executive exit interview questions

Exit interview questions for management and executives
  • Why did you initially decide to work for our company? …
  • What changed and made you decide to look for other opportunities? …
  • Were you given the support you needed to meet KPIs and succeed? …
  • Was communication, collaboration, autonomy, and innovation encouraged?

In today’s knowledge economy, skilled employees are any company’s most valuable asset. Thus it’s important to understand why they stay, why they leave, and how the organization may need to change.

Exit interviews, when conducted with care, can provide a flow of thoughtful feedback and insight on all three fronts. They can increase employee engagement and retention by revealing what works or doesn’t work inside the organization.

Too often, exit interview programs fail to achieve their potential for two reasons: First, the data they produce can be spotty and untrustworthy. And second, little consensus on best practices exists. This article attempts to address both concerns.

An international financial services company hired a midlevel manager to oversee a department of 17 employees. A year later only eight remained: Four had resigned and five had transferred. To understand what led to the exodus, an executive looked at the exit interviews of the four employees who had resigned and discovered that they had all told the same story: The manager lacked critical leadership skills, such as showing appreciation, engendering commitment, and communicating vision and strategy. More important, the interviews suggested a deeper, systemic problem: The organization was promoting managers on the basis of technical rather than managerial skill. The executive committee adjusted the company’s promotion process accordingly.

The greater goal for any company, of course, is to retain valued employees. Research has shown that high turnover predicts low performance and that an organization with turnover lower than its competitors’ can be at a considerable advantage—particularly if it retains its top performers. If people are leaving an organization in ever-increasing numbers, figuring out why is crucial. And the most useful tool for doing so is one that too few leaders pay attention to: exit interviews. According to our research, many companies don’t even conduct these interviews. Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action. The company mentioned above is in this final group, and it’s undoubtedly better for it.

In today’s knowledge economy, skilled employees are the asset that drives organizational success. Thus companies must learn from them—why they stay, why they leave, and how the organization needs to change. A thoughtful exit-interview (EI) process can create a constant flow of feedback on all three fronts.

Though we are unaware of research showing that EIs reduce turnover, we do know that engaged and appreciated employees are more likely to contribute and less likely to leave. If done well, an EI—whether it be a face-to-face conversation, a questionnaire, a survey, or some combination of those methods—can catalyze leaders’ listening skills, reveal what does or doesn’t work inside the organization, highlight hidden challenges and opportunities, and generate essential competitive intelligence. It can promote engagement and enhance retention by signaling to employees that their views matter. And it can turn departing employees into corporate ambassadors for years to come. Indeed, of all talent-management processes, a strategic EI program—one that is designed to yield ongoing, long-term benefits—may be one of the most powerful yet least understood.

5 Exit Interview Questions for the Most Insightful Answers

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?
  • The Best Exit Interview Questions To Improve Your Business

    The answers you get to this question will be as unique and the individuals who give them. That’s because everyone starts looking to switch jobs for different reasons. The important insight comes over time when you start to detect common themes in the answers.

    Use the interview as an opportunity to find the bright spots. Ask the question, “As you look back at those you worked with regularly while at our organization, who helped you be successful and how?” This helps identify pockets of excellence and how that created a positive employee experience, as well as uncover the hidden influencers in the organization. – Tracy Maylett, DecisionWise

    All exit interviews should ask a version of these two questions: “What else do you want us to know?” and “What do you think we should improve for everyone else on our team?” Sometimes, HR pros get lost in all of our checklists, and its important to give everyone in an exit interview the opportunity to truly be heard, because they are likely to be the most open with you when they have nothing to lose. – Sonia Antolec, The Mom Project

    An important question to ask is, “If you had to do it all over again, would you work here?” The answer provides clarity and shows that people have different motivations for coming in the door and for going out. Everyone is always excited to come on board, but that might change once they get there. They may leave for reasons that have nothing to do with the organization, e.g. if theyre relocating or changing career paths. – Regina W. Romeo, CPS HR Consulting

    To help, 16 professionals from Forbes Human Resources Council examine some of the key questions the Human Resources department should include in exit interviews to make them worthwhile.

    Members share some important questions to ask departing employees during their exit interview.Photos courtesy of the individual members.

    FAQ

    What are 5 typical questions asked during an exit interview?

    The Best Exit Interview Questions To Improve Your Business
    • 1) Why Did You Start Looking For Another Job?
    • 2) Why Are You Leaving?
    • 3) What Does Your New Position Offer That Influenced Your Decision To Leave?
    • 4) What Could We Have Done Better?
    • 5) Would You Ever Consider Returning To This Company?

    What are some typical exit interview questions?

    Examples of exit interview questions to ask
    • Were there any company policies you found difficult to understand? …
    • Do you feel your job description changed since you were hired? …
    • Do you feel you had the necessary training to be successful in your role? …
    • What was the best part of your job here?

    What should I reveal in an exit interview?

    If you’re asked to participate in an exit interview, you’ll likely be asked some version of the following questions: Why are you leaving? What were the best and worst parts of your job? How happy were you with things like salary, benefits, perks, time off, the office environment, etc?

    How can I be honest in an exit interview?

    Do’s and Don’ts for Exit Interviews
    1. DO: Act professionally. Just like in any other interview, behave professionally in your exit interview. …
    2. DON’T: Complain, vent or be rude. …
    3. DO: Share specific and helpful information. …
    4. DO: Plan what you’ll say. …
    5. DON’T: Boast about your new job. …
    6. DON’T: Be petty.

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