It is genuinely surprising the number of companies that do not take the opportunity to ask exit questions when an employee leaves. There is often the feeling that the employee leaving has simply found a better opportunity elsewhere, but there are countless other factors that may have come into play, and it is always dangerous and even self-defeating to make assumptions.

A departing employee can be a valuable resource. By conducting an exit interview, you can:

  • learn what your company does best, or does well
  • find out any areas in which your company could be performing better
  • understand if there are any short-comings in the support or tools the employee had at their disposal
  • capture information and knowledge, and even possible new contacts
  • learn precisely why the employee decided to leave
  • part on good terms so no bridges are burned

Ideally, an exit interview should always be conducted by an experienced HR person who is used to conducting interviews. If your company does not have such an employee, then the employee’s immediate supervisor would be the best alternative.

The ideal way of conducting an exit interview is face-to-face, and in a relaxed yet formal setting. If this is not an option, then a telephone interview should be arranged. By using a face-to-face setting or a telephone conversation, you can lead off to explore the avenues that your ex-employee’s responses hint at.

If neither of these options are possible, then written responses should be requested – indeed some people feel more comfortable in writing their thoughts and feelings than talking about them face-to-face, so use your best judgement.

If you do manage to arrange a face-to-face or telephone interview, always start by explaining precisely the reason for the interview, and then go on to ask gentle questions as that will put your ex-employee at ease. You can then lead on to more probing questions, but always keep things friendly.

Sample exit interview questions

  • What is the main reason you have decided to leave?
  • What – if anything – triggered your decision?
  • If you had concerns about your role or the company, did you share these concerns with anyone before you made your decision to leave?
  • Do you feel that you were harassed by anyone, or discriminated against, and if so by whom and how?
  • Were the conditions right for you to be able to perform your role adequately?
  • What satisfied you most about working here?
  • What satisfied you the least about working here?
  • If you could have made changes to the way you were expected to fulfil your role, what would they have been?
  • What improvements do you think we could make?
  • Did the job match the role as described when you applied and were interviewed for it?
  • Was the recruitment and interview process satisfactory?
  • How far did the company go in order to enable you to achieve your career goals?
  • Do you feel you received adequate training and support?
  • How did you find the appraisal and feedback process?
  • Would you recommend us as a good place to work?
  • What did your new employers offer to persuade you to come and work for them?
  • What could we have done to persuade you not to leave?

It’s good practice to use the exit interview to collect keys, ID badges and anything else that belongs to the company from your departing employee. Make sure you end the meeting positively. Thank your departing employee for their service, and wish them well. Also make sure you thank them for agreeing to attend the exit interview, and explain how the information that’s been gathered will be used.