How to Conduct an Exit Interview (Plus Free Template)

Two professionals sitting across from one another in an interview

As an HR professional, it’s essential to understand how to conduct an exit interview. This should be a top priority when an employee resigns or has been let go. While exit interviews can be a bit uncomfortable for both parties involved, the feedback you receive will be invaluable to the development of your organization.

In this article, we will detail how to conduct an exit interview, share some of the best exit interview questions, what to avoid, and how to process the feedback productively. We’ll also provide an exit interview template for your next interview. Take advantage of this helpful tool.

What is an Exit Interview?

In the simplest terms, an exit interview is a meeting that takes place between an employee who is leaving the organization and a representative of the (soon-to-be former) employer. These interviews are often conducted by an HR representative or a third party but can sometimes be conducted by the employee’s manager (depending on the organization’s size). Interviews can be conducted in person or over the phone, typically lasting between 20-40 minutes.

Why it is Important to Conduct an Exit Interview

Rather than flying through your next exit interview as a way to simply “check the box” and do what corporate requires, consider the benefits of conducting a proper exit interview.

  1. Employees exiting the business will be more forthcoming, and you can gain insight into potential internal issues and a candid look at the company overall.
  2. You’ll understand ways to improve onboarding for the replacement and help them start with a good foundation.
  3. It allows the employee to leave on a positive and productive note with the feeling that they were heard. 
  4. You’ll have the chance to clearly review any continuing obligations, like non-competes, with the employee. 
  5. Learn what can be done to improve retention and better understand why the employee is leaving.

Related: Ways to Improve Your Employee Relations

Steps for Conducting an Exit Interview

1. Formalize and document your process

Exit interviews should be consistently completed with all employees leaving the company. Document the offboarding process so employees know it’s a mandatory step. Choose your questions and keep the template similar from interview to interview. You can make updates and changes as necessary, but asking the same questions allows you to compare experiences and track progress.

2. Choose the interviewer and help them prepare

The interviewer should be a third party, like an HR representative. Employees are more likely to provide honest feedback to someone they are not closely connected to. If their manager conducts the interview, it will be hard for them to share any constructive feedback. 

Prepare the interview questions in advance and review them with the person conducting the interview. You can share them with the participants if you want them to have time to think about their answers.

3. Schedule the interview

Timing is important for exit interviews. Some companies perform these for the last day or last week of employment. Others opt for a conversation to gather the most honest feedback after they are officially done. If it’s done too early, the subject may be more filtered and concerned about how their answers might impact their remaining days at the company.

4. Listen to the employee and document responses

While conducting an exit interview, it’s so important that the employee feels comfortable sharing their answers. Don’t interrupt them, and avoid getting defensive when listening. There may be negative feelings, or office gossip brought up, but you don’t need to feed into it. Let them share what they think is relevant and answer your questions while listening. Take good notes so you can share the feedback after the interview.

5. Process the feedback

Exit interviews are only helpful if you can process the information received and work with the teams to improve employee retention. Direct managers should get relevant feedback from their team, but it’s important to document anything that can help the company culture or processes. Document exit interviews similarly and review them annually to see if there are trends to address. 

Exit Interview Questions to Ask

There are dozens of exit interview questions that you could ask, but only a handful are truly valuable. The questions below will focus on employees who have resigned.

The most important thing to get out of an exit interview is understanding why the employee wants to leave. This feedback should be used to monitor and improve employee satisfaction and retention constantly. Based on the employee’s answer, you might ask somewhat customized questions to further elaborate on their reason for leaving.

However, to keep things simple, we’ll provide you with a handful of general questions you can ask during any exit interview.

1. Why are you leaving your current role?

This question essentially sums up the entire point of the exit interview. You want to know precisely why the employee is leaving. Did they receive a better offer? Were they unhappy with their work hours? Did they have issues with coworkers or managers? Are there other non-work-related issues going on? Whatever the case, knowing which factors impact employee retention (or lack thereof) is valuable feedback.

2. What did you like most about your job?

Knowing what employees like about their job is equally important as understanding what they dislike. Figuring out what they enjoyed most about their job allows your organization to double down on what’s working while attempting to resolve what is not working.

3. What did you dislike most about your job?

This question provides a great opportunity to receive honest feedback from a soon-to-be-former employee. It’s uncommon for current employees to be completely honest about their company “dislikes.” But for an exiting employee, it’s another story. Receiving honest feedback about some of the key areas for improvement allows you to attempt to resolve some of these issues for future employees.

4. How would you describe your relationship with your manager?

Management can make or break an employee’s experience. We have seen countless employees leave organizations they loved simply because they had a manager they disliked immensely. Understanding how your employees perceive management is crucial to developing a positive work culture and increasing employee satisfaction.

5. What key skills should we be looking for in your replacement?

The employee being interviewed will know better than just about anyone else which skills will be required for their replacement to succeed in the job. Now is a great opportunity to receive insight that will be instrumental in interviewing and hiring the right fit. You might even consider asking them if any of their colleagues can take over the job. This could save your organization countless time and money trying to find a suitable replacement.

What to Avoid During Exit Interview

Above, we mentioned a handful of questions that are appropriate to ask during an exit interview. We will review some of the questions and comments you should avoid while conducting an exit interview.

  • Avoid sharing your own opinions regarding people, teams, or company policies. Focus on listening without sharing your dissatisfactions or agreeing with theirs.
  • Try not to ask highly targeted questions about specific individuals in the organization. It’s ok to ask for general feedback on managers or team members, but you should avoid calling out anyone specifically.
  • Stay on topic. Avoid personal stories and issues. Focus on the exit interview questions while remaining professional.
  • Do not try to persuade the employee to stay. The exit interview is neither the time nor the place for this.

Best Practices for Exit Interviews

  • Be prepared for the interview by reviewing the employee files and asking questions that are relevant to their experience.
  • Listen to the employee and avoid jumping in when they are sharing their candid thoughts. 
  • Try for a face-to-face interview, but if that isn’t possible, try to still connect over the phone.
  • Have a neutral third party, like an HR rep, conduct the interview whenever possible.
  • Document the process so employees know it’s a mandatory offboarding step.

Exit Interview Template

You’ve come to the right place if you are looking for one of the best exit interview templates online. Our exit interview template is downloadable and even allows you to fill in the blanks and edit questions directly on your computer. You can choose to print out the blank document and write by hand or type out your answers and then print out the completed exit interview form.

Exit Interview Conclusion

As you wrap up your exit interview, take time to reflect on the information provided. Was there anything serious mentioned worth investigating? Are you starting to notice any patterns of dissatisfaction expressed by various employees? Exit interviews provide valuable feedback for companies that care about culture, retention, and reputation.

Now that you have all the information on how to conduct an exit interview, document your process and start these as soon as possible. Don’t leave the helpful information on the table. Use it to improve your organization and attract the best talent.

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Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn