Exit Interview Questions that Aren’t a Waste of Time

Generations ago, it was much more common for people to spend their entire working career with one company. They would apply for an entry-level position, work their way up the ladder, and retire 45 years later. Although there can be security in staying with one employer for decades, most college graduates no longer buy into this mentality. Especially for those who have specific salary goals and aspirations, opportunities for advancement at their current employer may not coincide with their readiness to accept more responsibility and reach a higher pay scale.

A recent Gallup report shows that 21% of millennials have changed jobs within the past year, a rate of turnover that’s more than three times that of non-millennials. The research organization also found that 60% of millennials—those born between 1980 and 1996—say they are open to a new and different job opportunity. That’s 15 percent higher than their non-millennial counterparts.

Job frustration or a feeling of career stagnation is just one of many possible reasons a staff member might be seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Assuming they’re not leaving the job market to raise children, relocate to a different climate, move closer to their aging parents, or accompany a spouse to a career opportunity in another city, there are dozens of other reasons employees might choose to leave a company. 

How an Exit Survey Fits into the Picture

Once they have received another offer of employment, it may be too late to get them to change their minds. However, the candid feedback you gather from exit interviews can be invaluable in improving working conditions at your business, salary ranges, job descriptions, and advancement opportunities. By talking with employees who have resigned, you may even discover toxic working conditions which need to be immediately addressed, such as harassment, discrimination, or a hostile work environment.

The bottom line is this: When you consider the time and expense of recruiting, advertising job openings, interviewing candidates, training new employees, it pays to find ways to improve staff retention, loyalty, and job satisfaction. Gallup estimates that millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.

By conducting exit interviews and making note of recurring patterns in resignations—especially premature ones—you will gather valuable data on problems or sources of frustration that are causing employees to leave your company.

Tips for Getting Results From HR Exit Interview Questions

Since it would be counterproductive (at best) to make exit interviews feel like “interrogations,” steps should be taken to conduct the interviews in a casual, cordial, yet professional way. One example would be having a list of prepared questions that would not only elicit useful responses, but would help the conversation flow in a purposeful way. While not all exit interview questions apply to every employee, it is important to ask certain basic questions that get to the heart of why they’re leaving. The goal is to recognize trends in staff departures and develop strategies for preventing and counteracting them.

Whether exit interviews are an opportunity for employees to air their grievances or simply share reasons for moving on, having the right questions on hand can help make the process highly productive and comfortable for everyone involved. Letting the employee know they do not have to answer questions that make them feel uncomfortable will also lighten the mood and help dispel any misgivings or reluctance they might have. 

The following HR exit interview questions will provide a useful framework for eliciting relevant feedback from employees leaving your company. Familiarizing yourself with these questions will make the exit interview feel less scripted and make it easier for you to shift gears when a question has already been addressed or the tone of the conversation requires it. These questions can be asked in a variety of ways, including face-to-face interviews, a written questionnaire, an email exchange, a website form, or through interactive survey tools like Checkster, Typeform, or SurveyMonkey.

Choosing the Best Exit Interview Questions and Format

These exit interview questions can be tailored to your own personality, your company culture, and the demeanor of the departing employee. Ideally, exit interviews should be conducted in a private setting, such as a closed office, by an unbiased HR manager. That way, employees can discuss confidential or sensitive topics without concerns of being overheard. 

Setting a positive tone and helping the employee feel at ease can make all the difference in getting useful feedback and paving the way for a smooth transition. One way to accomplish that is to begin the interview by expressing appreciation for the employee’s quality of work, their dedication, and the positive impact they’ve had on the company—assuming that all those accolades are true.

Since being asked 20 questions might be a bit overwhelming for many people, HR managers may want to narrow down the list and focus on questions that are the most applicable and relevant.

The following is a working list of possible exit interview questions that can be modified to meet your own conversational style, minimize bias of any kind, and be sensitive to the comfort level of the employee. 

  1. When we originally interviewed you for this job, we asked you what your strengths and weaknesses are. Since this is an “exit interview,” we’re going to flip that question around and ask what you think our strengths and weaknesses are as an employer. 
  2. In retrospect, what are a few things we could have done better to keep you interested in working here?
  3. Do you feel like your contributions as an employee were appreciated?
  4. What were the main factors that caused you to look for another position?
  5. How would you describe our company culture? Was there anything that made you uncomfortable about the people or the working environment?
  6. Are there any company policies we have that played a role in your decision to leave? 
  7. How would you rate your relationship with your co-workers and immediate supervisor? 
  8. What could your manager have done to make your employment here more satisfying or rewarding? 
  9. How could your manager have done a better job of providing you with guidance and help during your time with us? 
  10. Did you discuss your concerns, frustrations, or goals with your manager or associates? If so, how did they respond?
  11. Do you feel like your talents and capabilities were fully used here?
  12. Did you feel sufficiently challenged in your job?
  13. Did we meet your expectations as far as training and professional development? (Are there any skills you were hoping to acquire that you did not?)
  14. How did you feel about your annual/semi-annual performance reviews? Was the feedback you received helpful or discouraging? 
  15. What additional benefits or perks might have caused you to stay with our company longer?
  16. What (if anything) did we fail to provide you, in terms of software, equipment, and other tools that might have made your job easier or more productive?
  17. Do you think your job description accurately reflects the nature of your job? 
  18. Did your job description change during your employment here? If so, how do you feel about those changes?
  19.  If you were to ever consider coming back to work for us in the future, what conditions would need to be different?
  20. Would you recommend our company to a friend or relative who was looking for a job, and, if so, what would you say to them? 

That final question about recommendations is especially important because, according to Gallup, “seventy-one percent of employees use referrals from current employees of an organization to learn about job opportunities.” When exit interviews are handled well, companies also gain public relations benefits and positive word-of-mouth advertising. As Gallup points out, the exit meetings can “create brand ambassadors by making your departing employees feel heard.” 

By asking the right questions and noticing recurring patterns in the type of responses you’re getting in exit interviews, you can gather feedback to continually improve your HR practices. Other than establishing rapport and helping employees feel at ease during these meetings, the most desirable outcome is the creation of an action plan to address problems and improve job satisfaction and retention.

For other tips and techniques on hiring, training, and retaining top-quality talent at your company, check out our comprehensive course on “Strategic Staffing.” In addition to guiding you through the steps of creating a strategic staffing plan, the video lessons also include insights on diversity in the workplace, conducting a job and salary analysis, and the importance of pre-employment assessments. 

Our strategic staffing course consists of 84 informative lessons that address everything from hiring the right person for the job to techniques for conducting effective exit interviews. No matter what your level of experience in the Human Resources field, we’re confident you and your associates will pick up valuable know-how and techniques for identifying, developing, and retaining the best available candidates. We’ve tailored this course to provide the most actionable and relevant information available on human resource management, salary analysis, and best hiring practices. Get more details here.

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