How do you make sure that the company culture is what you recall?
Dee Soder, founder of the CEO Perspective Group: People sometimes go back and say, "I thought it would be the way it was," and it's not. IBM or Citibank are not the same as they used to be. If you're going to a company where you once worked, you should triple the usual due diligence. Talk to several people who are currently there and several who've left. Then talk with customers and others who've interacted with the company and ask them what it's like now.
What kind of scenarios do you not want to return to?
DS: I don't think you go back to try to prove something. You don't go back to try and change the company or the culture. It's very difficult to go back to the same area and the same group of people if it's been a very short time. I was contacted by a business-development executive at a tech company who left for another job and absolutely hated it. They told her she could go back even though they already hired her replacement. Everybody questions your judgment when you come back that quickly. They feel abandoned and even though they say they'd love to have you back, nobody trusts you. You can't get a divorce and run off with somebody and come back a month later.
A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.