How Do You Run An Effective Exit Interview?

employee exit interview questions

Should you host an exit interview for a departing employee? The way an employee ends their employment is just as important as how they start, so let'sshow you how to host an exit interview, the three mistakes you absolutely need to avoid, and twelve sample questions you can ask to guide the conversation in the right direction.

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What Is An Employee Exit Interview?

An exit interview takes place before an employee leaves a company, to gain a sense and understanding of what an organisation can improve upon to retain its top talent. It’s an essential part of the overall offboarding process and is typically hosted by HR in some capacity.

What Happens During An Exit Interview?

During an exit interview, an employee may be asked why they are leaving, their personal impression of the company, and what suggestions they may have for improvements. Ideally, the discussion is based on a structured questionnaire – which we dive into later in this article.

Does Your Company Need To Host Exit Interviews?

While there’s no legal imperative, there is a strategic one. For HR, especially, exit interviews are a great opportunity to take the temperature of your organisation, maintain a strong employer brand, and find new ways to boost your retention rates while decreasing attrition. Let us explain why…

What Are The Benefits Of Exit Interviews?

Admittedly, the temptation of letting an employee leave quickly and quietly is great. This is especially true when emotions are running high and people are angry or disappointed.

But, your organisation should fight that urge. Why? Because exit interviews are extremely important in two respects:

  • Revealing Structural/Cultural Issues: Employees leaving the company are typically more willing to discuss problems. They no longer need to worry about their criticism impeding their careers. Exit interview questions offer an opportunity to gain deep insights into corporate and leadership culture, thereby identifying potential problems from within.

  • Maintaining A Strong Employer Brand: Exit interviews are often the last chance for leaving a good impression. An open dialogue shows that a company can accept criticism, admit its mistakes, and demonstrate a willingness to improve. If you can listen carefully to a departing employee and convey your appreciation, they will remember you more positively and maybe even recommend you in the future.

Should Exit Interviews Occur For Voluntary and Involuntary Termination?

You should conduct an employee exit interview regardless of whether the employee resigned or was terminated. Even if the employee had no reason to leave, they will likely still be able to come up with some constructive feedback that your team can use.

Don’t Forget: If things are ending on bad terms, though, it is best to decide on a case-by-case basis whether an exit interview makes sense. In some cases, it may be smarter to simply let the matter rest. Context is key.

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What Should An Exit Interview Cover?

Start by letting the employee know, in advance, the goal of the discussion and what topics you want to cover. This will allow them to prepare themselves matter, and will typically result in a higher quality of answers. Make it clear that you are planning to have a conversation that is:

  • Open

  • Completely confidential

  • Based on their personal opinion

When Should You Schedule An Exit Interview?

The best time for an exit interview is during the employee’s last few days at the company. Now that notice has already been given, and with a new role potentially coming up, you will have the best chance for a reasonable, reflective, and objective discussion. This should also occur after a job reference has been given, so as to avoid potentially-biased answers.

Where Should An Employee Exit Interview Occur?

An exit interview should occur on ‘neutral ground,’ like in a separate meeting room. A one-on-one conversation with a colleague from the HR department should create a good atmosphere in which the employee can open up without feeling like they are being ‘interrogated.’ Use a questionnaire to guide the discussion so that you can be sure to cover all the topics that you feel are relevant. Take notes on the employee’s answers.

Should An Employee Fill Out A Questionnaire Themselves?

Definitely not. An employee is not very likely to want to put down in writing some of their opinions, which will cloud your ability to gain real insights from them. You can find out so much more in an informal conversation, guided by a questionnaire, rather than over-formalising the process.

Do your best to explore the employee’s thoughts and motivations. Then, ask them appropriate supplementary questions. However, don’t push them too far or exert undue pressure. If an employee doesn’t want to comment on a topic, respect that right. Follow the general rule for feedback sessions and do not comment on or judge the statements they make.

Three Common Mistakes Made During Exit Interviews

As is the case with everything in life, there are some common mistakes that we need to avoid during an exit interview. For the most part, this is to avoid turning this productive session into a box-ticking exercise.

Here are some of the most common mistakes:

MistakeWhy It Matters
Confusing it with other conversationsClearly separate the exit interview from other elements of the offboarding process. Exit interviews are not part of the dismissal meeting, which should be kept as ‘quick and painless’ as possible and be held in the presence of a witness. They are also not part of the handover process with colleagues and supervisors. As soon as the exit interview gets mixed up with other discussions or objectives, it loses its confidential, open character (the same thing that makes it helpful for HR).
Involving supervisorsDirect or indirect supervisors do not belong in exit interviews. A final discussion with a boss is anything but an exit interview, even if that is how it is described. The best-case scenario here would be a bit of small talk; the worst, a settling of scores. Exit interviews only work with a neutral counterpart, ideally someone from HR, or else the feedback you get will be anything but honest.
Violating confidentialityEvaluate the findings in the HR department. Supervisors or management should only receive anonymised, summarised information. In smaller companies, where it is rare for an employee to leave, results may be difficult to anonymise, so it might seem logical to email meeting notes. Avoid this at all costs! If it were to happen, the anger of the ex-employee would probably be the lesser of two evils; if it becomes known that confidential criticism from exit interviews is being circulated, none of your employees will ever honestly voice their opinions again.

Exit Interview Questionnaire: 12 Questions To Try

What questions should you ask during an employee exit interview? This structured exit interview questionnaire will help you to address all the important topics and obtain relevant results that you can then meaningfully evaluate.

If you are well prepared, you will be able to go into the conversation confidently, avoid heated discussions, or superficial verbal sparring. In short, everything will work out perfectly.

These are twelve exit interview sample questions you can use for your company:

AskTo Find Out
Why have you decided to leave?If voluntary, this can offer key reasoning into why an employee left the company.
What would have had to change for you to stay?Even if you can't do anything about it now, this may help with future staff retention.
Have you voiced your criticisms in the past and how do you feel that was handled?Did an employee not feel heard, and did processes get in the way of them feeling heard.
How did you find the onboarding process?This question can help find out if you are setting up for employees for success from day one.
Can you describe your relationship with your manager or supervisor?Determine if key relationships or if areas of leadership need to be addressed or improved.
How did you find the atmosphere in the team?Is culture getting in the way of keeping staff around? Find out if the work environment is in the right place.
Did you original interview for the role set up the right expectations?This can help uncover any deficiencies in your sourcing or hiring practices and if they need to be improved.
Did you feel like an appropriate career path was developed for you?Is an employee leaving a performance issue? Could you have helped plan for an employee's development a bit better or faster.
Would you recommend us as a place to work to a friend?How strong is your employer brand that ex-employees would be willing to refer people to you?
How would you describe our company culture?This can help identify whether you need to sit back down and define, optimise, or find new ways to live your company values or corporate culture.
What advice would you be willing to offer to help us improve employee retention?Ask an employee directly what might help, so that you can hear it directly from the source.
In your eyes, what should we be mindful of in recruiting your replacement?Gain insight into the key things this role might need or where the role itself might be improved.

Best Practice: Notice the wide range of topics covered in these exit interview questions? That’s because an exit interview should not simply focus on the employee’s exit. You should take this opportunity to gain insights into all areas relevant to employee satisfaction. These will then influence retention (and hopefully improve it, too).

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Should You Use The Same Questions Every Time?

Definitely. By using the same questionnaire in all of your interviews, you can systematically evaluate and analyse the results. That is why it helps to be thoroughly prepared beforehand.

If the same criticisms, based on the same questions, come up repeatedly, that would serve as an immediate signal that something is wrong. In addition to that, it helps to check to see if any of the initiatives you have taken are then reflected in feedback from future ex-employees.

In general, ensuring the consistency of these processes means having an effective offboarding process, more generally. That is why an HR software, like Personio, is so important, as it can help:

  • Store questionnaires.

  • Keep a record of findings.

  • Make sure that every step is carried out, every time.

Learn more about Personio, and our all-in-one HR software solution, by clicking this link right now.

Make The Most Of An Employee’s Exit

Departing employees are as much a part of everyday life as new ones. Businesses and people change, and a bit of change does everyone good. Nevertheless, it is rarely an enjoyable experience when someone leaves. Structured exit interviews can help you to make the best of the situation.

You gain important insights on how to better retain your employees, and you get to part company with your employee on the best possible terms. Everybody wins, and for that reason, employee exit interviews are a must for every HR department.

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