17 Top Exit Interview Questions to Ask

You’ll want to address multiple themes of an employee’s experience.

Written by Jeff Rumage
Published on May. 20, 2024
17 Top Exit Interview Questions to Ask
Image: Shutterstock

An exit interview is an opportunity to ask an employee who’s leaving the organization about their work experience and the reasons for their departure. Candid feedback from an employee on their way out the door can help HR teams understand why workers are leaving — and how they can prevent further turnover.

Best Exit Interview Questions

  1. Why are you choosing to leave the organization?
  2. What did you like the most/least about working here?
  3. How would you rate the support and guidance you received from your manager?
  4. Did you have the support, tools and resources needed to be successful in your role?
  5. Would you consider rejoining the organization?

What Is An Exit Interview? 

An exit interview is a conversation between an employee who is leaving an organization and a member of the human resources department, with the goal of learning the employee’s motivations for leaving. The interview is also a way for HR to uncover negative work conditions and ultimately address those issues to prevent future turnover.

 

Why Are Exit Interviews Important?

Exit interviews provide HR and organization leaders a chance to learn about issues impacting the employee experience. This type of feedback can also be gained through employee surveys, but HR teams have found that departing employees are more likely to be candid or honest in their responses when they no longer have to worry about performance reviews, being considered for a raise or damaging workplace relationships.

“Now that they’ve put in their notice, they feel slightly more comfortable to open up a little bit more, and that’s really key for us to be able to gather that kind of anecdotal feedback and potentially corroborate it with data points that we have,” Nadia Alaee, senior director of HR business partners at Deel, told Built In. “Then we can make decisions based on all of these different feedback points.”

 

How to Conduct Exit Interviews

An exit interview can be conducted via an in-person meeting, a telephone or video call, or even an online survey. In-person is typically the most effective format, according to Nadian Zak, founder of Zak Consulting Group. “There’s an opportunity for a dialogue, and you can ask clarifying questions about anything you find particularly concerning,” Zak told Built In.

It’s also important to assure the departing employee that their feedback is confidential and that any identifying information will be removed before it’s shared with managers and leaders. If you don’t, employees might be hesitant to provide feedback that could hurt their relationship with their manager, who they might be relying on for a reference check.

HR teams should also pose open-ended questions that allow the employee to steer the conversation toward topics that feel most important to them. “​​You want to avoid questions that are guiding in an exit interview because you really want to hear from the employee,” Fernanda Anzek, managing director of HR operations at Insperity, told Built In. “You don’t want to put any thoughts in their mind.”

Related ReadingWhat Is a Stay Interview? 13 Questions to Ask

 

17 Exit Interview Questions to Ask

Exit interview questions should address multiple angles of the employee experience, including their thoughts on the role, their manager and the organizational culture. Here are some of the most important questions to ask.

1. Why Did You Join the Organization?

Before you ask the employee why they left the company, have them reflect on why they joined the company in the first place. The answer not only gives you context about their initial expectations, but you can keep that information in mind when recruiting new employees to the organization.

2. Why Are You Choosing to Leave?

One of the core goals of an exit interview is learning why an employee leaves. Some of the most common reasons are a higher salary, career advancement or to get away from a bad manager. Whatever the situation, HR should try to identify the issue and see what can be done to resolve it.

“What we’re really trying to drill down to is: ‘Why did you pick up the phone call right from the recruiter? Why did you decide to answer the email from the recruiter? Or why did you apply,’” Zak said. “Something drove that, so we need to dig in and find what that something was.”

3. Is There Anything We Could Have Done to Keep You?

This question could help HR teams understand what they could do to prevent future employees from leaving. A high-performing employee might be willing to stay for a salary raise or a promotion, but not if they’re unhappy with the workplace culture or seeking a new environment. 

“In my experience, people may leave for better pay, but it’s usually not the reason they started looking for a job,” Wende Smith, head of people operations at BambooHR, told Built In. “Typically the reason they’re looking for a job has to do with lack of opportunity to grow and develop, poor leadership experience, lack of trust in an organization and then, to help bolster that decision, they may look at pay and benefits.”

4. How Would You Describe the Support and Guidance You Received From Your Manager?

It’s often said that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. If an employee states that they didn’t feel supported by their manager, the interviewer should try to gather additional information about the circumstances and consider whether that manager could benefit from HR counseling or additional training. There are two sides to every story, of course, but it can be a red flag if multiple employees are giving similar feedback about a bad manager. 

5. How Would You Describe the Communication and Collaboration Within Your Team and Across the Organization?

This question aims to uncover whether there are any issues dragging down team performance or morale, such as a negative team member or a more systemic problem. This question can also provide insight into how the team interacts with other teams across the business, which could be improved with further communication or changes to workflows and business processes.

6. Did You Feel There Were Sufficient Opportunities for Growth and Career Development at Our Organization?

Lack of career growth opportunities is the top reason employees leave their job, according to one study, and organizations that invest in employee development are twice as likely to retain their employees. If employees don’t feel like they have room for growth, HR teams may want to make career paths more clear, identify what is needed for career progression and provide them with the feedback, support and training to help them reach the next level of their career path.

7. How Would You Rate the Level of Feedback and Recognition You Received During Your Time at the Organization?

Feedback and recognition are an important component of an employee’s ongoing growth and development, so an employee could feel like their professional growth is stunted without them. It can also be helpful to dig deeper and find out which types of feedback and recognition they found helpful. That information could be useful in designing performance reviews, employee recognition programs and other HR initiatives.

8. What Aspects of the Job Did You Find Most Challenging?

If an employee enjoyed or disliked an element of the job, that information will be useful when interviewing candidates for the role, as well as retaining existing employees in that position. Even if the job responsibilities can’t be changed, there might be other changes in team dynamics, workflow issues or other information that could improve the employee experience for others in that role.

9. Did the Role Match Your Expectations When You Were Hired?

If a new hire’s expectations are out of sync with the reality of the job, it could lead to increased turnover among new hires. If there’s a discrepancy between the job description and the day-to-day work of the job, the HR team and hiring manager might want to rewrite the job description before the position is advertised.

10. Have the Duties of Your Role Changed Since You Joined the Organization?

If the employee’s job responsibilities have changed or increased since they were hired, that could motivate an employee to leave for a job that more closely aligns with their skills and interests. It also means that the job description might need to be updated. Frontline managers might not notice how small changes have transformed the nature of the position, but a departing employee might share additional skills or experience that could help a new employee be successful in the role.

11. Did You Have the Support, Tools and Resources Needed to Be Successful in Your Job?

An employee could have encountered a number of issues that impacted their effectiveness in their role. The employee’s job performance might have been held back by inadequate training, lack of technology resources or inefficient business processes. Learning more about these obstacles can help create better working conditions for the next person who fills the role.

12. What Did you Like Most/Least About Working Here?

Learning about an employee’s favorite and least-favorite parts of the job is another way to get them to open up about the organization’s strengths and areas of improvement. It might also prove useful in the recruiting and interviewing process, as you may want to emphasize the bright spots of the role while also being transparent about its downsides.

13. Would You Recommend This Organization to a Friend?

This question is similar to the employee net promoter score question, which asks employees whether they would recommend their organization as a good place to work. It’s a good barometer of whether the employee had a positive experience at the company. An honest “yes” answer to this question would be a great sign, as an endorsement from a former employee can go a long way in boosting a company’s employer brand.

14. Would You Consider Rejoining the Organization?

This question is a good gauge of an employee’s overall impression of an organization, but it also provides practical information about the employee’s likelihood of returning. Returning employees, also known as boomerang employees, are typically a good hire because they have a shorter learning curve and are familiar with the culture of the organization.  

15. Do You Feel the Organization Provides a Supportive and Inclusive Work Environment?

HR and leadership teams may try to cultivate an inclusive workplace, but employees could still be experiencing a different reality in their daily work life. This question invites employees to share any non-inclusive behaviors or practices that HR might be able to address.

16. Have You Previously Shared Any of These Issues or Concerns With the Organization?

If an employee is sharing significant issues for the first time in an exit interview, they might not have felt safe sharing their concerns with their manager or with HR. This is common in organizations with low levels of trust. If they had previously shared their concerns, you will want to find out where that feedback went and why no action was taken.

17. Do You Have Any Other Suggestions for How We Can Improve?

All of the previous questions touched on common issues impacting an employee’s decision to leave. An employee might have valuable feedback that wasn’t addressed by the previous questions, so you’ll want to pose an open-ended question that covers any remaining concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Exit interview questions might ask departing employees why they are leaving the organization, whether they felt supported by their manager and what they liked and disliked about working for the company.

Employees should offer constructive criticism without making personal attacks against their manager, speaking on behalf of their coworkers or making rude comments about the state of the company. If you come across as petty, unprofessional or uncooperative during the exit interview, it may impact your ability to get a positive reference or return to the company at a later date.

Yes, it’s OK to decline an exit interview. While HR teams would prefer employees share their feedback, they rarely mandate participation as part of an employment contract or severance agreement.

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