The How, What & Why of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews help organisations of all kinds, from businesses to education institutions to governments, understand the reasons why their employees leave their jobs and offer valuable pointers and insights on how they can improve themselves in the future.

What are exit interviews?

An exit interview is a wrap-up meeting between the management and an employee who is leaving an organisation, be it voluntarily or via termination. The objective behind exit interviews is to harvest constructive feedback that can help guide future practices.

The exit interview offers a unique and rare opportunity for the organisation to receive frank and honest feedback from the employee that is leaving and this can come in very handy as far as improving recruiting processes and retention levels goes.

Whether an employee quits or is fired, it is often beneficial for the organisation to find out what they enjoyed most about the job and what they disliked the most. If a number of employees bring up a particular manager as problematic, for example, that is an issue that should be investigated and resolved.

The exit interview is also an opportunity to remind the employee of any agreements in force between them and the business after the end of their employment there, such as no-compete clauses.

However, we must not forget that employees sometimes leave their jobs for very genuine reasons that are totally unrelated to their stint at the company such as a spouse moving to another city or a previously non-existent commuting problem that is completely out of their control coming up.

Why exit interviews are effective

Exit interviews offer a unique opportunity for organisational improvement since current employee are rarely willing to give feedback as frank as that from those who are leaving and hence have less to lose. You will find that some of the issues raised were resolvable, such as complaints about work environment or work schedule while others such as the desire for a raise may be out of your reach.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Exit interviews can also tell you what your organisation is getting right. You can ask for positive information about your mission, vision, and chain of command. You can obtain an understanding of the perks of being employed with your organisation that are most appreciated by your employees, for example, a fun workspace and innovative company culture.

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All the information that can be gathered during interviews can be used to improve your hiring processes, refine job descriptions, retain critical employees and improve your workplace design. It’s an excellent opportunity to collect your employees’ thoughts on your organisation as they leave. The key is to pay attention to what exactly they are saying to you and act accordingly henceforth.

How to conduct exit interview

Photo: Pexels

How to run exit interviews

First of all, exit interviews should be voluntary. The information collected should be shared only on a need-to-know basis and the employee should be allowed to request another person be present at the meeting if they want. In a corporate environment, exit interviews are usually conducted by human resources (HR) personnel and sometimes outsourced to an independent HR service provider.

The interview may be conducted in person, over the phone, through chat or email, or in a survey (written or online). Interactive methods such as speaking in person or over the phone are usually more effective than surveys because they allow the interviewer to reply the employee’s responses to the questions and develop follow-up questions that can generate more detailed feedback.

It is essential that you listen carefully and ask a lot of questions so that you catch the employee’s subtle differences in meaning. Write down what the employee says for easy memory and to also encourage them to share more. We tend to subconsciously give better and longer answers when we are being interviewed by someone who is taking occasional notes than when they write nothing at all.

The key to conducting an effective exit interview is to create an environment in which employees who are leaving feel comfortable enough to provide honest feedback. Therefore, effective exit interviews are fostered by a wider company culture that encourages employees to share ideas open and criticise methods sincerely, without ever being punished for sharing their thoughts and ideas.

No one wants to run into a former manager or ex-coworkers around town when they know the not-so-pleasant things that were revealed about them in their exit interview. Employees also worry about burning their bridges and leaving the organisation with a bad impression if they speak their mind at the exit interview as they may be hoping to one day work there again.

You need to assure the employee who is leaving your organisation that the feedback they share will be anonymised and aggregated with other employee feedback before being availed to management to improve the organisation. This helps the employee comfortably participate in the exit interview knowing that no one will be able to hold specific feedback against them.

Example questions for exit interviews

Need a few questions to start that next exit interview? We have compiled a few great examples, used by leaders across the globe;

What made you start looking for a new job in the first place?

Why have you decided to leave the organisation?

Did you share your reasons with anyone in the organisation? How did they respond?

What was the state of your relationship with your immediate manager/supervisor?

What could your supervisor do to improve their effectiveness in management?

What do you think about this organisation’s management and leadership as a whole?

What did you like most about your job?

What did you dislike most about your job?

What would you change about your job?

What did you appreciate about the organisation?

What did you detest about the organisation?

What would you recommend to help the organisation create a better workplace?

Did you have the resources and support necessary to get your job done? If not, what was missing?

Were your job responsibilities correctly described in the job description during the hiring process?

Did you know exactly what was expected of you in your job and have clear goals to achieve?

Did you receive enough feedback about your day-to-day performance on the job?

Did you feel happy and/or engaged in your job?

Did you clearly understand and feel a part of the achievement of the organisation’s goals?

Did management care about you and help you accomplish your personal and career goals?

What are the key qualities you feel a person should have to succeed in this organisation?

What are the key qualities and skills you think the organisation should seek in your replacement?

What would make you consider working for this organisation again in the future?

Would you recommend the company as a good place to work to your friends and family?

What else can you share about why you are leaving and how the organisation can improve?

Exit Interviews

Photo: Pexels

Further reading

Here’s a handpicked collection of articles about exit interviews that we suggest you read;

Making Exit Interview Count

Do You Need To Conduct Exit Interviews? 10 HR Pros Weigh In

Exit interviews at Startups

Exit Interview Do’s And Don’ts

7 Questions You’ll Probably Be Asked in Your Exit Interview


Exit interviews with employees who are leaving for one reason or the other are a great opportunity to obtain information about what your organisation is doing well—and, what your organisation needs to do to improve.

Used in concert with employee satisfaction surveys, exit interviews are a rich source of insightful and honest feedback that you can use to achieve phenomenal organisational improvement.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.