Exit Interview Questions

Whenever an employee leaves your company, an exit interview can be a valuable way to gather information about their experience and decision to leave. Wondering which exit interview questions you should be asking, how you should approach the interview and what you should do with the information you gather? We caught up with Greenhouse’s People Business Partner Derrick Wyche to get the scoop on how to set up an exit interview that’s both respectful of the employee who is leaving and beneficial those who are staying or joining your company.

Derrick recommends kicking off the process with an exit survey before the in-person exit interview: “It’s helpful to do it in two parts, where you start with a survey where you ask people to provide quantitative feedback, rating things on a scale of 1 to 10. The numbers can point at something and then you can get more of the story during an exit interview.” The exit survey is useful for collecting data points such as the top three reasons for leaving, the top things that attracted people to your organization in the first place and how likely they are to recommend your company to others.

Your Essential List of Exit Interview Questions

Here are some of the most common and useful questions to ask during exit interviews. Derrick finds that the way you frame a question can have an impact on the type of answer you receive, which is why he likes to ask people questions like what advice they’d offer to the CEO or their department leader. He says, “You start to tease out a lot of opinions and perspectives that are really valuable in a productive, constructive way because they’re giving ‘advice’ rather than ‘feedback.’”

  • What are your reasons for looking elsewhere for a job? How long have you been looking?
  • What went well in your role here? What could've been better?
  • If you could change one thing about your role or the company, what would it be?
  • Would you recommend working here to a friend?
  • If you could give your CEO or department leader some advice, what would you say?
  • What does your new position offer that influenced your decision to leave?
  • Did you feel that you were equipped to do your job well? (If no, why not?)
  • How would you describe the culture of our company?
  • What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

What Should You NOT Ask During an Exit Interview?

Your goal in an exit interview is to understand the person’s reasons for leaving, but it’s important to accomplish this in a respectful way. You can build an atmosphere of trust by avoiding the following types of questions.

  • Stay away from asking questions about specific people
  • Don’t ask people to weigh in on gossip or rumors
  • Avoid overly personal questions about why someone is leaving

Exit Interview Best Practices to Keep in Mind

Who should conduct exit interviews? Usually it’s best to have a member of the HR/People team conduct exit interviews to maintain confidentiality and serve as a neutral party. This approach can lead to more meaningful feedback since many people are leaving because of issues with their direct manager. Derrick says, “I always encourage exiting employees to share feedback directly with their managers/leader if there is a bit of information that sounds like it would be meaningful to pass along.”

When should exit interviews be conducted? Derrick recommends scheduling exit interviews the day before someone’s last official day of work. That allows you time to conduct the interview, transcribe your notes, and follow up if you realize you need any more information or context.

How should you respond to someone’s negative feedback during an exit interview? Your role during an exit interview is simply to listen and take notes. Derrick says, “It's not a time to justify or defend the company, manager or team against what the departing person is saying.”

What should you do with the information you gather during exit interviews? After conducting a few exit interviews, you may begin to notice some recurring themes. If that’s the case, be sure to elevate them to the rest of the HR team and company leadership. “Don't miss the chance to use the data to do something good in the org,” says Derrick, “especially if there are a lot of people leaving from the same department, it’s an opportunity to stop the ‘leak’ if there is one. You can get in front of it before it becomes a more widespread issue.”

For more exit interview best practices, see How to Use an Exit Interview to Improve Your Company Culture.

The Benefits of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews allow you to understand why employees are choosing to leave your company. This gives you insight into what has changed for them, whether it’s personal, job-related or something else. Understanding employees’ reasons for leaving can help you identify and address problems and then potentially connect them to themes you’re seeing in other places in the organization. You can also use exit interviews as an opportunity to build out your alumni network. If someone is leaving on good terms, you can find out if they’re open to staying in touch and hearing about company events, milestones or even future job openings.

Keep in mind that exit interviews can go in many unexpected directions – someone might be joyful about starting their dream job elsewhere or upset about leaving a difficult manager. No matter what, your job is to listen and make them feel comfortable. Here’s how Derrick approaches it: “Show up as a good human being. I recognize that what they think and feel is valuable and I’ll do my best to take that feedback and actually do something with it. I’ll continue to find ways to make the organization better and stronger.”

Looking for more advice on exit interviews and other offboarding best practices? Check out the Employee Departure Best Practices eBook.

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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