With tech talent at a premium, it’s no surprise that more companies are giving up on the notion that when an employee departs, the door to future opportunities closes firmly behind them.
One professional recalls approaching a former employer about an open position, only to be told: “We’re sure with the excellent training you received here, you’ll have no trouble pursuing opportunities at other companies.” But to put it in colloquial terms, that dog won’t hunt anymore: with so many businesses looking to fill so many tech roles, employers have to get used to the idea that their software developers, engineers, data scientists and pretty much anyone involved in tech are either being pursued by recruiters or stumbling across opportunities on their own.
“You have to realize good people will leave when presented with the right opportunity,” said Greg Ambrose, CEO of Stack Talent, a human capital consultancy in Chicago that helps companies hire engineering professionals. “The question is whether they’re leaving like a spouse who’s filed for divorce or a sibling who’s going abroad.”
Recruiters and tech managers agree that hiring back a former employee—the boomerang employee—requires a different mindset than recruiting new blood. Here are five key things to consider as you mull whether to bring a tech pro back into the fold.
Rehiring Begins Before the Employee Leaves
If moving around has become a more common part of tech’s working world, it’s self-defeating to maintain a blanket policy against returning employees. More importantly, you should recognize that people who feel like they’ve been badly treated, or who loathed your company’s culture, aren’t going to be inclined to come back, no matter how much you might want them.
Rehiring is a process that should start when people are still employees, Ambrose believes. That means maintaining a workplace that’s attractive to tech pros in terms of the technology they use, the assignments they’re given and the way they’re managed.
If someone left because they didn’t like the workplace, assume they’ll call their contacts within the company to see whether things have changed. “You have to understand what makes your target employees happy,” Ambrose said.
Keep Things Cordial, and Stay in Touch
When an employee resigns, don’t take it personally—and don’t let the hiring manager involved vent their frustration at the departing professional, either. “Treat them as friends of the company, and even consider forming an alumni group,” Ambrose suggested. “Make them feel like they’re part of an extended family.”
Treat ‘Rehiring’ Different from ‘Hiring’
When considering a former employee for a job opening, remember that you’re dealing with someone you know. For that reason, Ambrose suggests following a different process than you would for a candidate you’re meeting for the first time.
Begin with social, rather than formal, interactions, such as lunch with the candidate’s former colleagues. Have an open and honest discussion about their previous experience with the company, and how each side could improve upon it. Again, Ambrose speaks of treating former employees “like a member of the extended family. After all, you should already know them.”
Evaluate the Context
Whether or not to rehire someone depends a lot on context, said MJ Shoer, chief technology officer of Internet & Telephone, LLC, a managed-services provider based in Methuen, Mass.: “I’d look at the circumstances of their departure and return.” For example, Shoer would be less inclined to hire back someone who simply thought the grass was greener at another company than he would a tech pro who moved out of state for personal reasons.
The individual’s integrity, too, is an important consideration. Shoer asks himself whether the candidate is a person who’ll keep their promises or “just jump when the occasion arises.” Talent shortage or not, he notes, employee departures are “disruptive,” especially for a company like his, which is “trying to groom teams that are going to be around for a while.”
Consider Internal Impacts
Finally, Shoer suggests carefully thinking through the impact that rehiring someone may have on a team and department. For example, an existing worker may have thought they could take the role now filled by a boomerang employee. That sort of thing is liable to cause a host of problems, including demoralization. “You have to identify and consider internal concerns,” Shoer said.
With all that said, Ambrose believes employers need to take a longer-term view when it comes to rehiring boomerang employees. Noting that tech companies often spend sizable amounts of money training and developing their employees, he asked: “How do you maximize that investment? You’re not going to see a good ROI if everyone who leaves doesn’t want to come back.”