Leaving a job you love is one of the hardest decisions to make. Sometimes it’s not that you’re unhappy where you are, but you've got a great offer that you feel you just can't pass up. It might mean a bigger title, a higher salary, or perhaps just a new set of challenges to help you grow or sharpen your skills.
But after you finally accept and then start settling into your new role, you may come to find it isn't what you'd expected. Maybe you've made a big mistake and decide you want your old job back. What then?
Not long ago, I found myself in just such a situation. I left the job I loved at York College of Pennsylvania to reenter the business sector for a new opportunity. Within the first week, I was second-guessing my decision.
Usually, you’re super excited about doing something new, but I quickly realized my job was much different than what was presented to me during the interview process, and the culture of the company was less than stellar. After just three months, I knew this was not something I wanted to continue. First I asked myself, "Why did I leave a job I loved?"—and then, "How can I get it back?"
In retrospect, here's what I found it takes in order to return to a position you've just left.
When I left, I wasn’t running away from York College. I knew I was leaving a good gig. I had my exit interview with human resources, and it was all positive because I’d truly had a great experience. This matters more than you might think.
Even if you work someplace where it hasn't been completely smooth sailing the whole way through, it won’t do any good to vent your frustration—especially if you genuinely had a more positive experience than a negative one. If you weren’t able to change those issues while you were there, it’s unlikely that they’ll get changed after you leave. Of course, this doesn't make constructive feedback pointless—in many cases, it's appreciated. Still, most people understand there are weak spots in any organization but simply lack the time or resources to address them the way they’d like.
The point here is to stay appreciative and positive on your way out the door. Keep the bridge intact. You never know when you may want to cross it again and who might be on the other side waiting to welcome you back.
Being genuine and cordial with former coworkers is something I would've done anyway. I’d spent many years with them and consider many of them good friends. But after I realized my new position wasn’t a good fit, what started as light chitchat about the transition began doubling as a possible reentry strategy. At one point I asked how the search was going to find my replacement, and the response was that there were a few candidates in mind, but it was difficult to find someone.
If the response had been that they’d found a great candidate they were excited about, I would've known that perhaps I needed to look elsewhere. But this response showed I was still on their minds and indicated they valued what I brought to the organization. Eventually, I just asked, "How open would you be to me coming back?"—a question I never could've posed without having had a candid rapport with my former colleagues after leaving.
If you do return, make sure you have a 20-second sound-bite rehearsed about why you left and why you’re back. On more than one occasion, you’ll no doubt be asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you left us."
Generally, people will be understanding if you’re forthcoming. I framed it as an important lesson I'd learned about how to be more diligent when it comes to understanding a company's culture before jumping ship. I made sure everyone understood how excited I was to be back in a place I'd always loved working and had perhaps taken for granted.
After all, the grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes it’s just different grass.
Matthew Randall is the executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.