What is an exit interview?


An exit interview takes place just before an employee leaves a company so the employer can find out what they most liked and disliked about their job.

An exit interview is a formal process which takes place between a departing employee and a member of the company’s human resources (HR) team. It can be done on a one-to-one basis (either face-to-face or through a video call) or via questionnaire, survey or a mixture of all.  

While there is no legal imperative to hold exit interviews, they can be strategically beneficial to the organisation. As the aim is to find out why an employee has decided to leave the company, exit interviews can give the business a sense of what is and is not going well in their working practices and what they need to improve upon to retain and attract talent.  

Typical questions in an exit interview include: 

  • Why have you decided to leave the company? 
  • Did you share your concerns with your manager/s? 
  • What aspects of the role did you enjoy the most and what were the most challenging? 
  • Did you feel properly equipped to do your job? 
  • How would you describe your relationship with your manager? 
  • Any suggestions to help improve workforce practices? 
  • What ultimately led you to accepting your new position? 
  • How do our salaries and benefits package compare with your new role? 
  • Would you recommend us a good place to work? 

History of exit interviews 

The literature on exit interviews first surfaces around the 1950s and details their use in creating better public relations and checking on the soundness of initial selection procedures and specific sources of job dissatisfaction. Since then, exit interviews have steadily grown in importance as employee turnover and retention rates have become more of a focus.  

As the ‘job for life’ becomes less relevant, there is more reason to find out why an employee has decided to jump ship. Today, 90% of Fortune 500 companies and 87% of mid-sized firms conduct exit interviews. However, only around half of those larger enterprises report finding the process successful.  

Even in the 1950s, there were concerns surrounding the exit interview process as finding enough trained interviewers proved difficult and many were worried that interviewees may not be entirely forthcoming. Back then, there was, and often still is, a feeling that the exiting employee will be unwilling to talk frankly or even truthfully about the reasons behind their departure.  

Recent trends in exit interviews 

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a growing number of employees to question their employment situation and quit their jobs – ultimately resulting in the Great Resignation. More often than not, these people have done so to find roles with a better work-life balance, more flexibility or greater benefits. This trend has highlighted the need for exit interviews, as companies must understand why people are leaving to make improvements and increase retention rates. 

As such, many businesses now see exit interviews as not just a part of the offboarding process, but a critical knowledge management tool to improve working, HR and retention practices. In fact, around 60% of HR professionals report having acted off the back of an exit interview for measures such as updating job descriptions or reviewing employee salaries. Some Fortune 500 companies have gone as far as to make exit interviews mandatory, with 44% saying it helped them make better decisions. 

Be that as it may, the percentage of employees willing to take an exit interview has plunged from 30-35% to 15% in recent years. Ghosting – where employees don’t turn up for exit interviews – has also become an issue. A survey from online marketplace vendor Capterra found that 86% of firms reported that at least one employee had ghosted them – with 70% saying multiple employees had not shown up. 

There are a few potential solutions to this issue. One is to hand the exit interview process over to independent external consultants who are specialists in the subject. The potential advantage here is that they can ask more probing, open questions and employees are more comfortable talking to people outside of the organisation. Another solution is conducting post-exit exit interviews, as a study from the Wiley Online Library found that 54% of employees respond more honestly to questions when their interviews are held 3 to 6 months after leaving a role. 

Advantages of exit interviews 

Exit interviews can help companies learn about why people are leaving their business and will reveal pertinent information related to employee satisfaction, engagement and motivation as well as culture and leadership. This provides companies with a range of insights to improve working, retention and recruitment practices and can help organisations identify potential problems and patterns of behaviour – particularly if people are leaving one specific department or manager.  

Exit interviews can also boost a company’s employer brand, as it shows that they are open and willing to listen to employees and can accept criticism. It may also leave a good impression on departing employees who may want to return one day or recommend the company to others.  

Disadvantages of exit interviewees 

There are concerns that employees may not be as truthful or open in their exit interview as they fear potential repercussions. This is especially the case for ‘boomerang’ employees, who may hope to return to the company at some point in the future, and therefore avoid burning any bridges. To go further, recent surveys have found that people leaving on bad terms are less likely to participate in exit interviews, meaning that the data derived from these interviews may be skewed.  

Use case 

University College London (UCL) has a strong focus on a range of sciences such as Engineering and Life Sciences. According to The Russell Group, UCL is a prime example of a university that uses exit interviews effectively.  

UCL employees who have resigned are encouraged to complete an online survey after receiving an access code from the HR department. This is then emailed to a HR Business Partner for review. Questions include what they liked most and least about their job, working relationships, training, work-life balance and how it can be improved, reasons for leaving and why their new role will be better for them. After filling out the survey, employees who want a face-to-face exit interview are encouraged to do so within their department.  

The purpose of the exit survey is to determine why employees are leaving, uncover any trends and better understand the different experiences of those who work at UCL. In conducting these exit interviews, UCL determined women leave academic research in larger numbers than men and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Therefore, the exit interview has been key in identifying areas for improvement and enhancing the recruitment and retention of high calibre employees.