As an HR professional, you’ve seen employees come and go. But what if each resignation was a golden opportunity for you to help your organization attract and retain top talent?

While you may not be able to convince outgoing employees to stay, you’ll gain useful insights from their exit interviews.

Is a toxic office culture driving your best employees away?

Are your competitors poaching top talent with promises of flexible working options?

What’s the one thing your company could do to help employees deliver day after day?

With the right exit interview questions, you’ll be able to identify concerns, resolve problems, and improve employee satisfaction.

We’ve researched and collected the best exit interview questions used by HR leaders.

Why you Should Conduct Exit Interviews

Before we dive into the top exit interview questions, we’ll discuss why they’re important.

These days, HR teams have a tall order.  It’s your job to help your company land the best people. People with the right technical chops, soft skills, and behavior traits to succeed in their roles.

But it doesn’t end there.

Once you’ve courted high quality employees, you want to make sure they’re in it for the long haul.  In 2018, 42 million people quit their jobs, according to a Work Institute study. That turnover came with a $600 million price tag.

High turnover rates aren’t just expensive, they’re bad for business, too. That’s what researchers from the University of Kashmir found. Holding on to top employees is critical for building a competitive advantage.

And to keep your best employees, you’ve got to keep them happy.

Now, imagine you could get in-depth insights into your company’s biggest problems. What kind of difference would that make to the overall employee experience?

Of course, you could canvass existing employees, but they’re probably going to dilute their feedback. After all, they still depend on your organization for a paycheck.

On the other hand, outgoing employees have nothing to lose. Exit interviews are a final forum for employees to share their thoughts on the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

Not only can you uncover potential problems with management styles, you may also find ideas to improve the organization. It’s why 91% of Fortune 500 companies conduct exit interviews, according to this study.

The Best Exit Interview Questions

Here are some exit interview questions recommended by HR experts.

1. Why did you begin looking for a new job?

Research shows employees leave for a range of reasons. Some believe believe their company puts profits above people. Sixty percent quit thanks to bad managers and 36% consider leaving because they can’t work remotely.

By asking this open-ended question, employees may share personal and professional motivations for why they’re leaving. Was it one issue or a variety of reasons?

Once you have concrete concerns like these, you’re able to make practical changes. For instance, if staff want to leave because they can’t work from home, you could look at a flexible working policy.

2. Why did you end up taking the new job?

If the employee offered a few reasons in the first question, you may be able to narrow the field with this one. And you might want to read between the lines.

Let’s say an employee is leaving because the new role comes with lots of potential for professional growth. That’s a sign you need to examine how to provide growth opportunities that encourage employees to stay longer term.

3. Did you have the training and tools to do your job well?

Were people coached to fulfil their potential? Did they have the basics they needed to perform their duties?

You should be prepared to hear about poor internet speeds or unreliable hardware. Or maybe the employee struggled to perform because they didn’t have the skills to tackle new challenges in the role.

Here’s the time to gain insights into what’s working well and what needs to change. Of all the questions, this one provides the practical information you need to take an immediate proactive step.

4. What was your relationship with your manager like?

At some point, one in two employees have left jobs to get away from a manager. It’s so common that most people can relate to the experience of having a bad boss.

This question can prevent a mass exodus. One answer is leadership training. Another might be to evaluate the criteria for management positions.

Take the story of a company that hired a manager to oversee 17 employees. One year later, only eight remained. After an investigation, they discovered the problem. People were promoted because of their technical skills, not whether they were the right fit for management positions. The company changed its promotion process.

5. Did you have clear goals and objectives?

Are employees united behind clear goals? These can motivate employees and improve performance, according to research from McKinsey.

Defined objectives provide purpose and help employees prioritize. It’s a problem if employees need to figure out what they should be doing on a daily basis. Even more than that, employees who understand how their individual contribution helps the company’s mission will be more engaged.

6. Did you receive constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback goes hand in hand with ongoing development. While no one wants to discourage an employee, underperforming team members need to know their weaknesses and how they can improve.

On the other hand, top employees should be recognized for their efforts. An analysis by Gallup found employees who don’t feel they’re receiving enough recognition are twice as likely to quit.

7.  Under what circumstances would you come work here again?

Learn from the information employees provide here and act on what needs to change. Let’s say an employee says they’d return if their skills were better used. That’s a lesson to relook roles.

Do employees have the chance to develop their strengths? Are they doing meaningful, motivating work?

8. How would you describe the company culture?

Don’t estimate the impact of a toxic workplace culture. Fifty-eight percent of employees are walking out the door because of office politics.

Often, there are a few red flags that crop up time and time again:

  • Employees are often criticized and rarely praised
  • Little work-life balance
  • Office gossip
  • Passive aggressive behaviors

Don’t ignore these warning signs. If more and more employees are calling it quits because of bad behavior, it’s time to have a serious discussion about organizational change. The benefit of regular exit interviews is you begin to see these trends emerging.

9. Did you speak to anyone about your concerns?

This question provides another opportunity to learn about the company culture. Did employees feel comfortable having honest conversations about their problems? Could they speak freely about their concerns?

10.  What was the best part of your job?

This question cuts to the heart of the positive aspects of the role. It’s an opportunity to design an employee’s dream job. Devote attention to expanding the parts of the job employees love. That way you have a better chance of retaining high value employees.

11.  What was the worst part of the job?

This question identifies problems with the role and what changes you need to make. For example, if most employees dread performing routine admin tasks, it’s time to invest in automation technology.

12. If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would it be?

The way you frame this question can reveal the true reason an employee is leaving. It’s less direct than specifically pointing our poor management or a toxic office culture.

How to Conduct the Perfect Exit Interview

Gaining the most value out of process isn’t only about asking the right exit interview questions. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, an effective exit interview process depends on getting open, honest feedback.  

There are a few steps you can take to achieve this goal:

  • Explain the purpose of the interview. Employees should understand their feedback will be used to improve the company.
  • Be up front about how the information will be presented. Many people don’t want to burn bridges. For instance, employees may be concerned they won’t be able to get good references. Let employees know the data will be summarized and names won’t be mentioned.
  • Conduct in-person interviews. Remember that a large part of human communication is non-verbal. Carrying out interviews by phone means you may miss out on gestures and expressions that convey employees’ true feelings.
  • Set up one-on-one interviews. Panel style sessions with too many people could create an intimidating experience.

To make sure all your effort was worthwhile, you need to act on the insights. Draw up a list of points for senior management with recommendations for resolving key concerns. Map a plan for improvement and to monitor progress.

In order to make sure your exit interviews are consistent, use a tool like eversign to create reusable templates for your questionnaire. That makes it easy for anyone in your company to find the list of questions to ask and get the feedback your team needs to improve the company.

Use These Exit Interview Questions to Transform Your Company

When you do it right, exit interviews can spark new ideas, fix nagging problems, and boost employee engagement. And that’s all guaranteed to earn you the respect of employees, management, and your peers.