Stay Interviews

Prevention is better than cure.

—Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

—Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.

—Bill Gates (1955-)

Philosophy, history, and common sense tell us that it is often preferable to prevent a harm from occurring than to attempt to fix the damage once it occurs. Studies about software defect remediation show varying results, but there is strong consensus among them that finding and fixing a bug during design is much less expensive than fixing it after deployment.

So, it should come as no surprise that Stay Interviews are much more effective at retention than counter offers after a valued employee tenders their resignation. Counter offers are usually too-little-too-late and often come across as offensive to the leaving employee. If the company thought they were worth more money, why weren’t they already paying them more? Besides this, money is rarely the only issue. Even when a counter offer is accepted and the individual stays, it often only lasts until a better offer comes in.

The purpose of a Stay Interview is to learn about issues as early as possible so they can be addressed. A Stay Interview is usually a one-on-one, semi-structured conversation between the employee and the manager. Some organizations involve HR, but one of the goals of the Stay Interview is to help build the relationship between the employee and the manager, so HR involvement should be limited.

I have come up with a mnemonic for the areas that should be covered during the interview: HARBINGER. A Harbinger is a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of something. The categories, and one or more sample questions for each, are listed below. However, before we get to that, let’s go over some preliminaries.


A Stay Interview is a one-on-one, semi-structured discussion driven by open-ended questions whose focus is on the employee’s satisfaction with their position and the company. Stay Interviews should be done once or twice a year with anyone whose retention is important to the firm.


Stay Interviews open a dialog with at risk employees and provide an opportunity to keep them as employees. They stimulate and engage employees; and focus the manager and employee on building a personal relationship. Stay Interviews are an easy-to-learn way to gather inexpensive feedback from your key employees.


  • Don’t couple with performance appraisals. The focus should be on current and future desires, not past performance.
  • Should be done by the individual’s manager, but HR can be involved if necessary.
  • Listen, clarify, and seek to understand. Do NOT argue, pushback, or otherwise seek to be understood.
  • Be sincere and casual.
  • Follow-up on any promises. If nothign changes, then the Stay Interview will be perceived as just-another-management-event. It is probably better not to do Stay Interviews at all, than to do them and then not work on making the necessary changes. I am not saying the manager has to give the employee everything they request, but everything they request should be addressed.
  • Now, without further ado, below are some sample questions to get you started.


  • What bothers you most about your current position?
  • What do you like most about your current position?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • What do you like most about working here?


  • Where do you see yourself in [6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc.]?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and put yourself in any position or role what would it be?


  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • Is there anything that you have done or accomplished while at this company for which you were not recognized?


  • Is there anything that is preventing you from doing your job?
  • What can I do to help you do a better job in the position you are currently in?
  • Is there anything blocking you from advancing in your career?


  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is your favorite activity?
  • What is the one thing in your current position that you most like doing?
  • What do you think about on your way to work?


  • Is there anything you need that I might be able to help you get?


  • Are there any tasks or areas in which you would like to work that you aren’t now?
  • Are there any new skills you would like to learn?


  • What about your job makes you want to jump out of bed?
  • When was the last time you felt unusually motivated? What do you think caused you to be motivated?


  • What would you like to see on your resume that is not there now?

I hope you try Stay Interviews if you are a manager. If you are not a manager, then introduce the concept to your manager and ask for one.

See you next time…