How to: Get the most out of exit interviews

The exit interview is your chance to uncover why an employee has chosen to leave your company. If you understand why the employee wants to leave, you’ll be more successful in convincing other employees to stay. This interview is key to understanding what drives employees away and how you can improve the situation for employees who remain.

Two colleagues sitting at a table, having a conversation

The importance of conducting exit interviews

The exit interview is more than just a formality of the offboarding process. It gives you an opportunity to gather valuable feedback from employees who have made the decision to leave your company. By taking time out of their day, they're providing insight into what attracted them to your business in the first place and why it wasn't enough for them in the end.

1. Understand why the employee is leaving

The primary purpose of an exit interview is to get feedback on why the employee has chosen to leave your organization and identify any underlying issues they may have had during their time at the company.

2. Uncover areas for improvement

Understanding what employees don’t like about working at your organization can help you identify areas for improvement. Open-ended questions about their experiences and perspectives can provide valuable information on how to make the workplace a more desirable place for other employees.

3. Retain top talent

By understanding why an employee is leaving, you may be able to persuade them to stay or make changes that prevent other employees from leaving in the future.

4. Encourage ambassadorship

By showing that you take their feedback seriously and are open to hearing it, employees may leave your company as ambassadors. They can then act as advocates for your business and recommend it to other potential employees or customers.

Preparations for the exit interview

Preparing for an exit interview is just as important as the actual interview itself and ensures that you get the most out of the conversation.

1. Do your research

Make sure you have enough information about the employee before conducting a successful exit interview. Research their job performance, team dynamics and any other relevant topics that may help you understand their experience with the company better.

2. Create a list of questions

Before you conduct an exit interview, create a list of questions that are tailored to the individual employee’s experience and role in your organization. These questions should be open-ended, so you can get more information from the departing employee about their experience working for your company. Here are some questions to consider:


  • What motivated you to take this job in the first place?
  • What did you like most/least about working at our organization?
  • How has your experience with us been different from what you expected?
  • How would you describe the culture of our company?

Reason(s) for leaving

  • What were your primary reasons for leaving?
  • Around what time did you start to consider leaving?
  • Would you consider returning to this organization if certain changes were made?

Work and processes

  • Did you feel that you were equipped to do your job well?
  • What did you like the most in your job?
  • What were your biggest challenges?
  • Did you receive constructive feedback to help you improve your performance?
  • How satisfied have you been with your role and work/life balance?

Relationship with management and other colleagues

  • How was the relationship between you and your manager?
  • Do you think the management team was effective in their roles?

Final questions

  • Would you recommend the organization to others as a good place to work?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to share with us before leaving?

3. Choose the interviewer

Consider who should conduct the interview. It's best to choose someone neutral and unbiased, such as a third-party HR consultant or an internal HR professional, so that your departing employee can feel comfortable discussing their experience without feeling like they will be judged by their supervisor or colleagues.

4. Set the tone

Let the employee know that their feedback is important and that you value their opinion while planning the exit interview.

5. Ask the employee to prepare

In order to get the most out of an exit interview, provide departing employees with a list of topics that you would like to discuss. This will give them ample time to reflect on their experiences and gather their thoughts, so they can more adequately answer your questions.

During the exit interview

The exit interview should be a two-way conversation between you and the employee. To ensure a productive conversation, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Listen to their story

Listening is an important skill in interpreting responses from the employee. Demonstrating active listening skills such as repeating back what they say, paraphrasing, and asking clarifying questions can help ensure that you fully understand their feedback and can take the necessary action to address any issues they raise.

2. Remain impartial

Although it's important to be understanding, it is also important to remain impartial and objective in your questioning. This way you can ensure that the employee feels heard, but their feedback won’t be clouded by any personal or emotional bias.

3. Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions can help uncover the root cause of an employee's dissatisfaction and provide opportunities for the employee to express their experiences with greater detail. It is also important to consider how your questions might influence the answers given by the employee, as some might be more likely to provide honest feedback if they feel comfortable doing so.

4. Ask clarifying questions

If necessary, ask further questions to gain more clarity on any points that weren't addressed during the initial interview. It can also be valuable to ask for examples to back up a statement.

5. Pay attention to body language

Be sure to pay close attention to body language and other non-verbal cues that may provide additional context or understanding.

6. Take notes

Be sure to document everything discussed in the exit interview, so you can refer back to it later when evaluating any changes that need to be made.

7. Show appreciation

Letting the employee know that you appreciate their contributions while they were employed can help create trust and make them more comfortable talking about any issues they may have encountered.

Interpret responses from the employee

Interpreting an employee's responses can help you uncover any underlying issues the employee may have experienced during their time at the company.

1. Find patterns

Look out for any common themes or trends in their responses that could suggest systemic issues within the organization. Compare the feedback with exit talk notes from other ex-employees to ensure that any changes are addressing the root cause of their dissatisfaction.

2. Analyse the data

Analyse any data you have gathered during the interview, such as survey responses or performance reviews. This can help you identify any discrepancies between what the employee said and their actual performance while they were employed.

3. Consider other factors

Take into account any external factors that may have influenced the feedback given by the employee, such as family circumstances, work/life balance or job satisfaction.

4. Get feedback from stakeholders

Finally, it can be helpful to get additional insights from other relevant stakeholders, such as managers or HR personnel, to gain a more complete perspective of the employee's experience.

Follow up

Once you have interpreted the employee's responses, be sure to take appropriate action to address any issues they raised. This can include implementing changes or addressing any underlying problems within the organization. Provide a summary of the results to other relevant stakeholders, such as managers or HR personnel. This can help ensure that all changes are implemented correctly and also helps the organization recognize patterns.

Follow up with the employee after these steps have been taken to let them know that their feedback has been heard and appreciated. This will show your employees that their opinion matters and can help improve ambassadorship in the long run.

By taking the time to understand an employee's experience and responding appropriately, you can create a better work environment for all employees, while also gaining valuable insights that will help shape your organization’s future.

Things to take-away

  • Conducting an effective exit interview is essential for gaining valuable insights into why employees are leaving your organization and can help you identify areas for improvement. This will help you create a healthier work environment where employees feel valued, respected, and appreciated.
  • By asking the right questions and following up on employee feedback, you'll be able to increase employee satisfaction and retain top talent in the long run.
  • Don’t forget to provide a positive summary of the results to other relevant stakeholders, such as managers or HR personnel. This will help ensure that all changes are properly implemented and recognized across the organization.
  • Finally, remember that an employee's experience is valuable and should be taken seriously. By taking their feedback into account and making meaningful changes, you can create a better work environment for everyone.

About me

Hi, I’m Lilian. I’m currently the head of a design team in a digital agency in Amsterdam and love to write about leadership and share tips based on my experience over the past couple of years.

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