Many recruiters and human resources (HR) professionals want help with exit interviews — it’s why so many people search the Internet for lists of questions to ask.

But a successful exit interview goes beyond the questions, as Indeed discovered by talking with two HR experts. The right questions, combined with pre- and post-interview communications, can help you gain more valuable information from your exit interviews.

Here’s how — and what you should ask — to begin conducting more meaningful exit interviews.

Ask exit interview questions designed to get results 

An exit interview is your last opportunity to make a positive impression on, and to gain insight from, employees who are moving on. According to a Harvard Business Review exit interview study, what you ask and how questions are phrased help to determine the quality of feedback.

So you’ll want to craft your exit interview questions so they yield information you can use. 

For instance, it’s important to frame questions positively. Ask questions with affirmative phrasing, such as, “What did you like most about working here?” and, “If you could make any changes, what would you improve about this job?” — this helps set a positive tone for the conversation. Try to avoid questions like, “What didn’t you like about this job?” or, “Why do you want to leave?” that lean toward the negative.

Also, make sure to focus on collecting actionable information. Use your questions to gather information you can act upon to make changes that benefit current and prospective employees. For example, asking, “How did your responsibilities and tasks match up with your expectations for this job?” can uncover discrepancies between job descriptions and work performed. 

The question, “Did you have the equipment, resources, training and staff you needed to perform effectively?” highlights available support (or lack thereof) for the role. And, “What suggestions do you have to make this a better place to work?” can provide the employee’s perspective on needed improvements.

Sample exit interview questions:

  • “What did you like most about working here?” 
  • “If you could make any changes, what would you improve about this job?” 
  • “How did responsibilities and tasks match up with expectations for this job?” 
  • “Did you have what you needed — equipment, resources, training and staff — to perform effectively?” 
  • “What suggestions do you have to make this a better place to work?” 
  • “Tell me more about that.” 
  • “Can you give me an example?”

Ask exit interview questions in advance

Think about asking your carefully planned exit interview questions in advance.

These questions are a solid basis for any exit interview, but to get the most out of that final meeting, think about asking your carefully planned exit interview questions in advance. According to Beth Perkins — the director of people and culture for O3World, a digital products creator — this allows her to turn the exit interview into a positive conversation that focuses on employee needs, career development and goals.

Perkins recently began using a new tool for exit interviews: the pre-exit survey. Perkins sends an “exit analysis” questionnaire to gather key information from each employee prior to their exit interview. She then reads the employee’s responses — there has been 100% participation so far — ahead of their scheduled, hour-long meeting. 

Perkins finds these insights can facilitate a more focused and nuanced exit interview. She opens each conversation by clarifying her purpose (“to learn how to make this company better”) and asking for a quick recap of the employee’s experience. Some repetition of the pre-exit survey may occur, but recapping also invites employees to open up about important issues.

“I learn so much from exit interviews,” Perkins says. “Nine times out of 10, there are things we could’ve changed if the employee had had that conversation with us. So it’s made me very mindful … about talking to people regularly — quarterly — about what [their] career goals [are].”

Learn from their reasons for leaving 

In 2019, Gallup estimated the U.S. was losing a trillion dollars annually to voluntary turnover. Leti Naranjo, a technical recruiter with remote placement agency DistantJob, uses exit interviews as an information-gathering tool to help employers curb talent turnover.

Naranjo points out that no two exit interviews are alike; they’re influenced by individualized details specific to things like their reasons for leaving, or the nature of their work. Gathering these details can help you separate the personal factors from things your company needs to change in order to better attract and retain workers. 

As an example, Naranjo says that the remote employees she works with — especially freelancers — are used to situations where their jobs end, and may have even already prepared to move on. Often grateful for the opportunity, she says, these employees may be less emotionally invested and have more clear-eyed insights than long-term employees who unexpectedly lose a job. 

Recognizing this variation, Naranjo uses an exit interview template only to keep track of necessary logistical items; instead, she focuses on conducting the interview as a respectful, two-way conversation. She acknowledges emotions (e.g., “I understand this is uncomfortable”) and speaks directly (e.g., “don’t sugarcoat; that can be diminishing”). Most importantly, she listens — and asks herself whether there’s an issue to be resolved.

However, Naranjo doesn’t necessarily approach the exit interview for immediate retention purposes. She’s more interested in gathering information for employers using her agency so that, where applicable, they can apply those insights and make improvements for the future.

“If someone walks out the door and that’s the last use you got out of that interview, you’re wasting an opportunity,” Naranjo says.

Analyze exit interview information

Sending an exit interview report is a logical next step, but it's one that many companies overlook.

Sending an exit interview report is a logical next step, but it’s one that many companies overlook. Fewer than one-third of employers surveyed by Harvard Business Review could give an example of specific action taken as a result of an exit interview. Some companies don’t consolidate exit interview data at all; others collect it, but don’t analyze the results; and many still fall short in sharing insights throughout the organization.

All of the valuable information collected during exit interviews goes to waste if you don’t analyze it to glean insights, then act upon those insights to make positive changes at your company. Implementing follow-up reporting can transform your exit interview information from rote to revolutionary. 

Exit interview reports will vary, depending on the nature of your company and its needs and goals. Think about what to include, who to inform and which actions can and should be taken to achieve the results you need. 

A successful exit interview goes beyond the questions

Conducting an effective exit interviews revolves around collecting meaningful information. And while thoughtfully prepared, open-ended exit interview questions generate important employee feedback, asking those questions are only part of the successful exit interview formula.

Incorporating pre-exit surveys and follow-up reports adds even deeper insight to help you improve your organization. Remember that focusing on the individual employee, including their career goals and personal circumstances, can make the exit interview a positive parting experience — while also supporting your long-term talent attraction efforts.