What is an exit interview, and what is it for?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who is leaving an organisation (including those who are retiring), and another person (e.g. HR manager), to discuss the employee’s reasons for leaving the organisation, how they felt about their time working there and to facilitate handover or knowledge transfer.

As an organisation, having exit interviews shows that you are willing to engage in discussion with staff who are leaving and are open to suggestions about improving the role, organisational culture and any other matters which may come up in the interview.  In order for departing employees to have faith in the process, it needs to be run thoughtfully and confidentiality must be assured in order for the interviewee to feel that they can be open and honest in the discussion.

Best practice for exit interviews

  • Develop a policy detailed how exit interviews happen, when and by whom.  Interviewers should be trained (as for recruitment panels) in order to conduct the interview in a calm and professional manner, making the experience a positive one for both the interviewer and interviewee.
  • Invite the departing employee to an exit interview – don’t compel them.  Their participation in an exit interview is voluntary.  Consider offering an alternative to a face-to-face interview in the form of a questionnaire (again, participation must be voluntary)
  • Consider using an external agent to conduct exit interviews, as this can help interviewees to be more open about the real issues when there is complete confidentiality
  • If the exit interview is led by someone within the same organisation as the departing employee, it is important to ensure that the person interviewing is not a manager who has responsibility for the individual or who will be involved in future reference writing
  • Consider that the environment for the interview and choose a location where both people can relax and talk without being interrupted
  • Think about who the interviewer will be and what questions they will ask.  Ensure that the interviewer is trained to handle this type of conversation
  • Carry out the exit interview as soon as possible after an employee hands in their notice.  Don’t wait until they are about to leave, as this gives little opportunity to follow up on issues they mention during the interview and help both parties to feel like they part on good terms

Devising exit interview questions

Develop a bank of questions to give you a resource to drawn on.  Choose the most appropriate questions for the circumstances of the person who is leaving, their role, the situation of your organisation, and the circumstances under which they are leaving.  Although some types of questions are more suitable for managers, giving people at all levels the chance to comment on broader or “higher” issues can yield useful insights for your organisation.

Use questions beginning with ‘what’ and ‘how’ to encourage interviewees to share their opinions on a matter.  If necessary, use “why” questions to encourage the employee to explore their response further.

Sample exit interview questions

Joining our organisation

  • Were there any expectations you had when you joined the organisation that were not met?
  • Were you developed/inducted adequately for your role(s)?
  • How could the induction process be improved?
  • What is your main reason for leaving?

Your role

  • What did you most enjoy about the job?
  • What has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in your time with us?
  • Would you recommend working here to a family member/friend and why?
  • What could you have done better or more for us had we given you the opportunity?
  • How could we have enabled you to reach your full potential?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to make fuller use of your capabilities and potential?
  • What extra responsibility would you have welcomed that you were not given?

Organisational culture

  • How do you feel about the organisation?
  • What can you say about communications within (a) your department and (b) the organisation?
  • What could you say about communications and relations between departments, and how these could be improved?
  • How could you have been helped to better know/understand/work with other departments necessary for the organization to perform more effectively?
  • How would you describe the culture of the organisation?

Performance and appraisal

  • What can you say about the way your performance was measured, and the feedback to you of your performance results?
  • How well do you think the appraisal system worked for you?
  • What would you say about how you were motivated, and how that could have been improved?

Working conditions

  • What suggestion would you make to improve working conditions, hours, shifts, amenities, etc?
  • What do you think about the physical environment you work in?  Is there anything that needs improving or upgrading?

Management and structure of the organisation

  • What can you say about the way you were managed (a) on a day-to-day basis and (b) on a month-to-month basis?
  • What, if any, ridiculous examples of policy, rules, instructions, can you highlight?
  • What examples of ridiculous waste of material or effort could you identify? e.g. pointless reports, meetings, bureaucracy
  • How could the organisation reduce stress levels among employees where stress is an issue?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to have made better use of your time?
  • What things did the organisation or management do to make your job more difficult/frustrating/non-productive?
  • How can the organisation gather and make better use of the views and experience of its people?


  • Aside from the reason(s) you are leaving, how strongly were you attracted to committing to a long and developing career with us?
  • What can the organisation do to retain its best people (and not lose any more like you)?
  • Have you anything to say about your treatment from a discrimination or harassment perspective?
  • Would you consider working again for us if the situation were right?
  • Are you happy to say where you are going (if you have decided)?
  • What particularly is it about them that makes you want to join them?
  • What, importantly, are they offering that we are not?

Knowledge transfer

NB: Start thinking about using these questions when it is known that the employee will be leaving – don’t leave this until the very end of their period of employment.

  • How might we benefit from your knowledge, experience, and contacts prior to your departure?
  • Would you be willing to take part in a briefing meeting with managers/replacements/successor/colleagues so that we can benefit from your knowledge and experience, prior to your leaving?
  • What can we do to enable you to pass on as much of your knowledge and experience as possible to your replacement/successor prior to your departure?
  • How and when would you prefer to pass on your knowledge to your successor?
  • We’d be grateful for you to introduce [successor] to your key contacts before you go – are you willing to help with this?

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Putting Laura’s Dark Archive to bed | Laura's Dark Archive

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