10 Exit Interview Questions You Should Ask Employees Who Are Leaving (And Why!)

January 27, 2020
10 Exit Interview Questions You Should Ask Employees Who Are Leaving (And Why!)

We know the benefits of having a strong employee onboarding program, but did you know that employee offboarding is equally as important? Determining why the employee is leaving is just as important as planning for their future replacement. Understanding the employee experience can help HR managers plan for the future and gain feedback to help other employees. The exit interview is central to gather honest feedback to help improve the organization, but it's a meeting very few managers and business owners enjoy. It can be uncomfortable at best, awkward at worst. Too many put it off or avoid it completely. But failing to conduct as thorough an exit interview as possible is a mistake.

The fallout of not performing an exit interview

Imagine you begin losing customers without any reason or explanation. You would want one of your clients to tell you what the problem was so you could have an opportunity to correct it. Failing to perform an exit interview is the same: if there’s a problem in your organization, you’re better off knowing what it is — and fixing it — than not. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to business. Understanding what caused the employee to leave — and if it is within your power to correct it — is key to reducing turnover and improving your organization. Exit interview questions should be open-ended and allow the separating employee to speak their mind. Yes/no questions don’t offer any insight. Plan to spend a bit of time (at least 30 minutes) to try to get as much information as possible. Another point to remember is to keep the conversation professional. Your role is not to challenge the employee’s reasons, just to hear them and determine whether or not they’re valid and require action.

Questions you should ask at every exit interview

1. Why are you leaving?

Many employees will tell you their reason for leaving when they offer their resignation. If the reason is a personal issue — they’re moving out of state, for example — don’t consider the exit interview unnecessary. Often employees who are leaving feel freer to offer insight and suggestions than they would when they’re on the payroll. Some employees will offer a generic answer — "It just wasn’t a good fit" is common. This response should prompt you to delve deeper.

Let the employee know that they can confide in you without ramifications.

There is a reason — people don’t just quit without one. Let the employee know that they can confide in you without ramifications. Impress that their references won’t be impacted (a big concern for staffers who are leaving without another job lined up).

2. Was there something we could have done differently that would have kept you here?

Sometimes the reason employees leave is financial — they simply got a better offer from another organization. In this instance, you may consider a counter-offer. Although you may not want to get into a bidding war with another employer, if the wage difference isn’t prohibitive it might be worthwhile to make the offer. For other employees, workplace conditions prompted their need to change. In these cases, you’ll want to get as much specific, detailed information as possible. You cannot make corrections without information — assure the employee there will be no fallout from their candor, and try to get as much data as you can.

3. When did you start considering moving on?

In some cases, an employee has been looking for another position for months, and finally landed one. Understanding when they began their search could be critically important for employers. You may notice patterns begin to emerge: For example, at 6 months employees tend to leave. Looking at what occurs during that timeframe would be critical to correct what the issue was and ensure the next hire makes it past that challenging time.

4. Was the position what you thought it would be?

For the majority of employees who quit within their first year, it's because the role they thought they were hired for did not match the actual role. Unfortunately, this happens to too many new hires. If you deliberately misrepresented the position, it’s clear why the employee is leaving. But many employers do so inadvertently: outdated job descriptions, shifts in the workload, and other factors may have led to the miscommunication that led to an exit interview. Ask the employee what, if anything, was different than they anticipated or were told to expect. Then work with the department head to either correct the job description or retool the work so the next hire will be aligned better to the role.

5. Was training or assistance needed and offered?

For some employees, lack of support or resources creates a frustrating work environment they simply cannot tolerate. If they felt they were unable to perform their job adequately, given the tools available, understanding what could have made for a better work environment could be helpful to salvage the employee — with an offer of help.  If they’re not interested in giving it another shot, at least you’ll understand what resources the next hire will need, and when.

6. Was there a specific person or event that led to your resignation?

This can be a tricky question to ask, and a challenging question for an employee to answer. If a colleague or manager made work conditions unbearable, but the employee feared filing a report while they were employed, they may feel free to do so in an exit interview. If an event or situation caused them to leave, they may feel the same. Too often staff members are concerned the fallout of doing so may impact their chances to get another job. In some cases, the way an employee answers could be as telling as the answer itself. If you sense they are uncomfortable responding, or they tell you directly they don’t want to answer the question, you can be reasonably sure there was an issue that needs to be addressed. Bad bosses are often a reason employees leave. And, as often, they are afraid to outline what the problem was. If you suspect you have a bad boss on the payroll (high turnover in their department), ignoring the problem not only impacts morale on the employees left behind, it’s costly. The more you have to replace workers, the more you’ll spend. Better to understand and address the issue as quickly as possible.

7. Can we call you in the future to discuss your reason for leaving?

For employees who simply won’t tell you their reason for leaving, it’s safe to assume there was a problem they’re concerned about revealing. Often, after a bit of time has elapsed, they’re more comfortable speaking out. If you didn’t get a satisfactory answer, or your gut tells you there’s more to the story, ask to call in a few months to get more detail after the dust has settled. If they’re secure in another position, they may be more willing to talk. Remember to follow up with the call and act on any information you uncover.

8. Is there something we can do now to keep you on staff?

For some employees, work/life balance puts them in the difficult position of choosing family responsibilities over career. If you can work with the employee to salvage the relationship, you’re both in a better position. You may be able to offer a leave of absence if there is a short-term issue that’s pressing — like caring for an incapacitated loved one. Part-time hours, a change in shift schedule, or remote work may be the compromise you're both looking for. Remember how costly it is to replace a staff member, and how challenging. If there are ways you can help get the employee over a difficult time in their personal life but remain employed, be ready to help. If there was an issue with bosses or colleagues, you might want to ask the employee to consider moving to another department as you work out the issue they presented. If training or resources were the problem, offer the resources they need, if possible, to keep them on staff.

9. Would you consider coming back in the future or recommending friends to work here?

If an employee is leaving on good terms the answer to these will most likely be yes. If it isn’t, you know you’ll need to ask more questions.

10. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your time here?

This open-ended question could result in appreciation or a tirade. Whatever the response, remember there’s valuable information to be had. Let the employee talk (not ramble on incessantly) and actively listen to their comments. You may find a wealth of actionable ideas you can use to make a better hire next time. While the prospect of an exit interview may be uncomfortable, weighed against the reality of not knowing why turnover is occurring in your organization it’s a smart choice for business. Remember to keep it professional, allow the employee to speak and then act on any valid issues they’ve provided.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

ESAC Accreditation
We comply with all ESAC standards and maintain ESAC accreditation since 1995.
Certified PEO
A TriNet subsidiary is classified as a Certified Professional Employer Organization by the IRS.