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    10 Best Exit Interview Questions for Hiring Managers

    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, as they unravel underlying problems that leaders may not know about while also gathering insights on the effectiveness of company procedures.

    So, why are exit interviews important? In April of 2021 alone, 4 million people quit their jobs, and another 3.6 million did so in May. More than 40% of HR professionals have also indicated that their organizations have seen higher or much higher turnover in the past six months. Hiring and/or firing employees is costly, and these startling statistics make it increasingly crucial for employees to examine what changes they should make in their organization to reduce turnover rates and retain their staff. By understanding the reasons behind an employee's resignation, management will then be able to figure out what went wrong within the organization, and how they can plug the gaps and reduce future terminations.

    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 collect the appropriate information from these interviews. By tailoring these exit interviews with a plan to gather actionable insights ensures that they won’t go to waste.

    Exit interviews should be mandatory for a certain level of employees at your company. Usually, these are salaried professionals, executives, and other mid-to-high level roles. But you should also require them for roles within your company that also experience a high turnover rate. If many first-year employees choose to leave, you may want to host exit interviews for all levels of workers. (Pro tip: Put this policy in writing for your employee handbook, stressing that it’s a mandatory company policy, so no one is surprised when they receive a request for an exit interview.) 

    Ensure that an appropriate interviewer is selected, ideally from the human resource team so that unbiased insights can be obtained. This will also increase the chances of the exiting employee sharing information that they may not feel comfortable sharing with a direct team member, since they will not be pressured to share what they feel may be politically correct.

    The timing of the exit interview is important as well since doing it too early can make the meeting overly emotional. Hosting it too late in the day can result in the employee mentally “checking out” from the role altogether, and thus not sharing meaningful responses. Usually, the best time to schedule the exit interview is a week after the employee announces their intention to quit.

    The Dos and Don'ts for Exit Interviews

    Dos

    When you're conducting exit interviews, it's best to meet the employee in person to witness both their visual and non-visual cues, as well as highlight the importance of and sincerity in the exit interview. Let the employee know the reason behind the interview so that they are able to provide you with information and realize that they have the power to make a difference. Asking the same questions for each employee will also help in uncovering patterns and trends, allowing your organization to gather deeper insights.

    Make it clear that they do not have to provide an answer if they are not comfortable with it because, ultimately, it is an opportunity for them to share their thoughts and they have the right to decline to answer. Most importantly, follow the protocol and investigate for allegations of misconduct should there be any brought up during the exit interview, instead of letting it slide because the employee is leaving.

    Don'ts

    You should not address office gossip during the exit interview, nor show your opinion on the matter to maintain professionalism at all times. Listen to what they have to say and withhold judgment. It’s supposed to be a safe space for them to be comfortable and share their thoughts. Do not ask them to reconsider, because the purpose of the interview is to discover more about their experience, rather than to convince them to stay.

    The Twelve Best Exit Interview Questions

    The following twelve questions have been designed to be a widening funnel, starting very specific to the employee and then gradually widening out to encompass the entire company. It eventually wraps up at the end, circling back to the employee.

    1. What prompted your decision to leave your position?

    2. Were your goals and objectives clear and manageable? 

    3. What was your relationship like with your manager and colleagues?

    4. What do you feel the company is doing poorly?

    5. What did you enjoy about your time here? 

    6. Did you feel you were valued at our company? 

    7. How can we make this position better for your replacement?

    8. Do you have any advice for the person we hire for your position? 

    9. What would make this a better place to work?

    10. Would you recommend working at our company to your peers?

    Let’s quickly examine the rationale behind each question.

    1. What prompted your decision to leave your position?

    An obvious question, but also an important one. Note that you should use the words “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.” 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.

    2. Were your goals and objectives clear and manageable?

    If compensation 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 acts as a segway to the next question.

    3. What was your relationship like with your manager and colleagues?

    It’s a myth that people quit mostly due to their direct boss or co-workers. Rather, research has shown that people are more likely to quit after a "turnover shock," which happens when they reflect on their job satisfaction due to a life event, and the global Covid-19 pandemic is one such reason. Still, it’s important to probe their relationships with those in their immediate working circle, in case of any friction. We're including the mention of co-workers, as there is a possibility that one bad co-worker is the reason for their resignation, and it’s important to determine who this individual is before more people start leaving for the same reason. A potential follow-up question in such a situation could be, "Do any of your colleagues feel the same way?" This is also why an HR hiring manager should be conducting these interviews.

    4. What do you feel the company is doing poorly?

    This gets into the specifics of the culmination of factors leading up to their decision—from poor work-life balance to low salary and even unfulfilling work. It’s unlikely that one specific event led to them choosing to leave the job, and finding out what these pain points are allows you to work on the cracks that may be forming for the restaurant. 

    The answer to this will be very telling. 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.

    5. What did you enjoy about your time here?

    On the flip side, it is also helpful to find out areas where your organization is doing well. From employee benefits to a great organizational culture, you will be able to understand what's working and if your organization was able to effectively meet your employee's needs. If the employee is having difficulty coming up with an answer, it's a red flag that signals a need to look into employee satisfaction and wellbeing. 

    6. 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 was wasted. This midpoint question is extremely important for 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.

    7. How can we make this 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 the 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.

    8. Do you have any advice for the person we hire for your position? 

    More than any other question, this could be the best way to obtain indirect cues about how your employee felt about their job and role. The information could also be crucial in helping the new hire onboard more seamlessly or understand how else to change the job description so that the applicants can have a heads up of what the role requires, and be a better fit. 

    9. 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.

    10. 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.

    [Bonus Question] 11. 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.

    [Bonus Question] 12. 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 twelve questions will help you part ways with your employee in a smart, professional, and insightful way.

    Looking for other ways to optimize your recruitment strategy? Schedule a call with us to find out how!

    Workstream

    Workstream is a hiring platform that helps employers get 4x the number of qualified applicants. The world's most trusted brands use Workstream to optimize job board postings, automate screening and interview scheduling, communicate via text message, and streamline the onboarding/training process. See what all the buzz is about by scheduling a demo or email us info@workstream.is!

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