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30 must-ask questions for employee interviews and exit surveys

13 min read
Improve employee retention and optimize your exit interviews by using our expertly curated list of questions to ask.

High employee turnover affects a company’s bottom line: It costs a company approximately 33% of an employee’s annual salary to hire a replacement. Losing high-performing and engaged employees can affect your brand value and ability to deliver high-quality service and products.

So when an employee resigns, companies conduct exit interviews to gather feedback and understand the reasons behind their departure.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a chance to pinpoint why someone is moving on. It’s a chance to learn from that person’s experience – the good and the bad. The process can be conducted face to face, by a form or by an exit interview survey.

An effective exit interview:

  • Formally closes the employee/employer relationship in a constructive and helpful way.
  • Provides first-hand employee experience data on their environment, team, management, role and company culture.
  • Discovers if the employee would promote your organization to other people in the future.
  • Understands why they chose to leave, so you can see how this aligns with your company’s attrition risk-profile.
  • Identifies any issues or areas within the business that need improvement.

The exit interview survey format is commonly used to make the best use of remaining time and support flexibility for a mobile, remote or international workforce.

Why it’s important to ask the right exit interview questions

Ask the right questions in that final conversation, to get the best value results as there are no do-overs. You don’t want folks to skip main content and questions in surveys. Asking the right questions can provide:

  1. Honest answers – Getting honest 360 degree feedback is hard to do as staff members don’t want to cause offense or go against organizational politics. Be seen as neutral by using non-judgment language in your questions.
  2. Consistent data – You can gather consistently-formatted data by standardizing a set of employee exit interview questions. This can be easily quantified or represented into other formats to help you understand how to reduce unwanted attrition.
  3. Comparable results – Large questions like ‘why are you leaving?’ can be hard to answer. Ask smaller questions across several topics to get feedback on each area of the employee’s situation and compare results by similar performance levels, tenure and role.

All questions you ask should be fair, and there should be sufficient time for the employee to feedback. Offering a few open-text field items to get richer details and more nuances about an employee’s decision to leave.

Set up your survey now with our ready-made free Exit Interview Survey template

Top 30 exit interview questions (and why we recommend them)

To get a full picture of the employee experience, pick questions from this top list of 30 sample exit interview questions, covering:

The role

  1. How long did you work in this role?
    Turnover among long-serving employees, who have accrued knowledge and skills, has a greater impact than the loss of a relatively new hire. There may be specific trends or issues prompting resignations among valuable long-serving staff.
  2. How accurately was the role described to you before you joined the organization?
    Assess your hiring, interview and onboarding processes, and the role they played in selecting the right candidate. This can also yield data about the job description’s effectiveness.
  3. How much did the job role change after you were hired?
    Certain circumstances may require an employee to take on new or different responsibilities. Find out what these are and the impact they had on the employee by asking them what changed and why.
  4. How reasonable or unreasonable was the workload for this role?
    Burnout and overwork can be a factor in unwanted turnover. A business could be over-estimating an employee’s capacity for more work, especially if they’re seen as high-performing.
  5. What were the best and worst areas of your job?
    Each employee values different areas of a job, and it may help to understand this employee’s perspective to see obvious patterns. Good aspects can be promoted to keep the role interesting.
  6. How could we have supported you to continue in your role?
    There may be potential areas (poor IT systems, lack of training or tools, etc) that weren’t working in the employee’s role. Help retain your next hire by resolving these issues for a better experience.
  7. Given the role’s responsibilities today, what things should we be looking for in your replacement?
    No one knows the job better than the employee that did the job day in, day out. Their insights can help you update the job description and target the right replacement candidates.
  8. Would you consider coming back to work in this role in the future?
    Rehiring an outstanding employee could be an option if the problems are fixed. Find out about whether they are still open to this role and want to hear about future opportunities.

The pay and package

  1. How fair did you feel your total compensation package (pay + benefits + any equity) was compared to other organizations?
    This question helps you understand whether you’re competing well in the wider employer market. It may be that the employee likes working for you but has received an offer that’s too good to refuse.
  2. How good or bad was your benefits package?
    Pay is generally a contributing factor to employee dissatisfaction. Other things like low engagement and alignment of personal values with company values, can matter more. Track to what extent pay and the package played a role in the decision to leave.
  3. Which benefits did you take advantage of?
    Understand why an employee used some benefits over others, and where making change could help benefit uptake. This also helps make your benefits stronger for current and new employees.

The reason for leaving

  1. What was your main reason for leaving the company?
    Sometimes, the best way to find out why somebody left is simply to ask them. Employees know their own minds about resigning – intent to leave and actually leaving are strongly correlated.
  2. Why did you begin looking for another job?
    This is phrased to focus on the employee’s wants and desires within the new position. If they’re looking elsewhere for this, you may want to investigate bringing it to your company.
  3. Was there a specific event or person involved with your decision to leave?
    50 percent of Americans have left a job to “get away from their manager at some point in their career”, according to a Gallup employee engagement survey. If employees are resigning because of a direct cause, this needs immediate attention.

The manager

  1. How much did your manager’s actions match their words – i.e. did they do what they said they would?
    An employee’s relationship with their manager can have a huge impact on their engagement and job satisfaction. Trusting your manager to follow-through on what they say helps support a good working relationship.
  2. What challenges were present when working with your manager?
    An employee’s upwards feedback can help strengthen the management of your replacement hire. It can also highlight when to explore training options or review performance levels.
  3. How were feedback and ideas exchanged and did you feel it worked?
    Employees that receive constructive feedback and are able to suggest ideas back can feel valued and supported. As they progress in their role, employees can feel greater job satisfaction.

The team

  1. What was the team atmosphere like?
    The dynamics within a team are unique, based around each person’s personality, role and background. This gives you an idea of the overall picture of the employee’s team and how they work.
  2. How often did you see your team or have team meetings?
    Team collaboration can impact an employee’s job if there is not adequate opportunity to arrange meetings and connect. Managers can review practices to structure in team contact time each week.
  3. Who made a real difference to your employee experience, if anyone?
    There are some employees within teams that naturally hold teams together and make an extra effort to help others. These employees are worth knowing and appreciating for making their team better.
  4. What advice would you like to give to your team?
    The advice from the employee could point to a viable or innovative solution. As advice tends to be framed positively, it’s more likely to be constructive and helpful.

The workplace and culture

  1. How safe or unsafe was your working environment?
    Employee safety and how it is perceived within a company culture can have strong positive or negative effects on employee engagement – which in turn is a driver of retention.
  2. How would you describe the organization’s culture?
    Your view of the company culture at a senior level can vary from the staff working on the ground. See if the culture values are clear, or if more needs to be done to establish them within the business.
  3. Who would you speak to in the organization about your concerns?
    Explore how connected the employee was and who was in their networks. It will also show well your staff are communicating with each other at a peer-to-peer level, and where this is not happening.
  4. Have you ever experience any discrimination or harassment within the workplace?
    Harassment and discrimination are serious offenses that must be handled correctly to protect the organization and employees. If the employee experienced issues, find out why this went unreported.

The organization as a whole

  1. On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend [COMPANY NAME] to a friend or colleague?
    This question supplies employer NPS data, which provides insight on loyalty and engagement. Engagement in particular is negatively correlated with staff turnover, so investigate that could change.
  2. How fairly or unfairly do you think this company treats all of its employees?
    An employee’s perception of organizational justice (i.e. how fairly staff are treated) can have an impact on likelihood of turnover – if the perceived level of justice is low, it could be a factor to consider.
  3. What would you change about the company?
    You’ll find more information on why the departing employee is leaving, or gain the employee’s unique perspective of the company from their interactions with customers, suppliers or other peers.
  4. In your opinion, where does the organization perform well?
    Areas perceived as positive enough to warrant complimenting by a departing employee are likely to be shared in a positive light in the future. Verify the results and explore these ‘gems’ in more detail.
  5. How can we improve our training and development?
    Maybe the employee liked learning in a specific way or using a specific training option. Or did they learn outside of the available training on offer? This could improve the way training is delivered.

Exit interview tips: Planning your survey

Unlike an engagement survey where you deal with constructs built around employee attitudes, an exit survey should be much more practical and simple to design and interpret. If your exit interview questions are too general and open to various interpretations, you may want to consider redesigning your survey.

It can be useful to include a few open text field items within your exit survey questions too – these often elicit richer detail and more nuances about an employee’s decision to leave compared to multiple-choice questions.

While historically qualitative answers (i.e. free text in open field questions) have been difficult to turn into insights, text analytics software has come a long way in recent years. Natural language processing and sentiment analysis now allow you to automatically analyze tens of thousands of open-text responses and create topics, themes and trends to allow you to spot patterns and interpret the data.

Get started with your own exit interview survey

If your company has experienced high turnover, low employee satisfaction scores or you want to boost employee retention, capitalize on your Exit Interviews data.

The insight from employees, who have nothing to lose and want to share their honest experiences, can highlight areas for improvement and underlying issues.

Get started with our free exit interview survey template, designed with our best practice in mind