Exit interview: 7 questions to gain valuable insights (with template)

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Summary

An exit interview is a conversation between a company and an employee choosing to leave the company. When you create a safe environment for team members to give honest feedback, you’ll gain insight into how your company can improve. Learn how to perform an exit interview effectively so you make the most of the experience.

When a team member leaves your company, there’s an opportunity to learn why. An exit interview can give departing employees time to briefly explain their resignation. When you create a safe space for them to speak candidly, you’ll find the root cause of their departure and assess whether the company contributed to it.

To gain valuable insight from exit interviews, ask thoughtful, open-ended questions. Your goal should be to make the interviewee comfortable so they’re more inclined to be honest with you. The best exit interviews help you understand where you went wrong so you can strengthen your work environment.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a conversation between an HR professional and an employee choosing to leave the company. It’s an opportunity to understand your team member is leaving and if the company can improve. When you understand the cause of a voluntary resignation, you can develop an action plan to do better.

Aside from looking for the cause of resignation, exit interviews tell you how the departing team member feels about your organization. Team members who are leaving may feel that it’s easier to be honest with praise and criticisms regarding company processes, their manager, or their team role

Who should conduct an exit interview?

Typically, a member of the HR team will conduct the exit interview. This gives the interviewee a chance to speak with someone outside of their immediate team. Because the HR department isn’t involved in everyday job roles, a member of HR can serve as a trusted confidant.

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Why are exit interviews important?

Exit interviews are valuable for companies seeking continuous improvement. Departing team members have first-hand experience on how the company functions and what they think could be better. This interview is an opportunity for team members to speak candidly.

Benefits of conducting exit interviews:

  • Receive honest employee feedback

  • Find the root cause of a team member’s departure

  • Gain insight into where the company can improve

  • Identify ways to improve employee retention rates

Ask questions about the team member’s experience with onboarding, development, and team management. By outlining the right questions in advance, you’ll get a clear picture of how the team member feels.

7 exit interview questions

The exit interview questions you choose will likely depend on the team member’s role. If the resigning person is in leadership, you may have different questions than if they were an associate. 

However, there are some general questions you can ask to gain well-rounded insight into why the team member is leaving and how they feel.

[inline illustration] Questions to ask in an exit interview (infographic)

1. What led you to your decision to leave?

Your first question can be straightforward. Ask why the team member resigned and see what they say. If you want the team member to elaborate on their reason, ask follow-up questions based on their answer. 

The individual’s reason for leaving may have nothing to do with the company at all. Continue the interview by asking questions about their experience.

Possible follow-up questions:

  • What prompted you to start looking for your next opportunity? 

  • Is there a scenario that would’ve changed your mind?

2. What do we do well as a company?

When you begin the interview with straightforward questions, the departing team member has time to get comfortable. It’s often easier for a team member to express what they like about the company and their job role before moving into criticisms. 

Once the team member gives you a general answer for what the company did well, ask them to explain.

Possible follow-up questions:

  • Can you elaborate on your response?

  • Do you have any examples you’d like to share?

3. What can the company improve on?

Ask the individual about general company improvements they think you can implement. This question goes hand in hand with their response to what the company does well. 

Use their responses to move naturally into things they may not be as fond of. For example, you might say: “So, you said you enjoyed your manager’s leadership style but was there anything about the team dynamic you would recommend improving?”

Possible follow-up questions:

  • You said you enjoyed [employee response], was there anything about the [company characteristic] you would recommend improving?

4. Did you feel supported by your manager?

Depending on the departing team member’s job role, they may not have a unique perspective about the organizational culture at the larger level. One area you know the team member has direct experience with is their manager. 

Once you ask them if they felt supported by their manager or not, probe into what their manager did or didn’t do well.

Possible follow-up questions:

  • Do you feel that leadership recognized your contributions? If not, how do you think it can be improved?

  • Can you provide examples to elaborate on your answer?

5. Did you feel you received training and development opportunities?

It’s essential to learn whether your company trained team members properly for their position. Professional development opportunities within the company are also important for retaining a team.

Many individuals move from one company to the next because they want to grow their career. Use the answers from exit interviews to improve your training plan and development programs. These improvements can reduce turnover and help increase employee retention rates. 

Possible follow-up questions:

  • What would’ve made your training experience better?

  • What would’ve strengthened our growth and development opportunities?

6. What are you looking for in your next job opportunity?

Departing team members may stick to positive feedback on their experience. To learn from their departure, ask questions in different ways. Ask what they’re looking for in their new position and use their answer to compare what your company offers. 

For example, the team member may say their experience at the company was positive. But when you ask about their future expectations, they say they’re looking for stronger team culture and work-life balance. That’s a signal that you might want to reevaluate your company culture and team workloads.

Possible follow-up questions:

  • What about this role didn’t align with what you’re looking for?

7. Would [reason] make you reconsider your decision to leave?

Team members sometimes because of a company’s specific shortcoming. The team member may be seeking a higher salary or to join a different department. Consider whether you are able to meet these requirements. 

If you can’t meet their requirements, determine whether their requirements are reasonable and if these are things you should improve for others. If they say nothing will prevent them from leaving, be understanding and accept their response.

Possible follow-up questions:

  • In what scenario, if any, would you consider returning?

Exit interview template and example

Here’s an exit interview form example with questions to ask departing employees. Included are potential answers you may receive and ways to follow up on those answers.

[inline illustration] Exit interview template (example)

Use the exit interview template below to take notes and create an improvement plan

Free exit interview template

Exit interview best practices

When performing exit interviews, there are best practices you can follow to make the departing team member feel comfortable. When you create a safe and friendly environment, you’ll receive more honest feedback.

[inline illustration] Tips to improve exit interviews (infographic)

Tips to improve exit interviews:

  • Pick the right time: The best time to interview those who have resigned is on their last day of work. This ensures the team member can be truthful without having reservations about how it may affect their work relationships. 

  • Keep it casual: There should be structure to your exit interview, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Follow up on each answer you receive so the interview feels like a conversation. 

  • Notice nonverbal cues: Actively listen to the team member’s answers to understand what they say. Though the individual’s words are important, pay attention to their nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

  • Guide the conversation: You’ll have a list of questions prepared before the interview begins, but the interview should be fluid. Instead of leading the conversation based on your questions, guide it with the team member’s answers. 

  • Encourage transparency: To get genuine answers from the team member, ask them for transparency at the beginning of the interview. 

  • Take notes: To remember the feedback team members give you, be sure to take notes. Don’t let your note taking disrupt the flow of the exit interview, but jot down brief comments so you retain any feedback you receive. 

Strive to make the exit interview feel comfortable. It’s an opportunity to gain insight from the departing team member.  

Use exit interviews to create a better workplace

The exit interview process is extremely valuable when done right. It’s an opportunity for you and the departing team member to have a candid conversation without reservations. If you can get the departing team member to speak openly about their experience, you’ll receive constructive feedback. With this feedback, you can improve the work environment for current employees and increase employee satisfaction.

Work management software can help you track retention rates, take notes during exit interviews, and implement an improvement plan. Whether you’re an HR manager or a team lead, you’ll need clarity and organization to take action. When everyone is on the same page, team members will be happier, and you’ll reach your goals faster.

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