Every day, people dream of quitting their jobs to move on to greener pastures. And then, that glorious day happens: You get a new job offer and start planning your “I quit” speech. But for some reason, things don’t work out with the new gig. The company folded soon after you started, or maybe the new job just wasn’t a good fit. Suddenly, you need to go back to your old job. What do you do now?
First, assess the damage
How did you quit? Was it a polite and respectful resignation letter, with a send-off party and tearful goodbyes? Well, no worries — in this case you probably won’t have much trouble getting your foot back in the door. If you were a great employee, you are a known quantity and need less time to get up to speed; in fact, you’re actually a superb candidate.
However, not everyone leaves on such good terms. If you quit in spectacular, dramatic fashion, you’ve got a problem. Still, even burned bridges can be repaired. Take stock of how you left, what you did, and what impression your former employer has of you. Then you can figure out the steps you need to take to get back in their good graces.
Contact current employees that you know
You will know at least a handful of people who still work at the company you quit. Hopefully, you have a great relationship with them. Now is the time to reach out and see exactly what kind of ground you stand on.
First and foremost, find out if your old job is even available anymore. It’s highly likely the position was filled, but maybe your former colleagues can let you know if there are other suitable positions open.
Probe them to also see how management, and the hiring manager in particular, feels about you. Has your name come up a lot in conversation, in a positive or negative way? Are you missed? Would they secretly kill to have you back, or were they glad to see the back of you? The answers to these questions will help you in your approach to your old boss. You don’t want to be tone deaf when first approaching him or her about a job.
Lay the groundwork — carefully
It takes baby steps to get back in the door. You cannot assume that you will be welcomed back with open arms to a ticker-tape parade. Even if you left on the very best terms, you still have to be humble about your approach. And if you parted ways on bad terms, even more so.
Start by making a call (not sending an email) to the person responsible for the position you’re interested in. Do not go to the human resources department: If you attempt to get the job through the usual channels, you will be doing yourself a disservice. Remember, you have history with this company, and you know people. Human resources is primarily there to protect the company, and they will not be looking to rehire someone who quit. They can get involved once you have gained momentum, and have senior people in the company ready to go to bat for you.
Get ready to eat a whole lot of crow
It’s time to kiss your pride goodbye and approach this as you would a partner with whom you’ve had a falling out — even if you left on good terms. If you are looking to get your exact same position back, tell the hiring manager that you made a mistake in leaving. You loved your job and you will do whatever it takes to get back in the door. You miss your work colleagues. You miss the food in the cafeteria. You miss Hawaiian shirt Fridays. And be genuine: If you fake this, it will be glaringly obvious.
Make sure you can explain why you left
You still may be asked “If the job was so great, why did you leave in the first place?” That can really stump you if you’re not prepared. Here, you will have to be a little economical with the truth, or downplay some of the reasons.
For instance, many people leave because of a bad relationship between a boss or coworker. If that boss or coworker is still around, how does that play out? You can explain there were some misunderstandings that got out of hand, or that you had differences that you have worked through and resolved. You can be completely honest if it was something out of your control that didn’t work out, like moving to a different state. Just make sure you can allay any fears the hiring manager may have about your return. If they suspect that you could up and leave again, or that you’ll cause trouble, you won’t get back in.
Be open to getting less for the same role
If you’re looking to get your exact same job back, you’re in no position to make any kind of demands, and the employer knows this. It’s possible that your old company will take you back with the same benefits and salary that you had before, but there’s absolutely no guarantee. They know you need this job, and they can play that to their advantage.
Now, some companies will have a benefits policy that they have to stick to. For example, if you return within 12 calendar months of leaving, all of your former benefits, including vacation days, sick days, personal days, 401(k) match, and employee discounts will be reinstated. So, if you left the company after 10 years of service, and come back within the year, it could just be a continuation of those 10 years. But not all companies do this.
Chances are, if you left with four weeks of vacation per year, you’ll be coming back with the standard two weeks. And your salary could be cut to whatever the going market rate is for that position. After years at the company with raises and promotions, you may have left earning more than most people in your position earned. Expect that to be ironed out in your return.
Overall, making a return to an old job is very doable. Just be prepared to turn up the charm, make a whole lot of apologies, and start on a lower rung of the ladder than the one on which you left. Good luck.