You’re browsing online for connections when a familiar profile catches your eye. It’s your ex… employer. The possibilities are intriguing, but you’ve got some history together, and—whether you’re aware of it or not—you each have pre-established impressions of the other that could influence you both. Should you consider giving this relationship a second chance?
In reality, going back to an employer from your past can have excellent outcomes for both of you. Consider these examples from TurningPoint clients:
- One client originally held an HR role at a field office for two years, and then after a long hiatus, accepted a re-hire job offer in a corporate function with much broader responsibility.
- Another one returned to the financial services firm that gave him a start right after graduation—but this time, with 20 years of professional experience, he came back as a vice president.
- Yet another client, previously employed at a parent company, was asked to join its new split-off business in a C-level role—bringing plenty of new experience plus invaluable knowledge of the original business.
A recent survey of hiring managers indicates that 57% of employers would rather re-hire a past employee than bring in an unknown entity.
In fact, there’s a term for it: “boomerang employees.” Many employers actively cultivate their own alumni networks for just this purpose. Especially if you, the employee, are the one who originally left the relationship, companies are often very happy to bring back a trusted “boomerang” with prior knowledge and experience. It’s easy to understand why: boomerangs, with their institutional knowledge, often need less ramp-up time and less supervision than someone new to the organization.
As you’ve probably guessed, the success of reuniting with your ex-employer depends on how the relationship ended the first time. The same survey found that 87 percent of hiring managers would consider re-hiring someone who voluntarily left to pursue a new opportunity, and 72 percent said they’d consider it if the employee’s termination wasn’t related to job performance. Don’t rule yourself out if some time has gone by: some 62 percent of hiring managers said that they’d even consider a re-hire many years later.
But what if the break-up wasn’t your idea? If you were terminated for cause, proceed with extreme caution, if at all. The survey says that 68 percent of hiring managers would not consider rehiring a past employee who had been terminated for performance reasons. However, if you were furloughed or laid off, it isn’t automatically a reason to swipe left. You want to look at the opportunity impartially, because there can be very good reasons to give the partnership another shot. Check out these considerations and make your own list of pros and cons of returning to a prior employer.
REASONS TO SAY YES
- You need the income and you aren’t seeing a lot of response from other prospects right now.
- You left on good terms due to a true reorganization, not a difference in values or leadership style.
- Whatever drove you out in the first place has changed—for example, the company now allows working from home, when previously they did not.
- You are sincerely willing to see the opportunity with fresh eyes and bring your A-game, not just slip back into old patterns.
- You can see this role as a step forward, teaching you new skills and expanding your career.
- An old boss you loved is the one hiring you back, for instance into a new department or role.
REASONS TO BACK OFF
- It was toxic back then, and nothing has changed.
- They’ll only ever see you as you used to be, without giving you the influence or responsibilities you’ve earned in the interim.
- You’d be working on outdated projects, tools, and/or technologies (in this case, weigh the risk of slowing your career progression vs. your family’s financial situation).
- You’ve let yourself forget what you didn’t like about them the first time. As someone wise once quipped, “When you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.”
- Your friends and family all keep reminding you how miserable you were when you worked there. Listen to them—even in this economic climate.
- You can’t make it work with your family situation (e.g., child care), even after you’ve creatively thought through all your options.
- It puts you at a level of health risk you’re not comfortable with. Now more than ever, you need to consider your workplace environment, your comfort with business travel, and your exposure to others.
Before you reach out to the employer, take some time to figure out what’s in your best interests. Start by mapping out a 5-year career plan for yourself. How might this move fit in, and set you up for an internal or external promotion? How might it align with other interests in your life, like starting or continuing a side hustle, starting a family, or making your transition into retirement?
While you’re at it, put some time into crafting a strong story about your career to date. What have you accomplished since you left them? How have you grown professionally, and how does that translate into added value for them? What excites you about the prospect of rejoining the business—and why are you more likely to stay this time? If you’re eager to return to a business that treated you well and kept you engaged and enthusiastic about your ability to contribute—by all means, let them know right up front.
It’s possible that jumping into a full-time role isn’t right for you right now. One option is to offer your services as a contractor or consultant. One boomerang employee left her job for non-performance reasons, and later was brought back on board as a contractor before the right full-time opportunity opened up for her. Contracting is a good way to dip your toes in, see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, and discover whether the current you is a good fit for the business—and vice-versa.
No matter what, if you’re going to return to a past employer, you need to be “all in” and enthusiastic about your decision.
Show them your energy and passion for the work, early and often. Being halfhearted about going back will hurt you in the long run. Nobody—not romantic partners and not employers—wants to feel like you’re taking them for granted. You don’t want them to wonder if they’re your fallback relationship, only good enough until something better comes along.
As with any important relationship, the more thought you put into it along the way, the better your chances of finding the right fit for this phase of your life. Ask the right questions, keep your eyes open, and soon you’ll know if you and your ex-employer will be singing, “Reunited (And It Feels So Good)” or “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
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