15 Exit Interview Questions to Ask Departing Employees

/ 9 min read
Jack Delaney

Asking current employees for honest feedback is like a wife asking her husband if her jeans are too tight—it's in their best interest to bend the truth.

Departing employees are a far more reliable source of constructive criticism. They don't rely on your business for a paycheque, and they are right on your doorstep. Well, on their way out the door.

Determining why an employee is leaving is key to reducing turnover, increasing employee retention, and making long-term improvements to your organization.

Exit interviews help gather this information. They are a final forum for departing employees to share their thoughts about your company culture, management, staff morale and the business as a whole.

In this article, we've curated a list of the 15 best exit interview questions so you can gain deeper insights into your employees and make real, lasting improvements to your business.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a meeting between the HR department and a departing employee. These meetings offer a rare chance for you to receive constructive feedback and gain valuable insight into what employees really think about your business.

Simply put: it is a chance for you to find out what your employees think you do well and what you need to improve. They're about using feedback from outgoing employees to make your organization a better, happier workplace. Your business will reap the rewards for doing so.

15 exit interview questions to improve your business

So what questions should you actually ask in your exit interviews? How do you get useful feedback, from those leaving your business? Let's take a look:

1. Why did you start looking for a new job?

Most employees tell you their reason for leaving when they hand in their resignation. Sometimes it’ll be personal issues unrelated to the company. (Even if this is the case exit interviews are still important).

Regardless of the reason, outgoing employees can still offer insights and suggestions they might not have mentioned when you were employing them.

Some employees will say “it wasn’t a good fit”. Don’t be disheartened. It’s the job equivalent of the “it’s not you it’s me” line. Delve deeper and show your interest. People don’t just quit for fun.

2. When did you first consider moving on?

Sometimes, an exiting employee has been looking for months and finally landed a new position. Understanding when they began their search is a critical piece of data for your business.

You may notice patterns emerge. For example, what if employees think about leaving after six months? Why? Is it a problem with employee engagement? Or is support after onboarding lacking?

Looking at what happens around this time would be critical to correct the issue. That way you can improve employee retention and make sure the next hire makes it past this tough time.

3. Was there a specific person or incident that led to your resignation?

This can be a tough question. If the departing employee had a problem with team members or a manager, they might be reluctant to report it. When something has happened in the workplace, they may feel the same way.

Staff always worry about how speaking out may impact them. Remind them that the interview is anonymous and they are in a safe environment.

But tread carefully. You aren’t there to interrogate anyone. If you sense they are uncomfortable, or they tell you they don’t want to answer, you can be fairly sure there’s an issue you need to follow up on.

4. Was there something we could have done to keep you here?

Sometimes employees leave for financial reasons - they simply got a better offer. It’s the way of the world.

You might not want to go into a bidding war with another business, but if the wage difference is minimal, and that’s all there is standing in the way, it might be worth your time to match the offer. What’s the worst that can happen?

Another common reason for leaving is workplace conditions. If this is the case you will want to get as many specific details as possible. This is valuable information and you should try to get as much data as you can.

5. Did your position meet the initial job description?

A survey by recruiting firm Jobvite found that most employees who quit within their first year did so because the role they were hired for didn’t match the actual role. This happens too often.

If you deliberately misrepresented the position, it’ll be clear why the employee is leaving. But it’s more common that this happens by accident - through outdated job descriptions, shifts in workload and simple miscommunication.

Ask what, if anything, differed from what they were told to expect. Then you can work to fix the job description or adjust the workload so the next hire will be better aligned to the role.

6. What led you to accept the new position?

This question allows you to contrast your company with another organisation. You might find they offer perks you don’t—it can be anything from free Coco Pops for breakfast to more career progression.

For example, if several employees have left for higher pay, it could mean your compensation package is lacking.

You may learn that what you offer is on par with other organizations, or get ideas for how you can improve your offering. Either way, it’s important to analyse what other companies are doing and reflect on whether you meet the same standards.

And if all you need is a few boxes of Coco Pops, you can duck down to the shops and grab some.

7. Were you equipped with the training and tools to do your job well?

This is a direct way to understand how the employee felt about their role within the company. Did they feel supported? Was their purpose within the company clear?

Be prepared to hear about crappy internet speeds and unreliable hardware. Or there’s a chance the employee wasn’t happy with the amount of training they received for their role.

It’s a great way to learn how comfortable the employee was fulfilling their job. You will also get ideas about how to improve training, resources, and general workplace practices in the future.

8. How could you describe the company culture?

Culture matters. Data from Randstad found that 58% of employees quit because of toxic workplace cultures.

With this question, you’re not looking for a specific answer. You’re looking for an overall trend. Over time, the terms outgoing employees suggest will give you an idea of what your company culture truly is.

For example, if fifty employees say your company culture is ‘transparent’ and ‘nurturing’ and ten say something else, that gives you a fair idea that you’re on the right track.

But if your company creed describes your organization as ‘progressive’ and most departing employees say it’s ‘regressive’, there is a disconnect between your perception and reality.

9. If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would it be?

This question focuses the employee on the biggest problem they have with their role and the business. Essentially, it’s a non-confrontational way to discover what they didn’t like.

Framing the question in this way changes their answer from a complaint to a suggestion, which most people are more comfortable providing. Doing so encourages constructive feedback and gives a better chance of providing useful, actionable insights.

10. Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?

A recent Gallup report found that half of all people searching for a new job left because of a poor manager. To say a manager is important is an understatement.

The strongest workplaces have managers who are unbiased and dedicated to leading the team towards a common goal. Good managers mean a better culture and a more productive company.

Identifying issues with management is critical. It will help you take preventative measures to improve performance, retain talent and boost staff morale.

11. Did you have clear goals and objectives on a daily basis?

Employees don’t like to turn up to work and have nothing to do. They want a purpose - to feel their work matters and contributes to larger corporate goals.

If the answer is yes, then pat yourself on the back. If the answer is no, make goal-setting a priority. Employees will thank you, productivity will skyrocket and your employee retention will improve out of sight.

12. How do you think our company can improve training and development programs?

Lack of support and resources can result in a frustrating work environment and lead an employee to seek a new job.

If employees feel they were not given appropriate training or support by their managers, investigate how support was lacking. This way you’ll know what you need to provide to the next hire to ensure employees feel supported.

Higher engagement leads to higher employee retention. It’s in your best interests to keep employees busy learning and maximise development opportunities.

13. Would you consider coming back to work here? If not, what would need to change?

If your business is in good shape, then hopefully the employee is leaving on good terms and the answer is yes.

If the answer is no, then you must make sure you’ve asked enough questions to understand why that’s the case.

Departing employees can become promoters for your company. For that reason, you want to maintain goodwill through the off-boarding process. View this as a chance to improve retention and keep key positions filled.

14. Is there anything else you would like us to know about your time here?

This is a good open-ended question to use towards the end of the interview. It’s a catch-all that gives the employee a chance to talk about anything that might not have come up yet.

Whether they’re showering you with praise or venting about the time someone stole their lunch from the staff fridge, let them talk.

Actively listen to their comments - the chances are you’ll find a bunch of actionable ideas you can use to make a better hire on the next occasion.

15. What was your experience of team members’ morale and motivation within the company?

The employee might be halfway out the door, but until recently they’ve been in the trenches with the troops. Now is the perfect time to get the inside scoop on what’s happening with current employees.

How’s their workload? Do they feel supported and confident in what they are doing? This is your chance to find out the opinion of someone familiar with the everyday activity of your company.

How to extract insights from exit interviews

As you conduct exit interviews with multiple employees, patterns will emerge. Maybe a specific reason for leaving continues to pop up, or employees have similar ideas about how to change the company culture.

The patterns you uncover will tell you what solutions you need. It may be job training, mentoring programs, corporate policy changes or better hiring practices. Or maybe you really need to put Mars Bars in the break room.

Listen to what the data is telling you. This is where most companies quit. They have the data but do nothing with it. Don’t be like these companies.

Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Listen to what your employees have to offer and use the data to spark new ideas, fix old problems and catapult your business into a new era.

Get started with Paperform's exit interview template

Our exit interview template makes the off-boarding process a breeze. You'll be able to standardise questions across multiple interviews, and easily identify patterns of similar feedback that start to emerge.

Click 'Use Template' on the form below to add it to your Paperform account. Once added, you can customise the branding to fit your business, and add any questions you may need.

The best part? You can use our 3,000+ integrations to connect with your favourite apps and automate your off-boarding workflows. You'll be able to spend less time jumping between apps, and more time on making your business the best it can be.

Not a Paperform user? Sign up today with our 14-day free trial—no credit card required.

About the author
Jack Delaney
Content Manager
Jack is Paperform's Content Manager, based in Sydney, Australia. He loves hard-boiled crime fiction, Michael Mann movies and coffee as black as midnight on a moonless night.

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