GuidesEmployee experience18 exit interview questions to ask your employees

18 exit interview questions to ask your employees

Last updated

26 June 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Lara Leganger

Over the course of your business, you'll naturally gain and lose employees, sometimes watching those you were most invested in move on to new things. When quality team members want to leave your organization, it's natural to wonder why. Each time you need to fill staffing gaps, you may be unsure how to incentivize longer-term commitments and improve your team dynamic.

Holding an exit interview is a great way to end a work relationship on a positive note. It also provides your organization with valuable knowledge from a colleague at a time when they’re more likely to speak candidly than other members of staff.

Our exit interview guide has two main aims:

  • For employers: To describe what makes a good exit interview, including pointers on crafting your own employee exit interview questions centered on the most important matters facing your organization. We'll include a list of tried-and-true stock questions, so you're prepared the next time a member of staff decides the grass might be greener elsewhere.

  • For exit interviewees: To provide valuable pointers on getting the most out of the opportunity to make an impact on company operations—both on behalf of former colleagues and for the personal and professional experience. It looks good on a resume to show you were a valued member of the team, right to the end!

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is an optional part of the offboarding process. It’s a meeting to allow an outgoing employee to share their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about their time with the company. As far as research and data-collection strategies go, exit interviews are classed as a survey.

It's a time for the company leaders to learn more about their company culture and employee motivations, without needing to guess or speculate. The exit interview itself is a meeting, but the entire process (for the employer) involves:

  • Asking pointed questions

  • Transcribing the answers in a database-friendly format

  • Optimally tagging and itemizing responses for easier analysis

  • Compiling the results into a searchable repository (on which future exit interviews can build)

Employee exit interview questions are tailored to reveal what the employee liked or didn't like about their time with the company. The questions should also be designed to encourage thoughtfully nuanced and authentic responses. This allows managers to probe more deeply into the overall company culture and the relationship between staff, management, customers, and other stakeholders.

Who conducts an exit interview?

Exit interviews are normally held by an unbiased staff member familiar with the company culture, such as a respected member of the human resources team. These staff members have:

  • An unbiased role

  • Rapport with numerous high- and low-ranking staff alike

  • Respected opinions about the hiring process

  • The ability to impact company culture

Large enterprises may hire an external exit interview company for completely unbiased reports.

Holding an in-office exit interview is generally considered best practice. It provides the same environment as the employee's standard working conditions, helping them remember in detail what was involved in their daily functions. If their job was remote, it’s most effective to conduct the exit interview over the same video platform they're used to.

The key to getting the most honest answers to successful exit interview questions is:

  • Asking them in a familiar setting

  • Someone conducting the interview with whom the employee feels comfortable

What makes a good exit interview?

Good exit interview questions are a blend of closed and open-ended questions. This mix creates a natural dynamic for the interview, generating the hard data you're after and the "vibe" required to make that data forthcoming.

Question quality has a major bearing on the direction of the interview and the main themes that are ultimately addressed. Before the exit interview, ask your key decision-makers: “What aspects of our company culture most directly impact our ability to achieve company goals as an effective, unified team?”

Key themes to measure in an exit interview

Next, craft several key exit interview questions, imagining you have to cover all territory in a few artfully honed inquiries. These will reflect the most important themes the company is curious about. 

Some of the most important topics companies choose to explore during exit interviews include:

  • Communications habits between staff members, and between staff and management

  • Behavior patterns in different departments

  • Whether employees feel supported, satisfied, and loyal—and if not, why

  • Employee performance levels and the factors affecting this

  • Which aspects of the company most significantly impact turnover and retention rates

  • What kind of work–life balance employees typically have, and the role they expect management to play in helping them achieve a better balance

  • How much of a direct stake employees feel in the company's success

After choosing the most important themes for your organization, you'll have a more solid direction for the interview and a focus point around which to craft interview questions.

How to use exit interviews to improve performance

So what makes exit interview data valuable? After holding your exit interview and taking time to digest the responses, your company leaders could see how you can improve:

  • Onboarding processes

  • Employee work–life balance

  • Overall company culture

  • Management styles

  • Company productivity

18 exit interview questions to ask

It’s important to keep the interviewee engaged with unique, novel questions. Read on for a solid mix of thought-provoking questions designed to learn the motivating thought patterns and attitudes of your employees, at the time when they're most likely to openly share their thoughts. Your goal is to elicit more unguarded answers while giving your exiting employee a reason to feel comfortable and more candid.

With experience, you'll find the order in which you ask these questions often has a bearing on the shape the interview takes. For example, consider whether you'd rather save more personal questions for the end, or ask them upfront, depending on whether you'd like a more professional or casual dynamic.

Select and modify the following employee exit interview questions according to your needs and preference, and order them so you build up to the key themes you’ve already established.

  1. What compelled you to seek other opportunities?

  2. What about your new job are you most looking forward to?

  3. Would you consider returning to our company under different circumstances?

  4. Do you believe management fully recognized your efforts? How could we improve employee recognition?

  5. Were any policies difficult to understand or appreciate? If so, what would make them better, and how could they be communicated differently?

  6. Did your duties deviate from your original job description, and if yes, how?

  7. Were you equipped with the necessary tools, workplace conditions, and resources needed to consistently achieve success? What areas of staff support could be improved, and how?

  8. Was your training effective for your role, and how could our training process accelerate employee growth?

  9. What was the greatest part of your job here?

  10. What was the worst part of the job, and how can we address those challenges for the benefit of other employees?

  11. Do you have ideas for elevating staff morale?

  12. Can you describe the perfect replacement candidate (besides you, of course)?

  13. Would you recommend working here to friends or family? Why/why not?

  14. Did you feel comfortable communicating regularly with your manager, and what communication obstacles did you experience?

  15. What words or phrases would you use to describe our company culture?

  16. Did we give you clear-enough goals and objectives at regular intervals?

  17. How forthcoming was our feedback, and did it help or hinder you in your role?

  18. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Good tools for conducting exit interview surveys

If you're looking to make exit interviews a mainstay of your offboarding process, there are some tools that will make the process more efficient.

Learn how to use survey-collection services, and set them up beforehand with templates and custom settings. It will go a long way in keeping the interviewer and interviewee comfortable.

Some of the best exit interview tools we heartily recommend include:

  • Typeform and SurveyMonkey, which include great inbuilt functions for smooth, effective exit interview surveys.

  • Video chat platforms, for conducting and recording online interviews. This may be needed if the employee leaves before you have had the chance to meet one last time. Even making a video of a live meeting can help, if you feel body language would be helpful to review.

  • Dovetail, our powerful, multifaceted research platform, is designed for automated transcriptions and easy, thorough survey response analysis. This will help you to compare and contrast employee exit interview questions throughout the years, mining answers for actionable insights at the press of a button.

FAQs

What's an exit questionnaire?

The exit questionnaire is the list of questions asked in an exit interview. Some companies opt for written exit questionnaires from their employees, especially with remote workers, but for most businesses, this is less common than face-to-face meetings or video chats.

The terms "exit questionnaire" and "exit interview" are often used interchangeably.

How long should an exit interview be?

An exit interview shouldn't take more than an hour and could be as short as 30 minutes. Anything shorter is likely an ineffective use of time unless the purpose of the exit interview is extremely narrow—but the employee may be put off by this, sensing less genuine interest. It's best to allot quality time for the conversation to naturally develop. Even if you have only a few essential questions, the quality of the responses will be higher by not rushing the process.

Keep in mind that the exit interview revolves primarily around subjective opinions, sometimes entirely so. Some employees might have a lot to say, while others may be less forthcoming. Be prepared to spend more or less time with a given employee and to forgo some of your questions if they bring up sensitive topics.

What not to say in an exit interview

As an employee, an exit interview is not the time to indiscriminately complain or prove things. You both know you're parting ways; the point is to ensure both parties have a mutually beneficial parting discussion.

The company values your opinions, or they wouldn't ask you for them. Your words are valuable, so keep things friendly and constructive, even when touching on innately negative things. Generally, it's not a good idea to belabor points like:

  • Who at the company you didn't like

  • How you would run things yourself

  • Disparaging words about others, especially of a personal nature (although discussing troublesome deeds is quite another thing)

While it's likely some dissatisfaction did compel you to leave, remember your words will carry more weight if they're given with higher ideals and purposes in mind. Generally, there's nothing you can't express if it's said the right way.

How do you respectfully discuss a bad boss during an exit interview?

Communicating about difficult employees is hard enough, but it can be even more difficult to bring up negative points about your boss.

It's better to discuss specific behaviors, or even better, events, rather than making blanket statements. This makes your words look less like a personal attack and actually makes the situation easier to talk about it. If referring to negative things, circle back to the higher purpose you felt was being interfered with when confronted with unfortunate aspects of the job.

How do you say thank you in an exit interview?

For the departing employee, reflect on how the company has demonstrated they value your time and opinions (i.e. by holding an exit interview), especially when other companies might not have bothered.

As long as your gratitude comes from a place of genuine appreciation for the good things about your time there—the skills and talents you developed—it's certain to come across well.

It may help to think beforehand of several things about the position you’re most grateful for. It makes it easier to express candid, authentic thanks for the experiences you’ll be taking with you into new opportunities.

How do you analyze an exit interview?

Once the interviewer compiles the exit interview answers, the final step (before implementation) is to analyze the results with key decision-makers and those involved in setting policies that affect daily staff operations. Read through and discuss the interview responses while looking for patterns related to:

  • The most common themes behind the answers

  • What those themes say about the company overall

  • How the same patterns may play out with other employees in the organization

  • Ways of adjusting company operations, in light of these insights, for greater employee satisfaction and effectiveness

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