Use Exit Interview Questions to Drive Organizational Change

Turnover happens. No matter how well-run or forward-thinking, your company will experience turnover at one point or another. While you can’t eliminate turnover altogether, you can take steps to minimize it. One such effort is to conduct a thoughtful exit interview with thoughtful exit interview questions before your terminated employee leaves.

An exit interview is a one-to-one conversation between the departing employee and a member of leadership or your HR team. This discussion explores the employee’s experiences working for your company.

While exit interviews may not seem like a priority, you can gain valuable insights by hosting them. This is especially important if you see any alarming turnover patterns.

Exit interviews allow you to understand the reasons behind an employee’s departure. They will also help you gather valuable information to improve your organization for your existing and future employees. In turn, your improvements will lead to increased retention and engagement.

You need to ask the right questions to gain the most insight from exit interviews. What you ask may depend on the employee’s role and the nature of your business. However, it would help if you asked questions covering various aspects of their experience working for your company.

Out of the infinite number of questions you could ask in an exit interview, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite must-ask questions.


1) What were your reasons for leaving our company?

This general opener is a must-have in your exit interview. It frees the exiting employee to give a broad range of responses. You will find that some employees leave for personal reasons like a spouse or significant other’s job transfer. Others will leave because they found a new job more appealing elsewhere. It’s your job to find out what!

When employees give a vague answer like ‘it wasn’t a good fit,’ ask them to expand on that answer. What exactly “didn’t fit” between the employee and either the role, company, or expectations?


2) Was your role how you imagined it would be?

Sometimes, the employee’s actual role didn’t match their expectations. It’s important to note this and the detail surrounding which parts were unexpected, so you can accurately recruit for their replacement. The answer to this question may help you update job descriptions or job advertisements for this position. Conversely, if it was what they expected, you know you did a good job communicating expectations.


3) Did we give you enough support and training to help you perform your role effectively?

A lack of support can make it difficult for employees to carry out their duties and responsibilities. It can put a big dent in their confidence and lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the work environment. Constructive feedback in this area will help you understand the resources, support, and training current and future employees need to perform at their best.


4) Did you feel we provided you with enough opportunities to advance at our company and in your career?

Meeting your employees’ personal growth and career development needs increases engagement and retention. It’s essential to gauge departing employees’ opinions of your company’s advancement opportunities so you can take steps to make improvements. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of communicating the opportunities. Other times, you may need to strategize how to create those opportunities.


5) Were you able to talk openly with your manager about any concerns or challenges?

The answer here will help you gauge how approachable your leadership appears to your employees. It’s easy to uncover areas needed for management training or guidance opportunities when you gather facts about how managers relate to their employees. Sometimes, you may find the manager is the issue and need to consider a different termination. In either case, it’s essential that employees feel they can approach the leaders in your organization about big and small matters.


6) Did your manager always clarify their expectations when you took on new projects and tasks?

You must know that your managers can clearly communicate to employees. After all, these are the leaders providing feedback and setting goals. Your managers should be able to identify areas of strength and improvement. Without clear communication or feedback, employees have no sense of direction, which can frustrate them.


7) Did you receive enough recognition for your contributions and achievements?

Employees may leave work environments that do not value or appreciate their efforts. This can include anything from praise for meeting specific milestones or recognition for going above and beyond. It’s motivational when you set aside time to celebrate employee achievements.


8) What was the main driving factor in accepting a role elsewhere? 

Learn what other companies are doing better than you! Who knows? It may be something simple you have considered implementing yourself. It’s not always about the higher salary.


9) Is there anything we can do to change your mind about leaving us?

Please note this question may not be for every departing employee. You only want to ask this question if you have any intention of attempting to keep the employee. Because turnover is expensive, keeping your star employees is always more financially responsible – even if it’s a little costly.


10) How would you describe the workplace culture at our company?

Answers will give you valuable insight into the employee’s perspective of your company’s culture. Sometimes, leadership can see the culture in one way, while employees see it in another. It’s great to be able to identify the gaps to get closer to your goal culture.


11) Would you consider returning to work for us again in the future?

If the departing employee is an A player, it may be an opportunity to stay connected if the employee has a positive response to this question. However, a negative response should be followed up with other questions. Is there a specific reason they would not come back to your company? Or did they decide they are more interested in another field, company size, or type? This is a great time to dig deeper!


12) Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience at our company?

It’s always great to finish with this open-ended question. It allows the departing employee to share concerns about issues not covered by your other questions. Their comments can be a great source of ideas, which you can put into action to improve your organization.


Last important notes

You can ask a broad range of exit interview questions, but it’s most important to ensure they are open-ended. Do not lead the employee by offering potential answers or asking leading questions. For example, “What led you to resign?” is different than the leading question, “Did a certain manager cause you to resign?” You never want to make the employee uncomfortable or lead them to answer in a specific way.

It’s also essential the employee knows the exit interview is confidential. This will aid in getting accurate responses that allow you to learn from this employee and consequently improve your future state of employment.