Stay or Stray - A Tactical Guide for Employees in Retention Interviews

What is a “stay interview”? Stay interviews — also sometimes called “retention interviews” — are a relatively recent phenomenon, designed to help employers retain their best talent by discovering what motivates high performing employees. Instead of waiting until an employee leaves and conducting an exit interview to discover what they might have done to keep an employee, the stay interview allows employers to collect information designed to retain the employee.
Stay interviews are conducted with current employees with the goal of discovering what they like about their job and what they would like to change. Effective stay interviews are proactive, not reactive. They are not designed to convince an employee not to leave the company. Often, if the employee gets to the point where they are interviewing for other roles, they already have one foot out the door.
Employers are also looking to collect information that can be used to improve overall employee retention and engagement, not just your individual reasons for working for the company.
For employers, hiring and onboarding new employees is costly. Ensuring current employees are happy — or that issues that are raised in the stay interview are addressed — can improve the company’s retention rate. Stay interviews can also assess job satisfaction.
This guide is designed for employees to understand stay interviews and how to prepare for one.

Are All Employees Interviewed in the Stay Interview Process?

​It depends on the company’s process. Some companies interview all employees when conducting stay interviews, while other companies select a representative sample of employees to participate. Often the employees who have worked at the company the longest are included in the stay interview process. They are often done with best-performing and longest-tenured employees, but they can be valuable for employees at all levels and all lengths of employment.

When Are Stay Interviews Typically Conducted?

​Stay interviews are most effective when they are conducted regularly. A stay interview may be conducted once a year or 2-3 times a year. It depends on the company.

Will I Get Advance Notice of a Stay Interview?

​Yes, stay interviews should be scheduled ahead of time so you have time to prepare for the meeting. You can ask for a list of questions or an outline of the process so you can collect your thoughts in advance of the interview. 

Are Stay Interviews Part of the Performance Review Process?

​Stay interviews should be separate from the annual review or performance review process. Ideally, stay interviews will be conducted with all selected employees at the same time and the information collected will be analyzed quickly.

How Are Stay Interviews Typically Conducted?

​The most effective stay interviews are conducted face-to-face, usually by a direct supervisor or manager. However, they can also be done by video conference. They may also be conducted via a formal survey mechanism, although these results are often less effective in collecting actionable data. 

How Long is a Typical Stay Interview?

There is no typical length of time for a stay interview. However, you should plan on 20-60 minutes on average. If this is your first time being in a stay interview, plan on it taking a little longer than you might think. Most employers will not want to rush you. Remember, this is a conversation, not an interrogation.

​Where Are Stay Interviews Conducted?

The company may have a standard place where the stay interviews are being conducted, or the person conducting the interview may ask you, the employee, where you’d be most comfortable meeting. They may be held in a conference room at work, or at a coffee shop offsite.

How Honest Do I Need To Be in a Stay Interview?

The decision is ultimately up to you as to how much information you want to share in a stay interview. What you choose to share may depend on the relationship you have with your supervisor. If you feel you can trust your manager with the information you’re sharing, you may be more likely to share information about your feelings, not just the facts surrounding your employment. 
For example, if you admit to being overworked, how do you think your current supervisor will respond? If you believe talking about how you’re getting burned out will lead to change, you’re more likely to be honest.
This is probably one of the biggest factors with stay interviews — they only work if you are willing to share information with your supervisor — and if they are willing to take necessary actions to improve the situations you identify.

What Kinds of Questions Will I Be Asked?

Stay interview questions generally focus on three specific areas:
  • What issues in the company are hurting your productivity?
  • How can the company help you grow — especially in professional advancement?
  • What does the company need to do to keep you engaged and productive going forward?
Stay interview questions are usually open-ended — that is, they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
The typical stay interview is a structured format but with the opportunity to provide two-way feedback.
Here is a list of questions that may be asked in a stay interview:
  1. What do you look forward to at work every day?
  2. What’s the best part of your job?
  3. What do you enjoy about your job?
  4. What do you dislike about your job?
  5. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  6. What do you like most about working here?
  7. What do you think of the way employees are recognized? What could the company do to improve employee recognition?
  8. How could your work/life balance be improved?
  9. Are there additional benefits you would like to see added to the company’s benefits?
  10. Where do you see yourself in the next 1-2 years? How about the next 3-5 years?
  11. What additional resources or professional development opportunities would be useful to you?
  12. What do you want to learn? What skills do you want to develop here?
  13. If there are opportunities to move up within the company, are you interested in learning more about how to do that?
  14. What parts of your job cause you anxiety or frustration? What helps alleviate your stress?
  15. Tell me about a situation that has made you consider resigning. What prompted you to think about leaving?
  16. What does your dream job look like?
  17. What did you enjoy about the job you had before this one? What do you wish you could bring from that job to this job?
  18. What didn’t you enjoy about that job?
  19. What do you like about the company culture?
  20. Who do you want to work with — or connect with — at the company that you’re not currently connected to?
  21. What do you think about on your way to work?
  22. What do you think about on your way home from work?
  23. Do I say and do things that help you be more effective in your job?
  24. Is there anything I can do to be a better manager?
  25. How can I make your experience at this company better?  

​Can I Initiate a Stay Interview?

In most practical cases, no. Unless the company is initiating the stay interview process, your best bet for bringing up performance development and other issues is in your performance review.
Asking about a stay interview may be interpreted as a potential red flag to your current employer that you are unhappy in your current role. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it might indicate that the company needs to take steps to retain you as an employee. However, if you have to initiate the conversation, it’s apparent the company isn’t taking the steps necessary to ensure your satisfaction as an employee.

​What Can I Expect Following a Stay Interview?

Your manager should come back to you within a reasonable amount of time to take action on the feedback gathered during the stay interview process. There should be a follow-up after the stay interview, addressing any “fixable” issues you brought up in the interview as well as long-term strategies to address bigger problems and areas of concern.
Be aware that company management isn’t just considering your individual feedback but also data collected across your department or the entire company.
Also, be aware that a stay interview may not solve any or all the issues you bring up. Issues within your immediate supervisor’s control — for example, allowing you greater flexibility in your schedule to attend doctor’s visits during the workday — are more likely to be possible than a policy change companywide.

What Are the Benefits of an Effective Stay Interview?

When done properly, stay interviews can help you become more engaged in your role and with the company. Companies that conduct stay interviews generally benefit from reduced employee turnover and higher workplace morale. From an employee perspective, the opportunity to be “listened to” and “heard” is valuable. A stay interview can allow you to address issues at your current company so that you don’t have to look for a new position.
You may also find that a stay interview opens up opportunities for professional advancement, cross-department connections, and even increased professional development activities.

About the Author

Mandy Fard is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, CMRW) and Recruiter with decades of experience in assisting job seekers, working directly with employers in multiple industries, and writing proven-effective resumes.
Feel free to connect with Mandy Fard on LinkedIn:
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