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    Effective Exit Interview Questions

    Exit sign picture depicting a departing employee

    From unhappiness with their job role, working conditions, relationships with other colleagues or the lack of career progression opportunities, to other factors outside the company such as finding another job opportunity that was simply too good for them to turn down. No matter what organisation you run, there will always be times when your employees leave and need replacing.

    However, given the volume of potential reasons for an employee leaving, it can be valuable to know why each staff member left, particularly if you have a high employee turnover rate, or you’ve had a recent surge in leavers, which could be a sign that something is fundamentally wrong inside your operation. Either way, you won’t know without asking them.

    Subsequently, this is where benefits of running an employee exit interview, which has increasingly become the preferred method of collecting this feedback, can help you to identify the triggers behind the departing staff member's decision. With comprehensive insights, you’ll also be able to pinpoint any common reasons for staff leaving and take the necessary actions to further improve aspects such as working environment, employee happiness and many others and achieve the end goal of reducing staff turnover and improving employee retention.

    In this blog post we’ll examine everything you need to know about employee exit surveys, including the exit questions you can ask in order to uncover areas for change. We’ll also explain why surveys are now viewed as the best solution for collecting feedback from departing staff members rather than the traditional face to face interview.

    Questions you should and shouldn't include in every exit interview

    Whether you’re running a traditional face to face interview, or using an exit survey, the most important area to focus on are your questions.

    Ideally you want to develop a strong standardised set of questions that you can use every time for each departing employee, as this will provide the comparable data you need to more easily identify any trends and areas for change that you need to make. You’ll also want to ensure you’re covering off all the important topics with your employees before they leave.

    So, to help you, here are some example exit questions for you to consider.

    • Please describe your general feelings about working here. And if possible, please tell us what caused you to leave.

    • What did you enjoy most about working here?

    • If you could change three things, what would they be?

    • How do you feel you were treated by your supervisor and your co-workers?

    • How well do you believe your work was recognised and appreciated?

    • Do you feel you were given adequate training and assistance?

    • Do you think your work was aligned with your personal goals?

    • If we were to implement your suggestions, would you ever consider working here again?

    • What could be done to make this company a better place to work?

    As important as it is to know some of the best questions to ask in an exit interview it’s equally useful to be aware of questions you should probably avoid.

    Here are some examples of questions for an exit interview, you would be better off not using.

    • Why didn’t you like working here?

    When your employees quit, it may leave you feeling, shocked, angry or hurt. However, for the sake of your employer brand, it’s not always the best course of action to make them aware of these emotions. You would be much better off spinning this question to sound more positive such as: ‘What suggestions would you have for improving our workplace?

    • What were the worst things you had to deal with?

    Again, this is far too negative and risks ruining the interview atmosphere and making your employee run even faster towards the exit door. Instead, ask them if they can provide any examples of good practices and procedures they’ve witnessed whilst working for your company.

    • Are you willing to reconsider and stay? And is there anything we could do to make this happen?

    Exit interviews are not the time to ask your employee to reconsider their resignation. What you should be focusing on is trying to learn more about their perspective.

    There will also be occasions when you need to prepare exit interview questions for circumstances and groups that fall outside of your usual remit, which we will explore next.

    Sample exit interview questions for more niche circumstances

    From retirees and those who have had their employment contract terminated, to interns, students and volunteers leaving after completing their work with your organisation. There are many niche circumstances for individuals leaving a company that are beyond what’s typically covered by the more generic employee exit survey, but it’s equally valuable to get their thoughts about the organisation they are leaving and its working environment.

    So, to help you we’ve outlined a few sample questions below, which could be used to address each of these areas:

    Retirement exit interview questions

    • What did you most enjoy about your career with our organisation?

    • What did you like least about your time with our organisation?

    • Are there any changes you would make to improve your department if you were managing it?

    Exit interview questions for terminated employees

    • Looking back do you feel you were adequately supported in your role?

    • If you could change anything about your experience working here what would it be?

    • What do you think could be done to make this a better place to work?

    Internship exit interview questions

    • Did your internship program meet your expectations?

    • Do you feel you received adequate training and support during your internship?

    • How would you describe the culture of our company?

    Exit interview questions for students

    • How much has your employment experience matched your expectations?

    • What have been the most positive aspects of this job for you?

    • What have you learnt in this job that you think you’ll be able to use going forward?

    Exit interview questions for volunteers

    • Have you achieved what you set out to achieve from volunteering with us?

    • What did you most like and dislike about your volunteering role with us?

    • What do you feel you most gained from volunteering with us?

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    Question types to consider

    If you’re running a digital exit interview survey, then as well as thinking about the exit survey questions you’ll be asking, you’ll also need to consider how you will structure them too. Different question types can benefit you in different ways in terms of the information they enable you to get back and what you can do with it. So, it’s worth considering how you can create a survey with a mix of questions types.

    Here’s some ideas to think about:

    Closed questions: from multiple choice questions that range from checklist and Likert scale to rating and ranking style questions. Closed questions come in a multitude of different forms and require respondents to choose from a pre-selected list of options. The advantage of this is that as well as being quick and simple for respondents to work through, they provide conclusive answers that are much easier for you to analyse and quantify.

    Open questions: in contrast open ended questions are much more exploratory in nature. While there are times when you want quick, straightforward yes or no answers, there are other times when you want to dig deeper to get better idea about how your respondent was feeling, or what they weren’t happy about. Open ended questions are perfect for providing this more comprehensive detail.

    Skip Logic: response rates are important in any survey, but even more so with an employee exit survey, where many departing staff members may be less than enthused about filling it in. This can be further exacerbated if the respondent is presented with a question that is not relevant to them. Subsequently any tools that can make it simpler and quicker to complete with be extremely valuable.

    Skip logic is one of those advanced features. Skip logic, also known as ‘branching’ or ‘routing’, is a feature that enables you to alter what question or page a respondent sees next based on the answer they give to a question. This can be achieved through either hiding or skipping them past questions or pages, so they can complete the survey faster.

    Piping: another feature that can speed and simplify the survey completion process for employees is Piping. Essentially, the piping feature ensures that answers previously provided by a respondent are automatically piped through and inserted into future questions, whenever their inclusion is deemed relevant.

    The great thing about this is that it ensures respondents are no longer asked to key in the same information again and again, which can be the difference between someone completing or abandoning your survey.

    Why exit surveys are the best way to capture feedback

    There was a time when the traditional face to face interview was one of the few methods available for gaining feedback from departing employees. However, with the emergence of the internet and online survey tools, that changed rapidly with employee surveys becoming a popular alternative, and usage has grown rapidly in recent years.

    When you consider how stressful the prospect of a formal exit interview is to most employees, it’s not so surprising why face to face interviews have become less popular. Not only do they make employees feel extremely uncomfortable, they absorb a lot labour resources on the part of the employer, and the data gathered is often unstructured and at risk of bias. However, in some scenarios, such as where there has been a gross misconduct or some other serious issue on the part of the employee, a detailed face to face exit interview to protect the business can still offer significant value.

    By contrast, for the typical employee exit scenario, the employee exit survey is a much more effective option that can also work at scale. Surveys can be anonymised and questions asked without bias and can be conducted with no prejudice or pressure placed on the employee. And because it’s easier with a survey to ensure that every employee is asked the same set of questions in the same way every time, it’s simpler to identify trends and areas for change.

    One way to help create standardised survey questions is through leveraging the use of survey templates, that are pre-populated with example questions, which you can also customise. If you’re looking to revamp your employee interview process and need some sample exit interview questions to help move you forward, you might like to view our own exit interview template page for ideas.

    Final thoughts

    No matter what sort of organisation you run, size or industry you work in, if they are not managed in the right way departing employees can have a negative effect on your business.

    But fortunately, with an effective exit interview process in place, you’ll be able to get a better idea about why people are leaving and be in a stronger position to make the changes you need to reduce employee churn and foster better working environments. And while the exit process was traditionally lengthier and resource intensive, with the emergence of online surveys this no longer needs to be the case. With online survey software you'll be armed with all the tools you need to make this a more efficient and effective activity. There’s never been a better time to get started.

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    About Author

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    Phil Cleave

    Phil is part of the Content team at SmartSurvey and has over 20 years experience in the PR and Comms sector writing for Tech Companies.

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