How to Say Goodbye: Conducting an Effective Exit Interview

How to Say Goodbye: Conducting an Effective Exit Interview

As a business manager or HR Director, letting go of an employee is difficult. While you may dream of chaining yourself to a tree to protest their departure or refusing to let them walk out the door, it's important to let go of your staff in the right way. It hurts to lose a tenured staff member who has proven to be a tremendous asset to the company. They tackle any challenge thrown at them with ease, are a beacon of positivity for their coworkers, and have largely contributed to the growth of your organization. And then the unexpected happens.

They hand in their two weeks’ notice. You’re heartbroken. Maybe even a little nervous about having to replace such a high preforming employee. However, if you handle this loss strategically, you can the opportunity to improve internal culture, boost retention rates, and better your business overall. So, how exactly do you accomplish this? With an exit interview. By closing the book on your relationship with your employee in a positive light, not only are you able to maintain a professional relationship with that individual, but you can also gain some first-hand insight into why they have chosen to say farewell to your company. Here's the most effective way to conduct an exit interview.



Plan a Time to Meet

Typically, an employee will give you two weeks’ notice before leaving the company. Those two weeks should be leveraged to begin preparations for the individual's replacement, as well as wrapping up any necessary lose ends to ensure business can continue seamlessly after their departure. Plan ahead for the exit interview to ensure you're prepared to make the most of your meeting. Rather than casually traipsing past the employee's desk and request for them to come into your office, send them a calendar invite in advance so your conversation is an effective one.

Prepare Your Questions

After scheduling the exit interview, put aside some time to prepare your questions/talking points for the meeting. It’s important to encourage the employee to be transparent, explain that their answers are completely confidential, and remind them that they aren't obligated to disclose anything they're uncomfortable with. Here are some examples of questions you can ask:

  • "What prompted your decision to leave the company?"
  • "What did we do right/wrong?"
  • "How can we improve on-boarding/culture/processes moving forward?"
  • "How is morale among staff members?"
  • "Who has made a positive impact on your experience here?"
  • "What advice would you give to the person who fills your position?"

During an employee’s exit interview, be sure express what a valuable member they've been to the team. Although they're leaving, you never want to burn bridges or let them walk away on a negative note. It's always good to maintain a professional relationship with departing employees are they could be a beneficial referral source in the future.


Whether the individual is leaving because they're relocating, advancing their career, moving into a new industry, or they had a poor relationship with their manager, you still want to keep the conversation professional and avoid adding fuel to the fire. During your meeting, refrain from doing the following:

  • Asking about specific individuals they work with. You don’t want to feed into any gossip or become too personalized where the groundwork for legal action could be laid down. That being said, if there's a reason that pertains to someone else being inappropriate, you need to follow HR protocol and launch a proper investigation into the allegations.
  • If the employee does end up saying negative things about a coworker or manager, just listen. Do not add your own personal opinion; this is about them feeling comfortable enough to voice such thoughts.
  • Do not try to convince the person to stay. If you want to extend a counteroffer, this should be done at the time they announce their plans to leave the company, not during an exit interview. Let both parties part with grace and professionalism.

It’s unfortunate when a good employee leaves. We always ask ourselves why or how could they? An exit interview is just as crucial was the ones you perform during the recruiting process as it gives actionable insight into where your company can make improvements. There’s always a chance that maybe the employee knows someone; if you end the relationship badly, they’ll never recommend anyone to work for your company, so keep the options open, and learn what you can from an exit interview.