When you first leave a company to set out for greener pastures, it seems unlikely that you’ll ever come back. And yet, it happens far more frequently than you might think. It makes sense on a few levels. The hiring manager knows you do quality work and are reliable and easy to work with. That combination is hard to find, so you’re already more hirable than an outside candidate.
But your biggest advantage can also be a downfall. You’re a known entity, which means the employer already thinks they know who you are and what you’re capable of doing—even if you’ve advanced beyond your former role. To advocate for yourself, you need to reset their expectations and demonstrate all the ways you’ve improved.
Because let’s face it: Unless the new role is dramatically better and there is substantially more money, will it be worth it to go back to an old employer? Probably not. Here’s how to keep moving your career forward and avoid a potential backslide.
How to Negotiate a New Role With an Old Employer
1. Level up your professional brand.
Don’t go back to a former employer unless your professional brand operates on a new level. Study your competition—if you’re gunning after those SVP or Senior Director roles, search for professionals in that position who have a similar background to yours. Pay attention to recurring themes, pain points, and keywords that keep turning up again and again.
Then rewrite your resume and branding material to hit the sweet spot of unique value and the elements you’ve gleaned through competitive research. Highlight 5-6 main ideas to use throughout your resume and employee profile—these unifying themes will make your specialty resonate.
Resume Tip: Provide context to help the hiring manager understand your career accomplishments. For example:
Good: Managed a 20-person team and a $15M budget for developing business operations in Singapore. $55M in bottom-line growth inside of 1 year.
Better: Led a global expansion effort in Singapore, establishing region-specific strategy, building and training a 20-person team, and guiding strategic business development efforts, resulting in $55M in new revenue within the first 12 months of launch.
You should also actively share thought leadership pieces online to show you’re an “insider” with unique and valuable insight. Even a conservative amount of social media engagement will pay off handsomely.
2. Reframe expectations early.
There are a lot of social niceties that go into the hiring process—99% of this won’t be necessary when you’re dealing with a former employer. You’re already a trusted colleague, so you don’t need to act like a stranger. Your current relationship with the hiring manager needs to be respected.
Have an honest dialogue with your main point of contact at the company (the more senior level, the better). Explain where you’re at today and where you’d like to go next. Be clear about any reservations you have about returning, and drop some hints about other conversations you’re having with other employers, if they’re relevant. There’s no need to treat your job search as a secret—if they don’t already think of you as someone who will entertain multiple offers, then you’re not an equal party in the process.
3) Act as a 50/50 partner as you move toward an offer.
Any old employer can revert back to the practices they used when you were an employee. But you’re not an employee—you’re a free agent.
Here’s how to establish a position of power:
- You’re not available for a phone call at the drop of a hat.
Even if you don’t have anything going on this week, don’t make yourself too available. Tell them which days and times you can talk and schedule accordingly.
- Stick to time limits.
If you agreed to a 30-minute call, make sure things wrap up by that point. If you think the conversation is too important to interrupt, of course you can make an exception. But be discerning. If you don’t see an immediate value-add, don’t let the call drag on—politely excuse yourself and make it clear that your time is valuable.
- Keep detailed notes following every step in the hiring process.
Record your thoughts during the first 15-20 minutes immediately after your phone interview. Then refer to these notes during later stages of the hiring process. Why should you take notes? Let’s assume you’re heading into a big group interview, and someone asks a question about an area that you thoroughly covered over the phone. Pull out your notes and briefly go over what was already discussed. Then, pivot to build on that value with additional insights. Keep things moving toward an offer, and don’t feel obligated to waste time repeating yourself. Repetition won’t help you build your case or push the hiring manager closer to a decision.
If a former employer approaches you with a job offer, they’ve just admitted they’re a big fan of your work. By laying their cards on the table, they’ve already given you the information you need to pursue an exceptional offer. Be bold about negotiating a new position and salary—and come home with a opportunity that thrills you!
Read more career advice from Anish: Learn how to crack the hidden codes of hiring.