If an employee quits, but no one is around to do an exit interview, do they affect any change?
This ancient zen question has plagued hiring managers who are tasked with handling employee turnover. Exit interviews can be some of the most informative conversations they can have with a soon-to-be ex-employee, yet a fourth of companies in a survey by Harvard Business said they didn’t do exit interviews at all. Even worse, fewer than a third took any specific action after the interview. So unfortunately, more so than not, an exit interview seems like just a cursory thing to do. Just a long, corporate goodbye to a supposedly valued member of the team.
Yet in 2018, 41.4 million workers in the US voluntarily quit their jobs, according to a report by the Work Institute. And of those who quit, more than 3 in 4 employees said they could have been retained by employers.
This stat is the real reason why exit interviews are so important. If the lifeblood of a company is its workers, learning the pain-points from those that choose to leave are essential data in fixing the internal issues leading to turnover.
How to Conduct Great Exit Interviews
The best exit interviews are the ones that have been strategized and planned out before they occur. Having a game plan and the right questions to ask (more on this later) will make it easier to conduct and to collect the appropriate information from these interviews. By tailoring these exit interviews with the plan of actually gathering actionable insights, they won’t go to waste.
Exit interviews should be mandatory for a certain level of employee at your company. Usually these are salaried professionals, executives, and other mid-to-high level roles. But it also depends on where the highest turnover rates are at your business. If many first-year employees choose to leave, that might be a reason to interview all levels of workers. Put this policy in writing for your employee handbook, stressing that it’s a mandatory company policy, so no one is surprised when this happens.
The timing of the exit interview is important as well, since doing it too early can make the meeting overly emotional; while having it too late can make the employee mentally “checked out” from the role altogether, and thus not able to give good responses. Usually, the best time to schedule the exit interview is a week after the employee’s announced intention to quit.
The Ten Best Exit Interview Questions
The following ten questions have been designed as a widening funnel, starting very specific to the employee and then gradually widening out to encompass the entire company. Then at the end, we come back to make it about the employee again.
1. What prompted your decision to leave your position?
2. What could we have done to keep you with us?
3. Were your goals and objectives clear and manageable?
4. What was your relationship like with your manager?
5. Did you feel you were valued at our company?
6. How can we make your position better for your replacement?
7. What would make this a better place to work?
8. Would you recommend working at our company to your peers?
9. Would you consider working for us again in the future?
10. Do you have any other issues you’d like to discuss?
Let’s quickly examine the rationale behind each question.
What prompted your decision to leave your position?
An obvious question, sure, but note that we went with “what prompted” instead of “why did you” intentionally, so the hiring manager can get to the root of the moment that “broke the camel’s back,” so to speak. While it’s important to know if they were unhappy for a long time, it can be more actionable to know the specific reason the employee decided it was time to leave.
What could we have done to keep you with us?
A very actionable question. If many exit interviews have the same root answer (ie. higher salary, better benefits, terrible boss, etc.) then you know exactly what you need to fix to retain your talent.
Were your goals and objectives clear and manageable?
If salary isn’t the problem, then the root cause is often that the employee was doing work they didn’t enjoy. This question aims to get specific with their position and whether they felt bored or overwhelmed. It also hints toward their experience with their direct superior, which we get specific with.
What was your relationship like with your manager?
It’s a myth that people quit mostly due to their direct boss. Rather, according to Culture Amp, 52% of those that quit do so because of the lack of development opportunities. Still, it’s important to probe their relationship with their manager in case of any friction. This is also why an HR hiring manager should be conducting these interviews.
Did you feel you were valued at our company?
If lacking development opportunities is the number one reason people quit, this question asks if they think their talent and skill set were wasted. This midpoint question is extremely important to retention, so spend time on this one and ask follow ups to see where they could have felt better put to use and shown value.
How can we make your position better for your replacement?
This is a carefully worded question basically asking how their own position could have been better for themselves, but framed in context of being altruistic with the next hire. By positioning them to be a “mentor” in this way, the employee may consider more ideas in order to help the incoming candidate.
What would make this a better place to work?
This is the “widest” question to ask, giving them an open opportunity to touch on aspects of company culture, company leadership, benefits, and anything else outside of the scope of their specific roles. Wider questions lead to differentiated answers among exit interviews, so the results may not be immediately actionable, but if you hear the same responses enough times, you’ll know what to fix.
Would you recommend working at our company to your peers?
This question is asking for your company’s report card. If they’re willing to go out on a limb and approve working here to their professional network, then not only are you parting on good terms, but they can also be a source of recruitment.
Would you consider working for us again in the future?
This question brings it back to the individual and offers the possibility of an open door to the company. Psychologically, this can make the “break up” easier, but receiving a firm “no” is a red flag as to their unhappiness. Follow up with questions to see if the right changes can court them back, and if not, why.
Do you have any other issues you’d like to discuss?
The doorknob question, in essence. It’s their last chance to air any other grievances. Once they know the interview is ending, they might get more candid.
Finally, after the in-person exit interview, consider following up with a phone call or emailed version of a short secondary exit interview. Studies have shown that after some time, the employee’s reasons for leaving can change. They may have a clearer perspective on things then, or may feel freer to speak even more candidly. This post-exit interview can be another great way to learn more actionable items from a departing employee.
Exit interviews will benefit your overall company’s retention rate and culture, as long as they are conducted with actionable goals in mind. These ten questions will help you part ways with your employee in a smart, professional, and insightful way.
Robert Woo is a freelance content creator for various companies from startup to enterprise-level. When not writing SEO-friendly articles, he writes and performs comedy, plays guitar, and champions the Oxford comma.