Exit Interviews - You're Not Asking The Right Questions

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR / MySilentWhistle

With most companies I visit, the number one reason I see in exit interview reports is generally "better opportunity" (or something very similar). If this sounds like the most common statistic in your exit interview reports, read on!

Let's think about this for just a minute. Doesn't it seem to make sense that most employees leave their current opportunity for a 'better opportunity?' I would argue that most people leave their employer for a better opportunity. If that's the case, why not just pre-populate your exit interview forms and get the exiting employee to sign on their way out?

The 'better opportunity' reason leaves far too many questions unanswered, and the work you might do to remedy problems becomes a guessing game, rather than a strategic exercise. For example, if this is your major category of turnover in your current reporting, you're likely having managers insisting that your pay rates are too low. That may, or may not be the case.

What's missing in this equation are deeper, far more important questions that will give you more meaningful insights into your exit statistics.

When an employee answers that they're leaving for a 'better opportunity' a wise HR professional will try to understand what happened much earlier in the equation. 

Questions to ask at this point will give you incredible insights into what the real issues in your organization might be. For example:

For a fully voluntary resignation:

  • What prompted you to look for a new opportunity?
For an individual headhunted away to a new job:
  • Why were you open to speaking with the headhunter when he called?
Questions of this nature get to the source of an employee's frustrations, or a potential shortcoming in compensation, benefits or other areas of employment. And, I would add that the most meaningful information will not come from just one strategic question, but from a series of follow-up questions to at get to specific details, and beyond the generalities typically recorded in exit interview summaries.

Sure, most employees leave for better career opportunities, but understanding what caused that door to open is far more important. 

Most of us will leave our current employer when we find a better opportunity, right? So, we could either fill-out our own exit interview forms in advance, right now, or recognize that there's a much more meaningful set of strategic questions we should be asking. 

These questions will ultimately give the HR professional more vital, actionable organizational information and make the exit interview process significantly more strategic.


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