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When a Former Employer Invites You to Come Back

By Perri Capell

Question: My old employer is aggressively recruiting me to come back. I left three years ago, and my friends there say many of the reasons I left have been corrected. Can you go back and make things work? What will future employers think of this move?

Answer: It can be very flattering when a former employer asks you to come back, since it reinforces your sense of worth. And, depending on the circumstances, it can be a good career tactic.

Try to separate your emotions from the decision and examine an offer from a former employer as you would any other job offer. Ask yourself if it's the right move for you at this point in your career, says Tim Ayers, director of global consulting services for Tellabs Inc., a telecommunications supplier in Naperville, Ill.

"The job should hold promise for your career future," says Mr. Ayers. "If it doesn't meet fundamental criteria that should be used to evaluate any opportunity, don't consider it."

How have things worked out for you at your new company? It probably isn't wise to return to your former employer solely because you haven't been happy about your new role, says David Williams, manager of professional recruiting for Xerox Corp., a Stamford, Conn.-based technology company.

"Be sure you aren't coming back simply because where you are currently isn't the right place," says Mr. Williams.

Mr. Ayers had to decide whether returning to a former employer was a good idea in 2002. Due to the telecommunications industry downturn, he was laid off that summer after seven years with U.S. Robotics Corp., which was pared down and sold by its parent company. Later that year, he heard from a friend about a potential opening at the newly constituted U.S. Robotics. Mr. Ayers interviewed for the role and was hired.

"I had no problems going back to the same organization," he says. "It wasn't my only option, but I wanted to return to the team I had been successful with in the past."

You left your former employer voluntarily, so it's critical that you understand why you resigned before accepting your old employer's offer. Have those conditions really changed? Don't just rely on friends for the answer; ask pointed questions and research the company on your own to find out.

Also consider your motives. If things aren't rosy at your current job, are you seizing on this offer to avoid the struggle of job hunting?

"It can be convenient and flattering when someone calls you and says we have something you would be great for," says Mr. Williams, "but you may need to think about finding another position somewhere else."

As for what future employers might think if you go back to your old company, that's not an issue as long as you stay a while, he says. It's a red flag if you take the job and quickly leave again because you'll be seen as a job hopper.

"The concern to a new employer isn't that they returned, it's that they are changing jobs again," says Mr. Williams.

Of course, it's entirely possible that returning is the best thing for you. Some Xerox employees who left and gained new experience were hired back and have been successful, says Mr. Williams. Others who thought things would be better for them elsewhere later returned when they realized they liked it more at Xerox, he says.

On a personal note, I resigned my job at Dow Jones & Co. Inc., the publisher of this Web site, when I moved to a new state and wasn't given the option of telecommuting. A year later, the company changed its mind and asked me to come back as a remote worker. I accepted and stayed five years, until I retired earlier this year . The decision to go back was a great career move, and I'm glad I did it.

But there are no hard and fast rules on this issue. If you do decide to return, just be sure that it's for the right reasons.

Have a question about job hunting or career management? Send it to Perri Capell . If you don't want your name used in our column, please indicate that. Due to the volume of mail received, we regret that we cannot answer every question.

Article from CareerJournal Online – November 2006