Tips for Returning to a Former Employer

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Once upon a time, many organizations had strict policies that prohibited the rehiring of ex-employees, even if the latter left under good terms.

But according to the results of a recent study, that mindset is starting to change: Some 76 percent of employers said they are more open to the idea of hiring so-called “boomerang” employees. And nearly 40 percent of employees said they would consider going back to a company where they previously worked.

But is a return engagement really a good idea? “Generally speaking, no,” said Olivier Langlois, a career adviser from Montreal and author of Hacking LinkedIn Formula, who declined such proposals from two former employers during his 15-year career as a software developer.

“Most IT professionals want to see their careers progress, and going back isn’t moving forward,” he added.

That being said, you don’t want to pass up a great opportunity. So here’s when returning to a previous employer does (and doesn’t) make sense.

Best-Case Scenarios

The reason you left in the first place can help determine whether a return is advisable, said Carly Goldsmith, a Boston-based career coach who specializes in advising mid-career professionals.

For instance, if unexpected changes in company leadership, business priorities or reporting structures forced you to flee, the stage could be set for a successful encore.

“Structural changes ebb and flow with the tide,” Goldsmith noted. “If you didn’t like where things were headed, a return may be feasible once things shake out as long as you left on positive terms.”

Waiting out adverse conditions in another company may actually work in your favor, because hasty and unpopular changes often spark turnover. When the dust settles, your former employer may actually jump at the chance to rehire a capable alum who possess institutional know-how. In fact, you may be able to negotiate a higher salary or have your seniority and benefits restored.

Perhaps you were pigeonholed, or a tenured professional blocked your path to promotion; you may be able to score a higher-level position with your old company after proving your capabilities at another firm.

The void you left behind could engender newfound respect for your talents. But if you’re still miffed at the way you were treated previously, perhaps it’s best to move on.

Worst Case Scenarios

If you quit to get away from a grueling work environment, Langlois added, treat the possibility of signing up for another go-round with caution. 

Companies often promise to change in order to win back former professionals, but when managers are pressured by deadlines, they revert back to their old ways. And some problems are systemic within certain industries.

Even if you liked the culture and technical environment, things may not be the same the second time around, Goldsmith cautioned. For example, a family-owned, regional company may have grown into a bureaucratic behemoth while you were away. And you may be bored if you sampled the high-tech life and return to an employer with a dated technology stack.

“Both parties will have evolved and changed during your absence,” Goldsmith said. “Starting out as a contractor or taking on some side projects can help you re-evaluate the fit before you make a commitment.”

In a similar vein, proceed cautiously if you were laid off because of a dip in sales or business performance.

“Ask them what their business plan looks like for the next five years to make sure you rejoin a winning team,” Langlois said. “And try to find out which programs you’ll be working with so you can enhance your marketability and position for the future in case the company encounters financial headwinds again.”

Take a pass if your co-workers will resent your leaving or refuse to see you in a new light. You’ll need to have their trust to succeed, so both parties need to be willing to start with a clean slate.

What’s the absolute worst scenario for an encore? “All the things you hated are still present and you have no other options on the table,” Langlois said. “IT professionals should never be in a position where they don’t have options.”

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