HR Strategy

How to Conduct an Exit Interview (With Sample Questions) 

June 15, 2023

When one door closes, another one opens. While an employee’s notice of resignation is generally sad news, it’s also an opportunity for the company to learn from its mistakes. There are many reasons why you should conduct exit interviews, like improving future retention rates. In this blogpost, we walk you through how to conduct an exit interview in five steps. 

Step 1: Assign an Exit Interview Policy

The exit interview process begins long before an employee resigns. Exit interviews are typically voluntary, but you can improve employee participation by setting expectations early in the employee’s career at the company. An exit interview policy communicates that exit interviews are a standard part of offboarding, preparing employees for the process well ahead of time. 

An exit interview policy should outline: 

  • The purpose of exit interviews within the company; 
  • The company’s general process for conducting exit interviews; 
  • Who will be interviewed (for example, employees who voluntarily resign) and by whom; and 
  • How information collected from exit interviews (including employee responses) will be documented, stored, and shared. 

Assign your policy to new employees along with other onboarding materials in their employee handbook. 

Step 2: Create a Standardized Process 

Asking every interviewee the same set of questions in the same way helps you track information consistently so that you can identify patterns more easily. You should ask both qualitative and quantitative questions. These questions should cover how the company can improve retention in the future. 

Ask questions about the employee’s experience and opinions on the company’s: 

  • Training and development opportunities; 
  • Compensation and benefits; 
  • Supervision and management; 
  • Work culture and work–life balance; and 
  • Work environment and working conditions. 

Do not ask questions that: 

  • Won’t offer insight into how the company can improve in the future; 
  • Are too personal; 
  • Ask the employee to reconsider their decision to leave; or 
  • Relate to office drama and gossip. 

Decide whether interviews will be conducted through an in-person or virtual conversation, through a questionnaire, or both. When making this decision, consider whether you would prefer employees to answer questions anonymously (for more honest feedback) or with an interviewer who can encourage them to elaborate when needed. 

Step 3: Plan and Schedule the Exit Interview 

Even with a standardized process, you can be flexible with some exit interview elements and tailor your approach for each situation. Before conducting the exit interview, consider the following: 

  • Location: Whether you conduct the exit interview through a conversation or a questionnaire, ensure the employee can answer questions in a quiet, private, and distraction-free setting. 
  • Time: There are pros and cons to conducting an exit interview before, during, or after the employee’s departure. Employees are more likely to participate when they are still employed by the company, but they may give more honest answers after their last day. Decide what works best for your organization. 
  • Interviewer: Employees are more likely to open up to someone they trust, like their supervisor, HR, or a neutral third party. The interviewer should also be neutral and empathetic with strong emotional intelligence and active listening skills. 

Step 4: Conduct the Exit Interview 

Opening Instructions 

Before beginning the interview or providing a questionnaire, mention the following: 

  • Exit interviews are generally voluntary. Thank the employee for participating. 
  • Remind the employee why the company holds exit interviews and that any feedback they have—positive or negative—is valued. 
  • Reassure the employee that they will not receive any form of reprisal for giving truthful answers to your questions. 
  • Let the employee know they can skip any questions they don’t want to answer. 
  • Inform the employee you will be taking notes and remind them of how the information you collect will be kept confidential. 

During the Interview 

If you choose to conduct an exit interview with an interviewer, they should: 

  • Remain positive and neutral throughout the interview, even when receiving negative criticism. 
  • Listen more than speak. The exit interview is a chance to learn, not to persuade the employee to stay or to offer personal opinions. 
  • Take notes on the employee’s responses and job details: for example, role, supervisor, and department. 
  • Encourage the employee to give full answers and ask them to elaborate when necessary. 

After the Interview 

The employee’s responses may trigger other employer obligations. If the resigning employee informs you of any issues they experienced or witnessed involving sexual harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful activity at work, follow company policies and promptly investigate the issue. If you are unsure about your obligations, consult one of our experts

Additionally, continue to protect the reputation of the employee. Confidentiality isn’t always possible, such as in small companies with low turnover, but follow company policies to avoid compromising the employee. 

Step 5: Analyse Results 

Conducting the interview is only part of the process. You also need to know what to do with employee responses. Compile the information you collected from each exit interview into one location, like a spreadsheet. Then, look for trends and patterns: 

  • Is there a specific manager whose direct reports are leaving at higher rates? 
  • Are employees in a specific job category finding jobs elsewhere for higher pay? 
  • Are departing employees leaving for the same reason, such as unaddressed workplace hazards, poor work–life balance, or lack of recognition? 

Analyse different segments of your workforce, too. Sort the information you have by categories: for example, demographics, tenure, department, performance, turnover reason, and job title. Prioritize improving retention rates when turnover in one specific segment costs more, is more frequent, and contributes more to organizational strategy than other segments. 

Share results with authorized individuals in the company who can make organizational changes that will address turnover trends. Improving workplace practices based on employee feedback can reduce problems like active disengagement. Schedule regular (for example, quarterly) opportunities to share trends and insights and to discuss solutions. Be sure to also highlight what’s going well according to employee feedback and build on those strengths. 

Sample Questions 

McLean & Company found that regrettable turnover (employees who voluntarily quit but whom the company wished to keep) commonly happens for these reasons: 

  • Career advancement opportunities; 
  • Satisfaction with their job and responsibilities; 
  • Base pay; 
  • Skill development opportunities; and 
  • How much they were able to use their skills in their job. 

Ask employees questions related to these factors in the exit interview, such as: 

  • How did your job duties and responsibilities compare with your current job description? 
  • How could the company improve training for your role? 
  • Do you feel the company made the best use of your knowledge and skills? 
  • How would you describe the opportunities for career advancement at the company? 
  • Do you feel you were appropriately compensated for your work?

Exit interviews are a valuable way to get insight into where your company can improve retention, but it shouldn’t be the first time you explore issues in your workforce. Ask employees about their engagement at the company and improve conditions before they submit a notice.