The All-Important Exit Interview: 12 Essential Questions

By Robert Half March 28, 2016 at 2:22pm

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

The exit interview provides an excellent opportunity for supervisors to gain key insights and knowledge on multiple levels. What you learn during an interview may even reduce turnover among workers in the future. In fact, in an OfficeTeam survey, 63 percent of human resources managers said their company often acts on information gathered during exit interviews.

Those actions include the following:

  • Updating job descriptions (29 percent)
  • Discussing feedback regarding management (24 percent)
  • Making changes to the work environment/corporate culture (22 percent)
  • Reviewing salaries (19 percent)
  • Reviewing benefits (5 percent)

The importance of asking the right questions

An exit interview should be conducted with as many open-ended questions as possible. As noted below, however, there are instances where asking for specifics is called for. Be sure to have a pen and notebook, or a computer, for logging important points.

A word to the wise: While exit interviews should allow for candor, comments or complaints from administrative employees who were fired may be clouded by emotions or negativity and not accurately reflect the overall pulse of your business. In fact, because this type of departure from a firm is upsetting, these individuals may not wish to take part in an exit interview at all. Generally speaking, the most helpful exit conversations take place with people who leave voluntarily.

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12 questions to ask during an exit interview

  1. What circumstances 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.
  2. Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider returning to the company? Even if this scenario never arises, asking this question can help you develop better admin retention strategies.
  3. Do you think management adequately recognized employee contributions? If not, how do you think recognition could be improved? The answer to this question can provide insight into what employee recognition methods are effective and areas where employees may feel underappreciated.
  4. Were there any company policies you found difficult to understand? How can the firm make them clearer? Here’s a chance to get specifics that can lead to clearer communication going forward.
  5. Do you feel your job description changed since you were hired, and if so, in what ways? The answer you get can flag job descriptions you need to update before restaffing the position to make sure you’re seeking the right skills in candidates for the job.

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  1. 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? Answers to this question will shed light on inadequacies you may have overlooked in the workplace environment.
  2. 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 the administrative professional if he or she recalls any aspects of training that were particularly helpful. Then, be sure you are effectively promoting these resources to your team.
  3. What was the best part of your job here? Over time, you’re likely to hear some common answers emerging, the more exit interviews you conduct. Identify areas where you can encourage more of the positive aspects named by outgoing administrative staff.
  4. What can the organization improve on? This general question may prompt someone to share something they just hadn’t bothered to suggest while working there.
  5. Do you have any suggestions for improving employee morale? Asking about team spirit during an exit interview provides an opening for someone to share what could prove to be a winning idea.
  6. Do you have any concerns about the company you’d like to share? With more than one in five HR managers saying information gleaned in exit interviews led to changes in corporate culture, responses to this question may lead to department- or companywide improvements you can make.
  7. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Invite the outgoing employee to share anything that wasn’t covered in the exit interview. By asking directly, you may receive potentially useful feedback that would have otherwise gone unspoken.

Concluding the exit interview

At the conclusion of the exit interview, briefly review the key points you learned and ask for any clarifications you may need. Thank the exiting employee for his or her service and wish the person the best in future endeavors. At that point, you’ll be well-positioned to move forward with hiring a replacement while taking any necessary steps to ensure your other administrative employees have everything they need to excel.

Robert Half conducts exclusive research and offers free resources on a wide variety of topics including management and retention advice.

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