Exit Interviews: Why Do Them and What To Ask

Editor’s note: This is the first of two blogs in our series about exit interviews.

No matter their reason for leaving, nor if they were fired or quit, each outgoing employee should be asked a series of questions as part of an official exit interview.

In her blog post about exit interviews for Glassdoor for Employees–one of the worlds largest recruiting websites–Jessica Miller-Merrell writes that one of the best ways to get honest feedback is to ask employees who no longer rely on you for their livelihood. 

“Employee exit interviews can reveal powerful insights that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” she writes.

Miller Merrell goes on to write that businesses can conduct exit interviews face-to-face, build an exit interview form or exit interview template using a service like Survey Monkey, or encourage company reviews on Glassdoor.

Below are questions Miller-Merrell suggests should be a part of the exit interview.

1. Why did you begin looking for a new job?

“Asking this sample exit interview question opens up the opportunity for a variety of answers,” Miller-Merrell writes. “You may see that an employee simply needed a job closer to home, or it may point to a specific instance or situation that sparked the search.”

2. What ultimately led you to accept the new position?

“This is a good exit interview question because it will allow you to contrast your company’s position with a different organization’s,” she writes. “The key to this answer is actually in what you don’t see. For instance, if an employee indicates that they are leaving for higher pay, this could mean that your compensation package isn’t competitive enough.”

3. Did you feel that you were equipped to do your job well?

“If you want a direct way to better retain the employee who fills this position next, ask this question,” Miller-Merrell writes. “It’s one of the best exit interview questions that will help you generate an immediate proactive response. Be prepared for tales of technology woes, inadequate training and more, but also be prepared to gain valuable knowledge of what you can do better next time.”

4. How would you describe the culture of our company?

“This question isn’t probing for specific examples but instead will help you identify trends,” she writes. “As you keep track of employee exit interviews, watch for trends throughout to help you identify real concerns. Identifying trends can also help you separate legitimate concerns from the personal opinion of employees who are emotional or feel negatively about the company.”

5. Can you provide more information, such as specific examples?

“Your natural reaction may be to shy away from asking for specific examples, but this follow-up question, which is beneficial throughout your survey, may reveal personnel problems or other things that are easily fixed, preventing the loss of another employee,” writes Miller-Merrell.

6. What could have been done for you to remain employed here?

“There is no question more direct than this one,” she suggests. “Often, a frank question will give employees an opportunity to open up where they were afraid to before. Obviously, this question isn’t aimed at fulfilling their request in order to keep them employed there, but it will help in the future.”

7. Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company prior to leaving?

“This common question points back to your employee culture and whether your employee felt comfortable to share concerns with superiors or coworkers,” Miller-Merrell writes. “The key here is to understand if you promote an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable to voice their opinions.”

8. If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would you change?

“Though you’ll likely gain a lot of insight throughout the exit interview, this question will help the employee to focus in on the biggest or most important reason they’re leaving your company,” she writes. “This is also a non-confrontational way to encourage them to reveal the real reason they’re leaving, as it isn’t asking what they didn’t like, but what they would change. It shifts their answer from a complaint to a suggestion, which many people feel more comfortable providing. Often, just the way we ask a question can make all the difference.”

9. Management is often a key factor in an employees decision to leave. Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?

“Asking your former employee about management is critical. Understanding if there’s any issues or direct problems will help you take preventative measures from losing future talent,” Miller-Merrell writes. 

10. Did you have clear goals and objectives?

“Employees don’t like feeling like they’re just a cog in the machine,” she writes. They want to know that their work matters and helps drive towards a greater goal.”

11. Did you receive constructive feedback to help you improve your performance?

“Again, your employees don’t want to feel like they’re stagnant,” she writes. “Understanding their personal objectives, and helping them improve their arsenal of skills should be a key area of focus.”

12. How can our company improve training and development programs?

“This ties into your ability to engage employees,” she writes. “Higher engagement leads to higher employee retention.”

13. Would you consider coming back to work here in the future? In what area or function? What would need to change?

“Find out if employees would ever consider coming back,” writes Miller-Merrell. “It could be that they just want to gain experience in a particular role, or may want an increase in compensation. Regardless, this is great information to have if different roles of interest open up.”

Come up with a plan

If it hasn’t been your practice’s policy to give exit interviews, you might want to reconsider. 

Go over the above questions, use what you like, toss what you don’t and feel free to add in individualized questions based on your practice. 

Next, figure out how you will administer these interviews. Face-to-face? Online survey? Mailed letter? 

Make sure you get everything squared away so that when your next employee either quits or gets fired, you’re prepared to administer the interview. You never know what you’ll learn! 


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