3 Questions You Should Ask in Your Exit Interviews

January 20, 2017

You should ask these three questions in your exit interviews to get truly meaningful feedback.

There it is, the resignation letter. You’ve spent time hiring, training, and getting this employee up to speed, and now they’re leaving you. Perhaps they’re going to the competition, switching industries or launching their own firm. Or maybe they’ve decided to be a poet and travel the world.

No matter what the circumstances, it’s hard not to take a resignation letter as a personal burn. Losing a good performer is painful. Losing even a mediocre employee is costly and inconvenient. But the actions and decisions you make following a resignation can set you up for future success.

When someone leaves, you have the opportunity to gather important feedback about what it’s really like to work for you and your organization. Conducting an exit interview never ranks high on a priority list.

But robust exit interviews – not the check the box list of questions from an autopilot HR person – are essential for reducing the likelihood of losing future top performers.

A good exit interview affords you the opportunity to measure yourself against industry standards, look for trends and identify specific behaviors or policies that contributed to this individual departure. The purpose of a good exit interview is to unpack what’s behind the resignation letter.

Find out why they’re really leaving, and if they say salary or opportunity, dig deeper. Here are three questions you that will give you actionable feedback.

1. How could I (or we, if you’re not the direct boss) improve?

Employees are often hesitant to give constructive criticism to their boss while employed. But now they, and you, know they’re leaving, so the filters are lessened. Ask them to be blunt.

Perhaps the performance reviews were painstakingly boring, or maybe their grouchy coworker finally got under their skin. An open-ended question allows your employee to provide feedback on aspects of their job or the organization that may not have been their ultimate deciding factor, but still impact your culture.

If they’re reluctant to answer, say, “I’d really like to know for the benefit of our team going forward.” Even if they didn’t like their boss, most people want to help their colleagues.

2. What did you love about working here?

This counterintuitive question will help you find bright spots in your organization you want to elevate and replicate. You may think an employee who is quitting obviously didn’t love it. But that’s not always the case.

People are complex; they leave for a myriad of reasons. Departing employees may have some great experiences to share with you.

Uncovering these people, moments or customers and understanding the positive impact they have on your organization helps you build on them, and create more of them.

3. Did you have what you needed to do your job?

It’s only a basic question when you present it as such. Did you have the right computer, training, technology, etc. to do your job? Instead, take it one step further.

Ask about coaching and support. Did you have enough follow-up when we did training? Did you have a supportive team environment? Were you provided with clear expectations? Focusing on these intangibles is a great way to assess your organization in terms of culture.

You may not enjoy hearing about your ‘needs improvement’ areas, or learning that your people think the competition is more innovative. But it’s better to learn these things sooner rather than later.

The Takeaway

Even if you think your soon-to-be ex-employee is downright wrong, it’s crucial to part ways peacefully. The internet is filled with disgruntled employees venting about the things they were never asked about before they left. You don’t want the top talent you’re eyeing as a future COO to be reading about how awful you are from the recently departed receptionist.

Your ex-employee can still be a source of referrals for clients and future employees, as well as an advocate for your brand online. Do a robust exit interview, listen and part on good terms, even if the relationship didn’t end the way you wanted it to.

Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth McLeod work with organizations to improve competitive differentiation and emotional engagement. Check out their LinkedIn Learning courses here.

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