14 Exit Interview Questions You Must Ask

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By Robert Half January 16, 2019 at 3:30pm

Tellingly, some of the best times to get honest employee feedback may be when somebody leaves your company. That’s where the exit interview comes into play.

This final meeting allows you to hear from people who are likely to be the most candid about their experiences with your firm. Departing workers can provide insights current staff may be reluctant to share.

Generally speaking, the most helpful exit conversations take place with people who resign voluntarily. People you’ve had to fire, though potentially the most candid of all, are not good subjects for two reasons: They’re unlikely to cooperate, and, if they do, their comments can be clouded by emotion or negativity, which won’t accurately reflect the practices of your business.

Here are 14 examples of exit interview questions to ask employees who are leaving the company on good terms:

1. What prompted you to start looking for another job?

The answer to this question will invariably contain details unique to the individual taking part in the exit interview, but asking it gives you the ability to track common themes. For example, if many employees leave because they were discouraged by a lack of advancement opportunities, you may want to take another look at your strategies for promotions. And if people are moving on for better pay elsewhere, you should consider raising salaries and instituting a bonus plan.

2. Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider returning to the company?

Boomerang employees are people who leave a job on good terms but later decide to come back. And with today’s talent shortage, more employers are eager to keep the door open for top performers who already understand and fit well with their corporate culture. That’s why it’s good to know what factors would lure a highly skilled professional back into the fold. But even if they never reapply, asking this exit interview question can help you develop better retention strategies. Dig deeper with follow-up hypothetical scenarios regarding pay, perks, flexible scheduling and greater responsibilities.

3. Do you think management adequately recognized employee contributions? If not, how do you think recognition could be improved?

One of the drivers of workplace happiness is being thanked for a job well done. The answer to this exit interview question can provide insight into which employee recognition methods are effective and which ones are not. Ask employees to name specific times when they felt appreciated, as well as times when they felt overlooked or taken for granted.

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4. Were there any company policies you found difficult to understand? If so, how can the firm make them clearer?

Here’s a chance to get specifics that can lead to greater transparency going forward. The employee can shine a light on not only which policies are unclear, but also the source of the confusion. Examples include a poorly written handbook, a discrepancy in the chain of command or incidents in which disregard for certain rules goes unpunished.

5. Do you feel your job description changed since you were hired? If so, in what ways?

The demands of a job evolve over time, but the changes are often so small and incremental that managers don’t notice. If exiting employees point to discrepancies, update the description before re-staffing the position. This is to make sure you’re seeking the right skill set in candidates for the job. The departing employee’s response can also help you gauge whether you adequately compensated them for taking on additional duties.

6. Did you feel you had the tools, resources and working conditions to be successful in your role? If not, which areas could be improved, and how?

This exit interview question will shed light on inadequacies you may have overlooked in the workplace environment. The answers could range anywhere from an uncomfortable office temperature and slow computers to workplace bullying. Managers who aren’t in the office on a daily basis will find the answers particularly revealing, as employees tend to be on their best behavior when the boss drops in.

7. Do you feel you had the necessary training to be successful in your role? If not, how could it have been better?

If the answer to the first part of this exit interview question is yes, ask about any aspects of the training that were particularly helpful. Then, be sure to promote these resources to your team. If they answered no and gave examples of areas for improvement, take those suggestions to heart, as current employees may have the same complaints.

8. What was the best part of your job here?

The more exit interviews you conduct, the more you’re likely to hear some common themes emerging. Perhaps people love the ability to telecommute two days a week, which contributes to their work-life balance. Or maybe it’s the supportive team atmosphere they’ll miss the most. Pay attention to these testimonials: They are what make your company a good place to work. Consider highlighting on your website and job posting what you learn, and emphasize it during future job interviews as well.

9. What can the organization improve on?

This general question may prompt someone to share a suggestion they hadn’t bothered to make while employed there. Ask about their experiences working with specific supervisors or managers to gain a better sense of how they felt with the chain of command. You could also inquire specifically about their level of satisfaction with the compensation package, assigned projects and general direction of the company.

10. Do you have any suggestions for improving employee morale? 

Including questions about team spirit in an exit interview template provides an opening for someone to share what could prove to be a winning idea. Coworkers are much more likely to discuss morale among themselves than with their managers, so the departing employee will be able to offer insights into the current state of the entire staff, not just themselves.

11. What are you most looking forward to in your new job?

If the employee is leaving your company for a job elsewhere, this question may give you a hint about what they found lacking about your company. Are they most excited about a higher salary and a better benefits package? More flexible scheduling? A shorter commute? The potential for advancement into a leadership role? Their answers could reveal issues with their former position that they’re uncomfortable bringing up on their own.

12. Describe the perfect candidate to replace you.

The departing employee will naturally focus on personal qualities and technical abilities, and may reveal vital skills for the role that you may not have considered previously. These attributes could include a customer service mindset, a solid handle on social media, proficiency in design software or the ability to mingle with stakeholders. Because no one knows a position as well as the person who’s leaving it, use their description of the perfect candidate to refine your job posting and interview questions.

13. Would you recommend working at our company to a friend, and why or why not?

An honest answer to this question can help you discern whether an employee’s reason(s) for leaving are personal, job related or company related. If the answer is no, encourage them to elaborate on what the business would need to change for them to recommend working there.

14. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Even with this comprehensive exit interview template, there may be positives or negatives that haven’t been brought up yet. This question gives them one last chance to speak their minds.

Concluding the exit interview

At the end of the discussion, briefly review the key points you learned and ask for any clarifications you may need. Thank the exiting employee for their service and wish them the best in future endeavors. With the information you gather, you’ll be well positioned to move forward with hiring a replacement while taking any necessary steps to ensure your current employees have everything they need to excel and find happiness in their work.

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