10 Best Exit Interview Questions to AskCharlie Bedell
Amidst the Great Resignation of the past few years, the “quit rate” in the United States has reached a 20-year high, according to the Pew Research Center. During this time, it's likely that your organization has experienced at least some employee reshuffling.
When an employee submits their 2 weeks' notice, it’s natural to immediately start preparing for hiring their replacement. Before you jump into hiring, though, make sure to take time for an exit interview before your existing employee leaves. They can offer invaluable data for your organization.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview, or exit survey, is taken at the end of an employee’s time with your organization to learn why they are leaving and how you can improve based on their experiences. These interviews help you identify attrition trends and learn how to act against issues that are causing employees to leave, including your company culture and management styles. The process can be conducted face to face, using forms, or with an exit interview survey.
Questions to ask in your exit interviews
Asking an employee to share their reasons for leaving doesn’t have to be awkward or confrontational. Don’t stress! Use these 10 exit interview questions to make sure you and your employee leave on a professional, productive note.
1. Why did you join our organization?
Instead of starting with the uncomfortable question, “Why are you leaving?” turn it around and ask why an employee wanted to join your organization to begin with. This helps you start on a positive note as, usually, employees can tap into their initial excitement for the position from when they started.
After they answer, ask, “Did we accomplish that?” or “What was the experience you had?” These questions help frame the conversation as a matter of fit and missed opportunities rather than blame and resentment. A simple switch up in the tone of an interview from the beginning can encourage departing employees to be more open and honest about their experience with the company. In turn, you will get better, more helpful information for ways to improve.
2. What were your greatest accomplishments and greatest challenges?
Another way to focus on the journey rather than the end is by encouraging a dialogue about the highs and lows of the job.
Ask questions such as:
- What are you most proud of from this position?
- What are the accomplishments that you wrote on your resume about this job?
- What were some of the challenges you had to overcome that you've learned from?”
This question isn’t just about sparing everyone’s feelings. It’s a way around our natural reluctance to avoid negative feedback and emotions. It also continues to help guide the interview towards an analytical direction rather than a “why I hated this job” complaint session.
3. What suggestions do you have for the company? How could we improve?
After a few initial questions that set the professional, positive tone of the interview, it’s acceptable to start asking more difficult questions. One of the first can ask what the employee wishes were different and how they would improve or fix the issue.
After letting the interviewee vent a bit about some of the issues they encountered in their role, push them gently to suggest possible solutions. This allows the question to work double duty: it lets the employee feel heard to while letting you gather useful feedback to make real changes moving forward. Expect to hear all sorts of feedback, from work schedules and compensation to inter-team conflicts and differences of opinions and goals.
While you may not be able to make all the employee’s proposed changes, it’s important for company leaders to know what employees value. In turn, take this feedback back to your organization and make changes to prevent other employees from leaving for similar reasons.
4. What skills or qualifications do we need to look for in your replacement?
Exit interviews oftentimes reveal two truths: no one understands what it takes to do a job better than the person currently in the role, and it’s hard to write an accurate job description. This is a practical question to ask exiting employees in preparation for writing or editing the job’s listing and description.
This question also helps you determine if the role has experienced responsibility creep over time. Follow-up questions can include:
- Were these the same skills and qualifications expected when you started this position?
- What skills have you learned over time in this role that your replacement will need?
- Are there other employees in the organization who do a similar job as yours?
Though exit interviews should be a mutual exchange that benefits both the employee and organization, it’s fine to ask pragmatic questions such as this to gather all the information you need for the future job opening.
5. How has your job description changed since you got hired?
This is an excellent alternate question to asking the skills and qualifications needed for a replacement. In a subtle way, this question can touch on the necessary prerequisites for the role while giving you a bird’s eye view of how the role has changed over time. It offers you the employee’s perspective on organizational shifts, team dynamics, and long-term growth in the role.
An important suggestion: take careful notes of the employee’s answer to this question. They will help you craft an accurate job description to find the perfect replacement – one of the most important next steps after an employee submits their resignation.
6. What were you looking for in a new job?
This question is another way of taking a more positive approach to asking why an employee is leaving their current role. However, while asking “why are you leaving?” can elicit negative complaints about the employee’s current role, this alternate question often leads employees to speak about their personal goals and values. Expect to hear answers including increased compensation, more challenging work, and a change of direction or responsibilities.
It’s important to remember that answers of a personal nature are not necessarily a negative reflection on your organization. Sometimes employees leave a job not because they disliked their role but because they have simply outgrown it. This question will likely help you gauge how much the employee’s exit is due to organizational issues or personal growth and values.
7. Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider returning to the organization?
The answer to this question will almost always be “no,” but the point of asking it is not necessarily to beg the employee to return. Instead, this question can get to the heart of ways you can improve your current employees’ experience working at your organization.
You might suggest the interviewee comment on things like:
- Compensation and benefits
- Work schedule
- Management styles
- Office or job perks, including meals and snacks, gym access, flexible seating, etc.
- Technology, including devices, tools, and software
You may not want to revamp your organization’s offerings based on one employee’s feedback, but pay attention to trends. If you start to hear something come up regularly, it might be an issue to broach with company leaders to make a change benefiting employees in the future.
8. Would you recommend working at our company to your peers?
This question asks for your organization’s report card. If the interviewee is willing to go out on a limb and suggest your organization to their friends, family, and professional network, they’re likely parting on good terms. A positive response to this question can lead to another: “Do you know anyone who might be a good fit for this role?" Take advantage of the interviewee’s positivity as a possible recruitment source.
However, if the interviewee gives an emphatic “no,” you can follow up with questions that probe their reasoning. You may still be able to gather valuable feedback even if the response is negative. The key to a great exit interview is to never miss a chance to find ways to improve the experience of existing employees.
9. Did you share any of the concerns we discussed today with the company before deciding to leave?
Asking this question can reveal whether or not employees feel safe and comfortable voicing their concerns and opinions to management. If their answer is “no,” it could be a sign that your organization needs to work on building a culture where employees feel confident speaking up and sharing their concerns without fear of negative consequences or retaliation.
If the answer is “yes,” it may mean that managers aren’t taking feedback seriously or aren’t asking for feedback enough. To solve this issue, try designing an employee satisfaction survey to measure how your current employees are feeling. Also, consider implementing an employee suggestion box or anonymous chat channel to identify issues that can help prevent further employee attrition.
10. Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to bring up?
Even with a comprehensive list of interview questions, there may still be issues, comments, or questions that you didn’t cover in the interview. Make sure to give employees ample time at the end of the interview to voice whatever is on their mind. This question gives them one last chance to speak their minds. You may even be surprised: some of the best exit interview information can often come from the interviewee themselves.
An employee’s exit doesn’t have to be a total loss. Exit interviews ensure that the employee can bring to light any issues or concerns before they leave while allowing everyone to part on a positive, professional note. While these ten questions are an excellent jumping-off point, remember to relax, let the interview flow naturally, and voice any questions that organically come up. You'll be glad you took the time to focus on an exiting employee’s perspective.
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