14 Questions For a Valuable Exit Interview in any Small Business

blog Jan 17, 2023

Should you do “exit interviews”?

Absolutely you should, and in my opinion, you are not acting in the best interest of your business if you don’t….in other words, a rookie error!!

It is very easy to just crack the shits and move on when someone leaves…just suck it up and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

So much to learn from these experiences.

Keep in mind that exit interviews are entirely voluntary. 

If an employee does not feel comfortable participating, there should be no repercussions if they decide to refuse.

If you exit them, obviously there is no need.

The key is approaching this with a mindset about learning. 

Wish them well in their next career and if they are an important relationship you want to maintain, keep them on a customer distribution list of announcements. 

In addition, you can follow up and let them know if the company made any changes based on their feedback. 

Closing the loop is always advised – and turns them into advocates instead of detractors.

Maybe consider an Alumni group for former team members, as you just don’t know what can come from keeping in touch.

The basics of small business exit interviews

Exit interviews should be conducted privately. 

Generally, they are one-on-one discussions between the departing employee and employer or an HR staff member. 

For privacy, if HR conducts the interview, they may collect results from multiple exit interviews and share the feedback anonymously with the employer.

Unlike a job interview, the employee in question is not competing with other candidates or being investigated for misconduct, so you don’t need to follow a formal structure or checklist. 

Keeping the process casual and relaxed will help the employee feel at ease and be more willing to provide honest feedback.

Try having the exit interview leading up to the employee’s last day. 

But don’t suggest having the interview on their actual last day. 

At this point, the employee may be stressed and want to bid farewell to close friends and colleagues.

The exit interview is your last chance to have a meaningful discussion with a departing employee. 

For this reason, you want to ask the right questions and end the employment relationship positively.

Think about the questions you want to ask and the outcomes you want to achieve. 

Stick to asking questions relating to the circumstances of the person’s employment, their role in your business, and their personal opinion of the experience. 

Overall, the questions you ask should lead to answers that can be acted upon to improve certain aspects of the business.

Following are some good exit interview questions for employees:

  1. What is the reason(s) you are leaving (ask a what, not a why question -- why questions feel accusatory)
  2. What did you like most about working here? 
  3. How would you describe the working relationship with your colleagues, management and employer?
  4. Did you feel you were adequately trained, equipped, and prepared to effectively perform the duties of your role?
  5. What did you find to be the least satisfying part of your job? 
  6. What advice would you give to new employees coming into the same position? 
  7. What changes would you have liked to see implemented during your time here? 
  8. What do you think could be done to improve the work environment? 
  9. Are there any procedures or processes that you think should be improved or changed?
  10. What do you think the company could do to better support its employees? 
  11. What would you say is the most significant lesson you have learned while working here?
  12. What are some of the challenges you faced while working here? 
  13. Are there any suggestions you would like to make for the company’s future success? 
  14. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Also, consider incorporating some of the 12 questions from Gallup to gain more specifics.

These only serve as suggestions, so feel free to add, remove, or modify these questions to suit the needs of your business.

When should you conduct an exit interview?

An exit interview should be conducted when an employee leaves your business, either voluntarily or involuntarily. 

It should take place as soon as possible, and just before the employee's departure so that the feedback can be used to improve your business and its processes. 

Who should undertake the interview? 

The exit interview should be conducted by a member of the human resources team, or a manager who has been involved in the employee's work. 

This person should be impartial and have a good understanding of the business and its policies. 

They should also be able to ask questions that are relevant to the employee's experience. 

What are the benefits of an exit interview? 

It can:

  1. Provide valuable feedback on the work environment, processes and procedures
  2. Highlight any issues or problems within the business that need to be addressed
  3. Identify any gaps in the employee’s experience or knowledge
  4. Help strengthen relationships between the employee and the business
  5. Provide an opportunity for the employee to offer constructive criticism and suggestions
  6. Provide insight into areas of improvement or development, and
  7. Be a valuable source of information to inform changes and improvements in the business. 

The exit interview process

Have the employee exit interview take place in a quiet and comfortable room, free of distractions. 

Start the session with casual dialogue to help the employee feel relaxed and ready to chat. 

Avoid jumping straight into the questions. 

If you do, the employee may feel like they are being interrogated and immediately put their guard up.

Keep in mind, some employees may be unwilling to answer the questions truthfully, particularly if they are concerned about burning bridges or compromising their chances of future employment elsewhere. 

Gently remind the employee there will be no consequences for giving honest answers in the exit interview, and the information will be used to improve the quality of the business.

Depending on your personal preference, you can give the departing employee an exit interview form to fill out, which contains multiple choice and short answer questions to complete. 

This can be used to complement the face-to-face meeting or serve as the entire exit interview itself.

Certainly better than no interview at all.

Why should you undertake an exit interview?

An exit interview should be undertaken to gain valuable insights from the employee's experience and to identify any areas of improvement or development. 

It can also help to strengthen relationships between the employee and the business, as well as providing valuable feedback on the work environment and processes.

Below are some of the most common reasons to conduct an employee exit interview:

  • Find out why the employee is leaving
  • Learn what the company is doing well and where it needs to improve
  • Update the job title and description if they no longer match the role itself
  • Give the employee a chance to express their dissatisfaction with certain areas of the business, or alert employers to illegal activity in the business, and
  • Make improvements to existing workplace policies and procedures.

Should an employee’s resignation be accepted in writing?

It is a good idea for all resignations to be accepted in writing - “heat of the moment” or otherwise - to avoid a potential dispute arising, especially when an employee’s resignation is considered as gladly accepted. 

Accepting a resignation in writing allows you to provide your final expectations and instructions for a smooth exit for your employee and your business.

It is never easy when someone leaves your business, especially when they are the right person in the right role.

Make the most of a bad situation and learn from their feedback!!

Here is a dismissal and termination resource guide provided by one of our business ‘friends’ that you will find useful for these situations.