How To Get Your Old Job Back

Illustration by Janet Sung.
The cycle of job hunting usually involves desperately looking for a job, getting a job, working at that job, eventually falling out of love with your job, and starting everything all over again.
In some cases, you might find that the job you left is the one you want back. Perhaps your new gig didn't live up to its promise, or changes you were angling for at your previous workplace are finally coming through and are worth a reunion.
Whatever the situation, if you want to stage a comeback without feeling like you have to eat super-size servings of crow, here are tips for getting your old job back.
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Leave On Good Terms
Trying to reclaim the exact same position you had requires a little more nuance, but returning to an old job isn't uncommon. Doing so won't be easy just because you have all the right contacts. For one thing, you have to leave with a professional record that holds up. (And there's little chance of flubbing things here and there when old colleagues and managers can easily pull out the receipts.) Second, you want to have left in a way that made your parting feel like sweet sorrow — not an overwhelming relief.
"The exit from an employer matters a tremendous amount, so be thoughtful, intentional, and respectful when you leave to leave on a good note," says Brendan Browne, the VP of Global Talent Acquisition at LinkedIn. "Focus on making sure that you’re clear about the experience you gained at the company, and are overt in expressing your continued belief in the company as you exit."
Making nice during an exit interview or as you say your goodbyes may not matter to you as much if you feel there is a snowball's chance of you ever returning. Many industries see repeat employees, though, and if there is a likelihood that you will want to be one of them, try not to slam the door on your way out.
Stay In Touch And Be Upfront
If you are making a quick rebound and hope to return to the exact same position you left after a short amount of time, staying in touch with people at your old job is a necessity. Be respectful, but don't let embarrassment get in your way.
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"Whether it’s a week or a month or a few days in, someone saying [their new job] isn't looking like it’s a great fit isn't something to be embarrassed about," Browne assures. "At least in tech, where the supply-and-demand ratio makes it an employee market in that it’s hard to find great talent, most companies that prioritise recruiting, hiring, and talent would welcome that call, especially if it’s someone they didn’t want to lose."
If you see that your old position is still open, don't apply cold just because you feel bashful, he says. Talk to someone in your network there, ask what is happening, and be explicit about your interest. There is a chance that the timing isn't right and you can't come back, but stating your interest as quickly as possible (before the job is filled) will help.
"I would absolutely go back to the manager you worked with; they should be your first connection, particularly if it’s been a short amount of time," Browne says. "Even if it’s been a long amount of time, usually those relationships have some meaning, so time isn’t necessarily going to be an issue."
If it turns out that your old boss has also flown the coop, he advises that you contact someone in human resources, or ask if someone in your network who is connected to someone in HR is comfortable making an introduction.
"I’ve had situations in which someone who worked internally at LinkedIn would say, 'Hey Brendan, I don’t know if you know Jessica , but she worked at LinkedIn a few years back and is interested in a particular role,'" he explains. "They get back in touch through someone they knew from the past because their last manager isn’t there, and that’s something I would absolutely welcome."
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Talk To Someone You Trust — Or Ask Yourself Hard Questions
Leaving your old job in the first place isn't the only delicate matter. If you want to return, you'll also face giving notice after a brief stint at your new job, and feeling bashful about asking for your old position back.
Instead of contacting your previous manager, it might be wise to chat with a former colleague you're friendly with and asking about whether returning to your former position is a good idea. For example: Is the company looking to hire for the role you left? Where are they in that process? If they seem excited about the idea, then it's good reason to see if it's possible.
It's important to ask yourself a few hard questions though: Are you sure you can’t wait any longer to see if this is just a growing pain? What about your reputation in the industry after this? Have you weighed the pros and cons of what life was like at your old job before, and the possibility that it may be the same if you come back? How is your experience at your new job different from what you thought it would be? What are some things you could live with if you came back to your old job? What things are non-negotiable that you aren't getting where you are?
It might sound like an interrogation, but these questions might help you figure out your best next move. After weighing the pros and cons, you can decide whether you want to contact your former manager.
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Negotiate With Your Eyes Open
If you successfully get a foot in the door where you were, you may feel like you are at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating — especially if money was an issue before you left. Browne says there is no standard practice for setting compensation with "boomerang" employees. You shouldn't expect to get less than you got before, but you may not always be able to negotiate more.
"It depends on the job," he notes. "Most people won’t come back and take a pay cut at most companies, I expect. It also depends on the time you’ve been away and what experience you’ve gained. If it was a really quick turnaround, I wouldn’t expect the person to take a pay cut if they return to their same role," Browne continues. "But if someone has been gone for three or five years and gained experience, they should be recognised for [that] and compensated for it."
At the end of the day, if both parties realised they miss what they had after it's gone, there's room for a conversation.
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