Sometimes, leaving a job is like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend: You don’t know what you had until it’s gone. Maybe you thought you could do better, but the grass wasn’t greener after all. And you regret leaving your previous employer. But is reapplying ever a good idea?
“Applying for a job with a former employer can be both good and bad, depending on the circumstances that led to the departure the first time around,” says Randy Strauss, managing partner of the executive search firm StraussGroup Inc., based in Buffalo, N.Y.
Unless the company has a policy against hiring former employees, you may be seen as a good bet provided you left on good terms with adequate notice, did an outstanding job while you were there and have since developed additional skills and experience. “You’ll take less time to ramp up, which means you can get to work and make a difference sooner than another candidate,” says Amanda Augustine, a job search expert for the online job-matching service TheLadders. “And you may be better positioned to advance to the next level at the company now that you’ve worked elsewhere and gained additional skills and experience.”
Because former employees bring fewer unknowns, “Other employees usually view their return as a good thing,” Strauss says.
On the other hand, “Colleagues may not be happy that you are returning because you previously abandoned the group,” says Angelo Kinicki, a management professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. “Negative feelings of inequity can also arise if you get hired back at a higher salary.”
As with a romantic split, “There are reasons you ‘broke up’ with your previous employer,” says Gene Holzer, cofounder and managing partner of Ascendo Resources, a recruiting and placement company based in South Florida. Remember those reasons – late nights, long commute, overbearing boss, no room for growth – and don’t go back if they still exist.
“Find out as much information as you can before you apply. Are there former co-workers you could contact who could tell you what is actually happening at the firm? Just like any other job change, the decision to go back requires a lot of thought and consideration,” says Laurie Prochnow, president of Management Recruiters of Wausau, based in Wisconsin.
You’re not a shoo-in just because you know the ropes. In fact, “Don’t assume you know the company anymore,” warns Charley Polachi, principal, Polachi Access Executive Search, Framingham, Mass. “Approach the application process as though you’re a stranger and this is a brand new job because things could be markedly different.”
Understand there may be concerns about your loyalty and level of commitment. You must convince the employer you’re looking to stay this time and not “just biding your time until something better comes along,” says Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston.
Prepare a story explaining why you left and why you want to come back. Perhaps you saw an opportunity to get ahead or gain experience, “But once you got to the other organization, you realized how supportive your previous employer had been,” Sarikas says. “Or maybe the new job was just a bad fit.”
Your reason for leaving should be positive, such as a perceived opportunity for advancement. Explain how the experience helped you appreciate what you had and how it enabled you to come back as a stronger, more committed employee.
“An open, honest conversation between the former employee and the hiring manager could eliminate concerns,” Sarikas says. “Often people are more loyal and appreciative if they have experienced something else. Sometimes they need to leave to realize how good they had it in the first place.”