Is It Embarrassing To Go Back To Your Old Job?

We heard from experts in executive-level hiring about the signs returning to a former employer is a smart career move — and the signs it’d be a big, nostalgia-fueled mistake. 

At some point, we’ve all found ourselves recalling the Good Old Days at a previous employer. 

Maybe you’re feeling strained in your current role, sparking your stroll down memory lane. Or perhaps it’s your former colleagues, and the camaraderie you used to share that you miss. There are any number of reasons you might be thinking of returning to an old employer. But at what point do those thoughts become more than a bout of wistful reminiscing, and a sign that you should return to that employer

Lately, there’s reason to think boomeranging — or returning to an old employer you’ve previously worked for — is becoming an attractive option to more workers. In 2021, boomerang workers made up 4.5 percent of all new hires, up from 3.9 percent in 2019. There are plenty of practical reasons that could account for this trend. In a tough hiring environment like today’s, companies see an incentive to add former employees to their candidate pipeline, and workers — who see an opportunity to return to something known on their own terms — stand to benefit, too. 

And, as a former employee, this arrangement can benefit you even if you’re not the one doing the reaching out, Aaron Masterson, an HR manager of 13 years, said.

“You’re more likely to be considered by your old employer, especially if you left on good terms,” Masterson said. “As an HR professional, I have personally received numerous job applications from former employees, and about half of them were rehired. Candidates who reapplied as a former employee were almost automatically considered and put on top of the pile.” 

But, although your odds of clinching the deal may be high, how can you be sure this is a move worth making?

We heard from experts in executive-level hiring about the signs returning to a former employer is a smart career move — and the signs it’d be a big, nostalgia-fueled mistake. 

Signs you should return to an old employer:

1. Your previous employment there ended amicably.

Before getting carried away with “what if” musings, it’s crucial that you take realistic stock of the terms you left on, according to Materson.

“The first good sign to return to your old company is that there are no hard feelings toward you over your departure,” he said. “It’s important to consider the nature of your departure. Was it well received? Was your behavior professional? Did you go the extra mile to leave your job in good hands, and was this noticed and appreciated?” 

2. The company today better mirrors your ethics and morals.

Does the company seem different from the one you left, in a necessary way? 

“If your previous company has made changes that more closely meet your ethics and morals, return to the job,” Jim Pendergast, SVP of altLINE, said. “Some people leave their jobs because it’s difficult to work somewhere that doesn’t value the same things you do. However, if your previous company has made significant changes and is more in line with what you want, make a call.”

3. A toxic boss or colleague has left.

Sometimes, all it takes is one bad boss, or even a bad colleague, to push you out of a job you otherwise enjoy. If that toxic person has since left — and if their being hired in the first place doesn’t seem to point to a cultural problem — rejoining the company may make sense.

“In the event that you had a challenging relationship with your employer, but otherwise like everyone and everything about the organization, it may be good to consider returning, given that the terrible boss or colleague is not there or in a place to undermine you when you return,” Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group, said. 

4. You feel like there’s more for you to achieve.

Having gained new experience, it’s possible to see a job that previously felt like a dead end through totally new eyes. And that can be a great reason for returning, Adam Ng, CEO of Trusted Malaysia, said. 

“Sometimes, leaving and coming back to a job has benefits because you can return to the company with a new perspective and energy towards the work,” Ng said. “Taking time to go out and gain unique experience and education is a great way to impress employers and do your part to move things forward in the company.”

5. It’s not just a matter of convenience — they want to hire you.

It’s not just flattering that an old employer wants you back. It can be a sign of how much they truly value you, and that’s worth its weight at any company, new or old. 

“They’re coming after you and only you, and they’re serious about making it work for you,” Kathy Robinson, an executive coach, said. “Perhaps they got a new round of funding for a project you’d love to lead; possibly your favorite work buddy just became CEO and would be your biggest fan; maybe they have a strategic partnership in play that you’re the best one to drive. If they come to the table truly willing to talk turkey about the role, money, team, and career growth you want, it’s worth a listen.” 

Signs returning to an old employer is a mistake:

1. You’re using the job as a band-aid.

What’s familiar often feels comfortable — but that shouldn’t be the main thing driving your decision, Chris Muller, Director of Audience Growth at Dough Roller, said. 

“Having a connection with a previous employer might be reassuring, but you must be careful and cautious when deciding on a return,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to make this move as a band-aid solution. You should only consider returning to previous employment if the role and organization offer you a good short- and long-term outlook.”

2. You’re leading too much with your emotions.

Nostalgia plays its share of tricks on the brain. If one of those tricks is convincing you things weren’t really so bad at a former employer, you could be deluding yourself. 

“Isn’t it nice to know that someone wants you back? Whether for personal or professional reasons, it’s certainly pleasant,” Muller said. “It’s easy to get caught up in old feelings of loyalty or indebtedness when a former employer shows up at your door, and making judgments based on those emotions can be dangerous. When making a significant choice, it’s important to keep feelings separate.” 

3. You’re motivated by the paycheck only.

When considering an old employer’s offer, you may be feeling pretty good about the amount of bargaining power you have, particularly when it comes to salary. But try not to be exclusively influenced by money, Emily Cooper, Founder of Oliver Wicks, said. 

“I believe that it’s wrong to want to move back if your only motivation is a higher pay, especially if your previous workplace has a toxic work environment,” Cooper said. “Consider a lot of factors and make your decision with a clear mind. Climbing the corporate ladder is no walk in the park.”

4. You’re doing it purely in reaction to your new job.

If you weren’t totally happy at your old company but think, even still, it looks appetizing compared to the new job you’ve taken, try not to give into knee-jerk reactions, Mike Grossman, CEO of GoodHire, advised. 

“If your new job is a poor fit, you might feel compelled to return to your old company,” Grossman said. “Our trigger reaction is to return things back to the way they used to be — particularly in high-stress environments where you feel out of control. If this is the way that you’re feeling, the solution is likely not to return to your old company. Rather, it might be better to evaluate ways in which you could optimize your current working environment, or pursue greener pastures somewhere else altogether.”

5. You’re doing it from a perceived lack of alternatives.

If you’ve barely spent any time job searching before starting to reconsider an old company, get back to browsing open roles elsewhere, Pendergast said. 

“If you’ve taken a break from looking for other jobs, don’t return to an old company, even if it’s offering more money than a competitor,” he said. “The truth is that most people stay at a job because they believe they have to or are somehow committed to the role. But if you were miserable, don’t go back.” 

That’s especially true given that, when returning to an old company, you need to be prepared to stick it out, Scott McKinney, Head of Marketing for Debt Bombshell, said.

“Keep in mind that if you are planning to return to an old job, it shouldn’t be a temporary thing,” he said. “Not only will that wreck your image with your employer, it will make your record ugly, too.”

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About the Author

As a writer, Liv McConnell is focused on driving conversations around workplace equity and the right we should all have to careers that see and support our humanity. Additionally, she writes on topics in the reproductive justice space and is training to become a doula.