Return Engagements Can Make for Stronger Bonds

Becoming a boomerang employee who goes back to a previous employer is usually a pretty positive sign, but don't leave again too soon

Q: During the layoff frenzy, I decided to accept a position with my previous employer. I am very happy to be employed and flattered that my previous employer would hire me back. But I am concerned about how this will look to potential new employers when reviewing my resume and career.

----J.S., Tampa, Fla.

A: There's little reason to fret. A new employer is likely going to be wowed that your old employer hired you a second time, say career counselors. Basically, it says that you must have been a pretty darn good worker to be welcomed back after you gave the company the old heave-ho, whatever the reason. "Here is a company that knew you and knew you well, and decides to take you back," says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O'Clock Club, a nationwide career-counseling organization. "It looks great."

And that's basically how you spin it when talking to a prospective new employer. With layoffs mounting across the nation, your old employer could have easily made an offer to an outsider. Instead, it thought you were strong enough to give you a second chance.

There is one caveat, though. A new employer could be somewhat leery of a "boomerang" employee, as you're known, if you've only been back at your old company for a few months and you're already looking to leave again, says John Putzier, president of FirStep, a human-resources consulting firm in Prospect, Pa. Such wanderlust could be interpreted by the new company as a sign that you don't really know what you want, or that you suffer from the grass-is-always-greener syndrome, Putzier adds.


  "If you went back to a former employer and after six months tried to take off again, it looks to me like you are using them," says Putzier, who works with H.R. departments at high-tech companies. Unless you have a really good reason for leaving, you should probably hang out at least one to two years at your old company before starting to hunt again, Putzier recommends.

The need to boomerang now and then is a good reason to avoid burning your bridges when you leave a job. Indeed, your exit interview is probably not the time or place to vent about how unhappy you were or about much your boss stank (either literally or figuratively). "Bottle it, unless you can give them some constructive criticism in a mild way," Wendleton says. And resist the temptation to slack on the job or call in sick every day after giving your two weeks' notice. Finish what you're working on. Go out with a bang.

Not so long ago, it seems, many employers used to nail the door shut when an employee dared to resign. Although a few companies still hew to the "No Returns" policy -- financial news and information company Bloomberg comes to mind -- many companies roll out the red carpet for returning alums. Hiring a boomeranger cuts down on recruiting and training costs, since it can take as long as six months for a brand new employee to get up to speed.


  "[Boomerangers] understand our business," says Michael Krauss, a partner at DiamondCluster International, the business strategy and technology solutions consulting firm. "They can fit right back in. I think it is a wise strategy [to hire them back] not only at DiamondCluster but also at other firms." From an employee's standpoint, it never hurts to stay in touch with old employers, some of which may even have established "alumni" organizations.

When they come back, boomerangers often end up a step higher in the organization, and with a higher salary, says Robin Rasmussen, vice-president for human capital consulting at the Saratoga Institute, a Santa Clara (Calif.) research center for outplacement firm Spherion. Perhaps that helps explain why 30% of employees who have gone on to new jobs are interested in being contacted about opportunities at their old companies, Rasmussen says.

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By Eric Wahlgren in New York

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