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Exit interview questions – plus tips for small businesses

3-minute read

Man and woman having business meeting
Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith

19 January 2023

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People change jobs all the time, but as a small business owner and employer you’ll want to be sure your people aren’t leaving because of any underlying issues.

That’s where exit interviews can come in handy.

Read on to find out the purpose of an exit interview, common exit interview questions, and how doing one might help your small business thrive.

What is an exit interview?

An employee exit interview is something you can choose to do when someone leaves your company.

People are much more likely to talk openly about their experience in a role after they’ve resigned – an exit interview is a chance to capture that honest feedback.

From annoyances and frustrations to positive memories, exit interviews can give valuable insight into how employees feel about your business.

The style and format depends on your business, but the important part is that they're voluntary meetings between an employer and employee.

When someone leaves your company…

We hear a lot about the onboarding process and making sure your people are happy at work.

But what about the offboarding process?

‘Employee offboarding’ is quite a jargony phrase, but it’s essentially referring to the steps you take when someone decides to leave your company. And one element of offboarding is the exit interview.

Having a process in place means you’ll know what to do the next time someone resigns from your team.

Benefits of conducting an exit interview

Some industries naturally have a high staff turnover (the rate people leave and join the business) and might wonder how an exit interview can help.

As an employer, an exit interview can help you identify:

  • risks and grievances
  • opportunities to improve (e.g benefits, training, career development)
  • what you’re doing well
  • company culture
  • what other companies might be doing better

10 exit interview questions for small businesses

You’ll want to ask a range of questions to understand how your departing employee felt about the position, general leadership and management, and your business culture.

For example:

  1. What prompted your decision to leave?
  2. What did you enjoy about working here?
  3. What areas of your job did you not enjoy so much?
  4. How well did your manager support you?
  5. Did you feel recognised for the work you did here?
  6. Could we have done more to support your work-life balance?
  7. How would you describe the company culture?
  8. Could we have done more to support your overall career goals and development?
  9. Is there anything we could have done to change your mind about leaving?
  10. Do you have any feedback or comments you’d like to share?

Exit interview tips

Setting up the interview

It’s a good idea for the interview to be with someone who’s not had much interaction with the staff member so they feel like they can be as open as possible. You might not have an HR team as a small business though, so consider how you can create space for your employee to feel comfortable giving honest feedback.

Timing is important. Make sure you interview your employee before they’ve lost interest in the role. If they’re working a long notice period, you don’t want to ask these questions right at the end. Set up the interview while they’re still engaged in your business and might have some insight to share.

Remember that they can say no – there’s no obligation for your employee to agree to an interview.

During the interview

  • ask open-ended questions (those that need more than a yes or no answer)
  • keep your questions consistent (an exit interview template can help with this)
  • create a friendly environment without pressure for certain responses
  • engage in discussion with your employee
  • prompt deeper responses by asking for examples or a follow-up question
  • close with congratulations and best wishes for their future role

After the interview

Consider the answers given in the exit interview and see if anything’s been highlighted where you’d like to make changes.

Was anything a surprise in the interview? You might want to make sure you’re having regular catch ups with your team and individually so there’s a forum for people to share their feedback before it gets to a point they decide to leave.

This can help improve future employee retention and keep more of your team feeling positive and productive at work.

Browse the Knowledge centre for more free guides to help with managing your team:

Do you have any unanswered questions about exit interviews? Let us know in the comments.

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Photograph: Shutter B/
Catriona Smith

Written by

Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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