Made a Mistake? 4 Tips for Asking for Your Old Job Back

There may be more boomerang employees as a result of the Great Resignation. Here’s what to do if you’re among them and want to return to the job you left.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Boomerang employees

“Boomerang” employees, those who voluntarily left a job but would like to return to it, shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for their old position back, say experts.

A record number of workers quit their jobs in August — 3 percent of the U.S. workforce — fulfilling Anthony Klotz’s prediction that we would experience what he called “The Great Resignation.” The associate professor of management at Texas A&M University said in May that many workers would be considering a job change as pandemic restrictions ease and organizations called employees back to the office.

Over the past year, Klotz told Bloomberg Businessweek, the pandemic has caused people to rethink “family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means,” and “that can make people turn their back on the 9-to-5 grind.”

In the Bloomberg article, he advised those considering quitting to give it a lot of thought first, and then shared how to exit gracefully if that’s the decision they came to. Never burn your bridges is common career advice, but Klotz said it’s especially important to leave on good terms during what continues to be pandemic times. “We’re going to see lots of ‘boomerang’ employees, who a year from now miss their jobs and decide their novel isn’t going as well as expected,” he said. “Being a boomerang employee works only if you leave on a very, very positive note.”

There are plenty of reasons why someone may want to return to a former job, writes Sarah Todd, a senior reporter at Quartz in a recent Quartz at Work article (available to subscribers only). Perhaps all they needed was some time to rest and recover — they may have blamed their jobs for their unhappiness when what they were really experiencing was a general sense of pandemic malaise. And then there are those who left for another job, which hasn’t lived up to their expectations.

“Whatever the reason, it can feel humiliating to go to your old boss and admit that you made the wrong decision and you’d like to come back after all,” Todd writes. “What if they say no? What if they think you’re flaky and irresponsible?”

Todd writes from personal experience. Years ago, she resigned for another position and knew within days of working at the new job that she had made a big mistake. Her new job was far more administrative than she had thought it would be and there would be fewer opportunities for her to do what she loved and to advance compared to her job at her previous employer. Her friends’ and family’s advice? Ask for your old job back, they said. The worst they could do was say no.

They didn’t and Todd ended up returning to her former employer and working there for two years. When asking for her job back, she had unknowingly followed some tips from career experts. She gathered some of their advice for swallowing your pride and asking to come back:

Send an email rather than call. Alison Green writes in her column Ask a Manager: “If I were your manager, I’d appreciate getting an email about it instead — because there’s a decent chance that she’s going to be taken off-guard and that she’ll want to put her thoughts together — and maybe talk to others — before responding.”

Be prepared to stay put this time. Green added that if you return to your former employer, “you need to be committed to staying for a good long time.”

Focus on how the employer will benefit. Emphasize the benefits of hiring you “the second time around, since this is now what separates you from other candidates,” Don Raskin, a senior partner at ad agency MME, advised in a Fast Company article. “Include new skills you’ve acquired in the meantime, plus your extensive knowledge of the company and the way it operates. Talk up the fact that you have relationships already in place with employees in the company, and emphasize how quickly you’ll be able to hit the ground running and get back up to speed.”

Get over your embarrassment. Whether you realize your new gig isn’t a great fit within a week or a month or a few days of starting, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Taking a new job is a risk, and it’s hard to know what it’s actually going to be like before you start, no matter how much research you do beforehand. So don’t beat yourself up.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.