22 exit interview questions to get the most helpful feedback

Talking about why an employee is leaving can feel awkward, but the right exit interview questions will help.

It was the news you didn’t want to hear: One of your employees is leaving. 

They’ve given you appropriate notice, handed you their letter of resignation, and you know they’ll be moving on soon.  

The next couple of weeks as you prepare for their departure feels like a flurry of loose ends—informing your team, completing the right paperwork, reassigning their tasks and responsibilities, and maybe even starting the hiring process for a replacement. 

All of those are important. But, there’s one more thing you don’t want to forget: the exit interview.

This is a valuable opportunity to get insights about your team, company culture, and work processes so that you can use that information to improve moving forward (and hopefully encourage your other employees to stick around).

Intimidated by the idea of an exit interview? We get it. Whether you’re the one asking the questions or answering them, this is a nerve-wracking conversation.

Rest assured, adequate preparation makes it a whole lot easier. But, before we get into the sample questions and tips to make the most of this interview, let’s kick things off with a few exit interview statistics. 

  • One study of 210 organizations found that nearly three quarters of the organizations conducted employee exit interviews. [1]
  • Of the organizations that conducted exit interviews: [1]
  • 70.9% had their HR departments handle the process
  • 19% had the departing employees’ direct supervisors conduct the interview
  • 8.9% had the employee’s direct supervisor’s manager conduct the interview
  • Only 1% turned to external consultants
  • Of the companies that conducted exit interviews: [1]
  • 8.2% used more than one interviewer
  • 4.4% used questionnaires
  • 1.9% used a questionnaire accompanied by a face-to-face or phone interview
  • 2.5% used questionnaires as their only form of an exit interview
  • Three to six months after an employee left the company, about 70% of interviewees still cited the same top reason for leaving that they did at their exit interview. [2]
  • The average response rate for paper and pencil exit interviews is only 30-35%. [3]
  • Response rates using online surveys are estimated to be almost 50% lower than when exit interviews are conducted by phone. [4]
  • Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies conduct exit interviews, but only a little over 40% of them think it’s a successful activity. [5]

22 exit interview questions to inspire a productive conversation

Much like a job interview, there’s no way to know for sure what will be asked in an exit interview. 

However, there are some questions that are commonly-asked. Curious about which questions usually end up on the “must ask” list? We’re sharing some sample exit interview questions in a variety of categories. 

If you’re an employer, these questions will help you dig down to the most valuable opinions and experiences. And if you’re an employee, reading through these questions will help you enter that conversation with a little more confidence. 

Questions about why they’re leaving

1. Why are you leaving this company?

Start with the basics. While this question seems simple on the surface, it’s a great way to segue into the rest of the conversation and can reveal some enlightening details right off the bat. 

2. What inspired you to begin looking for a new position?

This question is similar to the above, but will uncover more about the reasoning behind their departure. Whether they wanted better pay or had a falling out with a colleague, you’ll get to the root of why they’re leaving. 

3. When did you decide you no longer wanted to work here? 

This is a good question to ask, as the answer says a lot about your culture and your leadership. If an employee says they’ve known for a year that they were going to leave yet you were blindsided by their resignation, that’s a sign that your leadership team doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the team. 

4. Did you share your concerns about your role with your manager?

You may have heard that employees don’t leave companies—they leave managers. This question will help you understand more about an employee’s relationship with their supervisor and how comfortable they were sharing their goals and challenges. 

5. Could we have done anything to get you to stay?

If you’re hoping to get the employee to stick around, this type of question can serve as your final effort to understand what it takes. However, be aware that most employees are fairly set on leaving by the time they reach the exit interview. 

6. Would you consider returning to work for our company?

This question asks broadly about their experience with your organization, albeit in a slightly more roundabout way. Do they say they’d return without hesitation? Then you know their exit has little to do with your company, and more to do with their personal preferences or ambitions. 

Questions about your company and culture

7. Would you recommend our company to your friends?

This is another way to get a grasp on how they feel about your company, without flat-out asking. If they didn’t have a positive experience with your organization, they likely won’t promote your company to their friends. 

8. What are three words you would use to describe our culture?

Pay close attention to the adjectives that are used. Saying your culture is competitive and fast-paced is a lot different than saying it’s supportive and team-centered. Take note of whether or not those descriptors match up with your values. If not? You have some work to do. 

9. How did our company compare to what you were told during the hiring process?

The last thing you want is for an employee to feel catfished, and you want to make sure your employer brand is sending the right message about what it’s actually like to work for you. This question gives employees an opportunity to point out gaps between their expectations and reality. 

10. What was your favorite part about working here?

The point of the exit interview isn’t only to find your faults—positivity is important too. Asking an employee about their favorite aspect of their role and your company lightens the mood while also spotlighting some aspects you should be highlighting in your recruitment marketing. 

11. What’s something you think we can improve? 

Every company has room for improvement, and this question gives an employee an opportunity to get really candid about where you can do better. Constructive criticism can sting, but keep in mind that this is valuable information that you can put into play. 

Questions about their role

12. Did you have adequate growth and development opportunities in your position?

Opportunities for growth and development carry a lot of weight with job seekers and employees. For that reason, you need to confirm that you’re offering enough upward mobility and empowering team members to advance in their careers. The answer to this question will help you do that. 

13. Did you feel recognized and celebrated in your position?

Adequate recognition is another thing that matters to employees. After all, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep doing great work if you feel like it constantly slips by unnoticed. That’s why it’s worth asking how they felt about their level of recognition and how that could be improved. 

14. Were you equipped with the tools and resources you needed to do your job effectively?

Your employees are the ones with boots on the ground, so to speak. So, they have greater insight into what they need to do their jobs well. A question like this one will help you identify any gaps in tools, software, and other resources that need to be filled. 

15. Did you think your pay and benefits were reasonable?

This is a big one. There’s a lot that goes into career happiness, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of the basics like pay and benefits. Now’s the time to find out how you stack up in that regard—especially if the employee revealed they’re leaving for more money. 

16. What do you think we should look for in your replacement? 

If you’ll be hiring to fill that position, you want to make sure you find the right fit. Who has greater insight into what it takes to be successful than the employee who’s leaving? Ask them what should be on your must-have list so you can focus on finding the best candidate. 

17. How did this role compare with your expectations? 

Here’s another opportunity to find out how expectations match up with reality. If the employee mentions that their responsibilities felt like a drastic departure from what was in the job description, that’s a sign you need to make some improvements in your recruitment materials

Questions about their manager and team 

18. How would you describe your relationship with your manager?

As mentioned before, managers play a huge role in the happiness of their direct reports. Ask about the employee’s dynamic with their supervisor. Be aware that you’ll get the most honest answers to this question if you ask it when the employee’s manager isn’t present. 

19. Do you think your manager provided enough feedback? 

Employees crave feedback—both positive and negative. This question will help you determine if they received enough guidance and constructive criticism in their position. If not, you can consider providing some training to your leadership team. 

20. Did your supervisor’s management style work for you?

There are tons of different types of leadership styles—and not all of them work the same for everybody. Find out what the employee thought about their supervisor’s approach so you can determine whether or not that matches your organization’s values. 

21. What are three words you would use to describe your team?

This is similar to the other questions that challenge employees to pick three words. Again, pay close attention to the adjectives they choose. Three words alone can reveal a lot about what their experience with their team was like. 

22. How did you feel about the level of support your team offered?

Finally, this question can help you ascertain if there’s a problem with competition or conflict on your team. If the employee felt like they were isolated without support when they needed it, that’s an issue you should address sooner rather than later. 

What’s the point of exit interview questions?

Think exit interviews are nothing more than an unnecessary formality? Think again. These conversations serve an important purpose—for both the employer and the employee: 

  • The employee: Has an opportunity to provide honest feedback about their position and their experience

  • The employer: Receives valuable information they can use to make strategic changes moving forward

The conversation doesn’t need to be lengthy to be valuable. Reserving 30 minutes to an hour is more than enough time to dig into the specifics, without that exchange becoming overwhelming.

Are exit interviews required?

Here’s the short answer: no. There’s no legal requirement for employers to provide exit interviews to employees. 

However, exit interviews are generally viewed as a best practice for effective employee offboarding. So, it’s recommended that you conduct one—even if it isn’t mandated.

Who should ask the exit interview questions?

Companies approach this in different ways. Some leave the exit interview to the HR team while others involve the employee’s manager or even bring in a panel of people.

The standard is typically for someone from the HR team to handle the conversation. They’re often viewed as a neutral, trustworthy party, which increases the chance that they’ll get as many honest answers as possible. 

Regardless of who conducts the interview, make sure the employee is looped in on how the answers they provided will be used (especially if they’ll be shared with other staff members or the employee’s manager).  

Tips to make the most of an exit interview

Have an exit interview coming up? Here are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure that conversation goes as smoothly as possible: 

  • Come prepared: As with anything, preparation is key. If you’re the employer, make sure you know what questions you want to ask. If you’re the employee, know what key points you want to touch on as well as if there are any questions you aren’t comfortable addressing. You can always decline to answer!

  • Find a quiet, private space: There’s nothing more distracting than seeing a bunch of prying eyes peeking in through the conference room door. Find a spot where you can be free from distractions. If conducting the exit interview via phone or video call, find a place where you won’t have a lot of background noise or a distracting backdrop.

  • Take a deep breath: This conversation can be nerve-wracking—for both parties! Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s a completely normal (and even beneficial) discussion to have. Plus, take comfort in the fact that the other party might be just as nervous as you. 

What should happen after the exit interview?

Once the exit interview has concluded, the employee doesn’t have any other obligations they need to fulfill related to that conversation.

The employer, however, has an important task on their plate: Taking action on that information. 

Remember, the point of an exit interview is to get insights into how you can improve your company culture, recruitment efforts, pay and benefits, and more. But, that really only makes a difference if you put it into play. 

Start by documenting that information somewhere it can be referenced and then meet with the appropriate leaders and decision-makers to determine how you’ll put those answers to work. 

That’s the best way to make the most of exit interviews—because you’ll transform that feedback into a strategic roadmap for improvement. 

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