successfully, there are multiple factors to consider.

First and foremost, it is vital to establish to the departing employee that their insights are valued and respected and that any issues or concerns they voice will be taken seriously.

Since it is typically human resources that conduct exit interviews, there should be a keen focus on employee experience and whether they believe they were operating within a safe office environment. Mainly because this fact will impact how forthcoming they are with their answers to the various questions asked.

If the employee didn’t feel comfortable and safe during their time working at the organization, it would undoubtedly be a key indicator of why they choose to leave. From there, you can ask about their individual job performance and training and whether they feel they were equipped with the skills necessary to perform their role effectively.

There are two primary reasons why someone chooses to part ways with a company: they have found a better opportunity to further their career or a final expression of dissatisfaction with their workplace or employer.

In the context of an employee being fired, the interviewer must clearly establish from the get-go that the conversation is meant to be productive, constructive and, above all else, respectful. Firing someone is always an awkward and unfortunate experience. Doing your best to make sure that it is as smooth and conflict-free as possible is the optimal way for each party to get the most out of the meeting.

In this instance, an exit interview provides the employee with the opportunity to learn about where things may have gone wrong. It also provides insight into why they may not have been perceived as an appropriate fit for the company and any other factor and feedback they can take with them to their new job.

Effective Exit Interview Questions

The best way to get the most out of an exit interview is to strategize ahead of time and develop appropriate, relevant questions about various factors that impacted the employee’s ability to conduct their job comfortably, efficiently, and productively.

In other words, in regards to conducting exit interviews effectively and successfully, it all comes down to asking the right questions.

Below are just a few examples of potential questions to ask in an exit interview.

Why Did You Start Looking for a New Job?

One of the primary grounds for conducting an exit interview is because an employee has received a job at a different company. Determining their reasoning for actively seeking a new position in the first place can provide significant insight into what kind of work environment the organization presents.

The reason could be something as straightforward as an increase in salary, higher-level role, or better work-life balance. However, there is also the possibility that mismanagement, dissatisfaction in the role, or the overall company could have sparked seeking alternative employment.

How Would You Describe Our Company Culture?

As we have previously mentioned, company culture plays a critical role in how comfortable employees feel in their work environment. If an individual feels bullied, ostracized, or discriminated against, they will likely seek employment elsewhere.

A significant amount of time is spent at a person’s place of work. If they do not feel that their office is conducive to a safe, supportive environment, they will attempt to find it at another company. Identifying common trends or issues that arise is essential in developing stronger employee morale for workers remaining with an organization to avoid future conflict.

This question also opens the door for follow-up questions regarding specific examples to determine recurring negative themes or potentially even red flags surrounding certain individuals that may require further disciplinary action. 

Did You Share Your Concerns with Anyone Before Choosing to Leave?

This question is especially pertinent because it provides insight into whether the company had a prior opportunity to rectify any conflicts or mismanagement before the departing employee chose to seek other employment.

It also refers back to company culture issues and whether or not that particular individual felt that they were operating within an environment that promoted and supported voicing concerns without fear of negative repercussions.

It also presents a scenario for reviewing those in management or executive positions and whether certain instances could have been handled better or, perhaps more importantly, if these contention points were even addressed at all.

If You Could Change Anything About this Organization, What Would it Be?

Questions like this can be incredibly productive in exit interviews because it alleviates the pressure of focusing on the specific individual employee and instead shifts focus to the company as a whole.

The question could involve discussing general overarching issues such as promoting more extensive communication methods across the board or seeking information about certain departments’ management. Simply changing how you frame a particular question can significantly impact the quality and depth of the answers you are likely to receive.

What Could Have Been Done Differently for You to Choose to Stay Here?

While opting for a more generalized strategy, such as the previous question listed, can help ease tension and awkwardness, there is also something to be said for a more direct approach.

Ultimately, there is a significant chance that the departing employee is choosing to leave because they were not getting everything they needed from the company. Being forthright and straight to the point will provide an opportunity for the employee to be frank and authentic in their response.

While it likely won’t change their mind for wanting to leave, it may provide crucial information surrounding potential reasons for employee turnover and help the organization adjust moving forward.

Key Takeaways

It is always unfortunate to see an employee go, but their reasoning for doing so can provide valuable insight into company operations.

An exit interview presents a fantastic opportunity for a respectful yet informative conversation that allows an employer to know why that particular employee chose to leave and provides a chance for them to apply that knowledge directly to promote beneficial improvements.

There are many reasons why an employee may choose to leave, and it is important to highlight that they aren’t all necessarily bad. Sometimes, it simply comes down to personal and professional growth.

However, it is crucial to take all opportunities to reflect on business management and determine whether a company is doing all it can to ensure success.

Written By Emily Rumball

A Content Writer at Advesa, Emily is a self-proclaimed tea addict (her favourite being a nice, strong English Breakfast), animal lover, and eager traveller. When she isn't jet-setting off to the next far off destination, she enjoys spending quality time at home in Vancouver.