Getting Offboarding Right: Exit Interview Questions That Matter - Senior Executive
Human Resources 6 min

Getting Offboarding Right: Exit Interview Questions That Matter

The Great Resignation is affecting everyone, prompting more two-week notices than ever. Here’s how to transform your exit interviews from a checkbox on a list to a driver of culture change…

by Chuck Green on March 4, 2022


  • Exit interviews can help your company identify and solve organizational challenges that lead to attrition

  • When possible, exit interviews should be conducted in-person and over video for remote organizations

  • See the questions you must ask to gain critical insights on your employees’ experiences

So an employee has handed you a two-week notice, starting an onslaught of offboarding tasks for your HR department. One of the many items on the checklist is an exit interview, where employees can discuss their experiences at your company — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Many organizations brush off exit interviews. These conversations are often squeezed into “inopportune moments,” conducted in a rush or skipped altogether, says Evan Hallward, co-founder of onboarding and offboarding platform Aboard

But when conducted properly, exit interviews can help reveal organizational shortcomings. Savvy leaders “want to get feedback, so they don’t lose anyone else,” says Chad Leibundguth, district director at staffing firm Robert Half

The big question to answer is “what precisely did we do wrong, and what can we do to fix it?” says Dean Mathews, founder and CEO of OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app.

With the right changes based on this feedback, you can improve retention rates and the culture of your company. That’s more important than ever during the Great Resignation — a time period where 23% of employees plan on jumping to a new job

Plus, a positive exit interview can help you end on a good note with departing employees. That can lead to referrals to help you attract a stellar replacement, or at the very least prevent potential damage from disgruntled employees. 

Of managers, 44% say they lack the confidence that former employees no longer have access to corporate applications and information. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of employees admit to taking data with them when they leave a job, according to new research from Tessian.

Here’s how you can transform exit interviews from underutilized formalities to drivers of culture change at your organization. 

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How to Run an Exit Interview with Impact

Your exit interview should provide an environment where employees can be honest. The person conducting your interview should reflect that dedication to candor.  

So, who should conduct exit interviews? Hallward suggests that a representative from human resources guide the conversation. HR can approach the process more objectively than a direct manager, he explains. 

However, Hallward says, managers should still play a role in gathering departing employee feedback. At Aboard, that includes joining Hallward for a meal during an employee’s last week. That time period, Hallward says, is when the departing employee is “more clear headed, less emotional and can perhaps provide the most direct and valuable feedback.” 

Alex Foster, vice president for people strategy and experience at Kelly, says at the outset, the person conducting the interview should “stress that you value open and honest responses and that you appreciate the employees’ time as they transition.”

Should exit interviews be online or in-person? If your job is in-office or hybrid, Leibundguth recommends that teams conduct exit interviews in person. “In-person meeting gives a higher sense of importance versus just a phone call or video call,”  Leibundguth says. “Obviously in some cases this isn’t possible or realistic, so the next best option would be a video call.”

If your company is remote, Zoom and other online platforms are suitable alternatives. However, make sure that both parties have their cameras on. 

With video interviews, “you see changes in body language that allows the interviewer to notice subtleties that otherwise might be missed and could prompt them to ask meaningful follow-up questions,” Foster says.

Have Something on the Books? Be Sure to Cover These Exit Interview Questions  

Regardless of format, a well-conducted exit interview generates insights that provide a play-by-play for improving your organization. Asking the right questions elicits honest, actionable responses from your employees.

“We can then take these learnings and improve our people practices and initiatives,” Foster explains. She recommends employers ask these two exit interview questions: 

  • Would you refer a friend to work here? “This will help you gauge your ‘employer brand.’ Even though the employee is leaving, they might still think positively of your company,”  she says. 
  • What does the team you work with think of the company? This question can help you identify cultural issues that may lead to attrition, Foster says. However, do not ask the employee to name colleagues, in order to avoid bias. 

If you need ideas for exit interview questions, human resource information systems (HRIS) can guide you in the right direction. For example, software solution ExitPro can generate a list of exit interview questions that work best for your organization in under 15 seconds. 

Hallward also suggests that employers add the following questions to their list:

  • Why did you begin looking for a new job?
  • How did the job compare to your expectations coming in?
  • How would you describe the culture of our company?
  • Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company prior to leaving?
  • Did you have the resources and support necessary to do your job effectively?

Be Sure to Record Your Insights

Exit interviews paint a clear picture of your employees’ experiences. Be sure to take notes and document the feedback that arises from the exit interview process. That can help you identify trends and patterns affecting your employee retention. 

Many companies already have an HRIS platform to manage onboarding, offboarding, employee satisfaction and other human resource tasks. These systems often include databases and sections for notes where you can include takeaways from verbal exit interviews. 

Consider an additional, online exit survey to glean hard metrics about why people quit. This allows you to ask quantifiable questions (say, rating the employee experience on a scale of one to 10), as well as comparing one departing employee’s responses to historical data. 

For example, Qualtrics Employee Experience generates an online exit survey for your departing colleagues. Answers are gathered into a dashboard, so you can see trends over time. That includes what percentage of employees would consider returning to your company. Declining scores on this metric might signal a toxic workplace that should be addressed more broadly.

How does your organization approach offboarding interviews? Send us an email to share. 

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