8 Exit Interview Questions to Ask Employees

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Understand why employees are leaving the organization, ask questions to gain insights, and apply the insights to company practices going forward.

[Featured image] A man working in HR conducts an exit interview with a departing employee.

An exit interview is a conversation between an employer and a departing employee. Exit interviews are usually conducted by someone on a human resources (HR) team, a third party consultant, or the manager of the departing employee. The interview allows the employer to discover opportunities to improve by gathering feedback from an employee who has filled a role. 

Why you should conduct exit interviews

With employees leaving their jobs in record numbers since 2020, the Great Resignation reflects major shifts in the global workforce, from the reasons why employees leave to the ways employers are reimagining the workplace experience. According to Work Institute’s mid-2021 Retention Report, top reasons why employees left their jobs in 2021 were for career reasons (21.1 percent) and work-life balance reasons (10.4 percent), the manager they were working with (8.9 percent) or the total rewards of the position (9.1 percent) [1]. 

A high employee turnover rate can be costly for any organization, not only when it comes to recruiting and training new talent, but also in terms of serving customers and increasing revenue. 

Conducting exit interviews with departing employees can be especially vital to the way your organization operates, because they give you the chance to learn more about your organization from the departing employee's perspective. You can use information you gather to improve company culture, attract and retain top talent, and better serve external customers and clients. 

Use the questions below to gather feedback and make the exit interview experience a favorable one for everyone present.

8 questions to ask in an exit interview

By asking these eight questions, you can set everyone in the interview at ease, gently guide the conversation in a positive direction, and generate valuable information about your employee’s experience. 

Each of the eight questions below is followed by a short explanation of the rationale behind it, along with suggestions on what to listen for and how you might ask for more details.

While you might omit some of these questions or refine the phrasing, we recommend that you ask them in the order listed.  

1. What originally inspired you to work for us?

Starting with this question can set a positive tone for the exit interview. In addition, it can be useful for identifying aspects of the employee’s experience they found beneficial. 

Listen carefully for information on these points, and when appropriate, request more details: 

  • What the employee found attractive about the original job description

  • The employee’s impression of the recruitment process, including the interview, getting an offer, and going through onboarding 

  • What the employee admires about your organization, including its mission statement, products and services, and impact on the world 

  • The degree to which the work the employee was doing aligned with their values

  • The employee’s satisfaction with salary and other benefits  

2. What are you most proud of from your time in this role? 

As with the first question, this one can enable a positive conversation and be useful for identifying how your organization contributes to employees’ sense of purpose and accomplishment. 

Listen for details on projects they completed, training they undertook, outcomes they were able to achieve, and any recognition they may have received. Also be sure to ask what they enjoyed about these accomplishments and what made them feel proud. 

3. What were your biggest challenges in this role?

After gathering information about the positives, asking this question can reveal growth opportunities for your organization. Listen for information on the following points, and when appropriate, use them to request more details: 

  • Which of the employee’s challenges were interpersonal, such as conflicts with co-workers or a manager?

  • Which of the challenges were related to the job itself, such as needing better software or clearer procedures?  

4. What would have helped you deal with challenges and perform at your peak?

Listen for specific ideas from the employee regarding ongoing training and professional development opportunities, as well as ways that the organization's leaders can better support employees. 

5. What inspired you to leave this company and the position you’ve held?

After gathering information on the positives and challenges the employee experienced, try to discover their motives for leaving, while continuing to set a positive tone for the conversation. 

Listen carefully for information on when the employee decided to look for a new job and the exact factors that contributed to their decision  

6. What can you tell me about your new position?

By asking this question, you may be able to gather insights into why the employee views the new position as better suited. Listen for details on the tasks and projects they’ll be working on, as well as the salary, company culture, and work-life balance. 

Keep in mind that the employee may not want to disclose a lot of details about their new employer. When asking this question, invite the employee to share only what they are comfortable with. Even general information can offer useful insights into the workplace experiences employees are seeking and finding elsewhere. 

7. How will your new role better help you achieve your career goals? 

An alternative phrase for this question is “What does your new position offer that influenced your decision to leave?”

Ask either version to take the conversation in a more philosophical and introspective direction. Your goal here is to gather insights into the employee’s larger goals, dreams, and vision for the future. 

Listen carefully for information on the following points and, when appropriate, craft follow-up questions:

  • How will their new position contribute to their lives and enable them to make an impact on others? 

  • What’s the nature of the career change? What career trajectory are they on? For example, the employee may be taking on a similar position with a different organization, a more advanced position in the same field, or a completely different role in a new industry.   

8. Based on your experience as an employee, how can our organization better serve customers and clients?

Once you gather information on the employee’s personal experience and long-term career goals, ask this question to learn more about how they view the organization’s value proposition. 

Does the employee believe in the products and services? What has the employee learned from any direct contact with customers and clients, including things that managers and HR specialists may not be aware of? 

How to learn from exit interviews 

Once you gather information from an exit interview, your next step is to discuss the findings with other decision makers and apply what you learn to how the organization operates. Here are some questions to guide the discussion:

  • How can you provide more of what departing employees enjoyed about working for your organization?

  • What culture improvements can you make across our organization?

  • What specific changes can improve employee experience, from onboarding new employees to supporting them throughout their journey?

  • What can you do to enhance employees’ day-to-day experience of coming to work?

  • How can your organization become a place where employees achieve their career goals and bring their visions to life?

  • How can you improve the experience of your external customers, based on employees’ insights, and even increase sales, revenue, or brand equity?

Next steps

Adapt these exit interview questions and use them regularly in conversation with everyone in your organization. Use what you learn to make incremental improvements and enhance employees’ experience at every juncture of their journey. 

Ready to explore your leadership potential? Learn how to develop goals and objectives, motivate employees, and make effective decisions with the ICPM Certified Supervisor Professional Certificate on Coursera.

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Article sources 

1. Work Institute. “2021 Mid-Year Employee Retention Report, https://info.workinstitute.com/en-us/2021-mid-year-retention-report.” Accessed January 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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