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How to gracefully return to that job you quit during the pandemic

Follow these five steps to make your big comeback on more favorable terms.

How to gracefully return to that job you quit during the pandemic
[Photo: Ono Kosuki/Unsplash]

A record breaking 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September, bringing 2021’s total resignations to 34.5 million and counting, but some may soon find themselves trying to get their old job back.

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According to a study conducted by the Workplace Institute, 15% of employees have returned—or “boomeranged”—back to a former employer, and 40% would consider applying for a position at a company they had worked for previously, including 46% of millennial workers. Plus, 76% of human resources professionals say they are more accepting of hiring boomerang employees than they were in the past, and 40% say they have rehired about half of those who reapplied with the company after leaving.

“So much of our world—and our world of work—has changed substantially, and people have been psychologically taxed, especially parents, navigating the pandemic. It’s taken its toll,” says Jacinta Jiménez, the vice president of coaching innovations at BetterUp, which provides professional coaching. “More employees are putting a greater emphasis on wellbeing at work and are re-examining priorities. Some folks are thinking, ‘Where was there a work environment where I felt connected, and how can I return, and come back in a more optimal way?'”

With record numbers of Americans calling it quits, historical trends suggest that millions will apply for a position with a former employer in the months ahead. Here’s how to gracefully boomerang back to a company after you’ve handed in your resignation:

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Step 1: Swallow your pride

Quitting a job is not a decision most take likely, and choosing to reverse that decision can come with a lot of psychological barriers. Overcoming those barriers, however, is key to returning with confidence, and setting more favorable terms for your return.

“Pride can sometimes get in the way of us going back on a previous decision we made,” says Jiménez. “It’s important to remind yourself that you made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time. But circumstances change, so it’s important to be patient with yourself.”

Andres Lares—a managing partner at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, a Baltimore-based company that provides sales and negotiation training—recommends reframing the situation as a win-win opportunity for both parties. In fact, research suggests that employers save between one-third and two-thirds on recruiting costs when hiring a former employee.

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“It shouldn’t feel like you’re crawling back to your past employer; it should feel like you’ve got leverage and you bring a lot of value to the table coming back, because you don’t need to be retrained,” he says. “Companies tend to be risk averse, turnover is very costly, so if you put yourself in their shoes it should give you the confidence to come back.”

Step 2: Renegotiate terms 

Once you’ve gotten over the psychological barrier of returning to a former employers it’s important to consider how your circumstances have changed since your departure, and what you want out of your next work opportunity.

“List the seven or eight things that are most important to you, because those are the things you’re going to negotiate over,” says Lares, adding that the list could include anything from salary and benefits to more flexible working options to career growth opportunities. Lares explains that boomerang employees have a unique opportunity to address some of the issues that may have caused them to leave in the first place.

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“If one of the reasons you left was because you were burnt out, I would ask about a part-time or contractor role. If one of the reasons you left is because there is no upward mobility, make sure there’s a plan, if things go well, for what your career development looks like,” he says. “It’s the perfect time to do it, because when you’re in a role as a full time employee you lose sight of those things, so now is your chance to go in with a fresh perspective.”

Step 3: Address the elephant in the room

When you sit down with a former employer to discuss new opportunities, it’s important to acknowledge the reasons for your prior departure. After all, if you left the company once before, your former employer has reason to question why they should trust you again.

“The research shows that on average, people who do boomerang back are more satisfied and more committed than external hires,” explains Brian Swider, an associate professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. “But it still is a natural human response to question someone who is returning back and swearing they’ll stick around this time, especially if the cause for the initial exit was not purely an external motivator.”

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Rather than avoiding the subject, Swider recommends being upfront about why you left and explaining why things will be different this time around. “For any boomerang employee, especially those who maybe had a more tenuous departure route than others, it’s about trying to justify or explain motives for the departure,” he says.

Step 4: Emphasize what you’ve accomplished

People change over time, but your former employer is far better acquainted with the person who left than the person who is seeking to return. Whether you left to take care of a family member, took time off to travel, or left to work for a competitor, it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which you’ve developed as an individual and as an employee since your last interaction.

“Lean into explaining the experience in the interim—what you learned at your new company, what kind of skills you developed, what things you realized you really missed about the organization—those are all things to underscore to sell your new self to the rehiring organization,” says Swider. “Be sure the rehiring employer recognizes and appreciates the value and skills you gained in your time away.”

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Step 5: Don’t wait too long

If you’re considering returning to a former employer it’s important not to wait too long, as each day you spend outside of the company decreases the additional value you provide as a former employee.

“If you’re hiring someone who used to work at your organization in an entirely different role, or working for an entirely different supervisor, or on an entirely new team, you don’t get as many of the benefits associated with boomerang employment as you otherwise would,” says Swider.

He explains that boomerang employees are in a strong position to negotiate better terms for their return because of their familiarity with the organization’s people and processes, but that familiarity fades over time. “The longer they have been gone, the less valuable they potentially are as a boomerang employee.”

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About the author

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist and public speaker born, raised and based in Toronto, Canada. Lindzon's writing focuses on the future of work and talent as it relates to technological innovation, as well as entrepreneurship, technology, politics, sports and music.

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