Career Advice

May 15, 2013

What to do when a former employer wants you back

Emotionally, jobs can be like lovers. We fall for them, fight with them and sometimes lose them.

The Great Recession left millions of Americans jilted by their jobs. But as the economy continues its slow recovery, some find their old flames back on the prowl.

A reader recently told me how he was dumped during the downturn -- let go the day before he left for his wedding. He has found another job, but his old employer is trying to woo him back.

Should he listen, or scoff?

The answer is not cut and dried.

Laura Smith-Proulx, a former recruiter who now runs a Colorado-based job-search company called An Expert Resume, says the first step is to take the emotion out of the decision.

"Consider it flattering when a former employer reaches out to you," she says. "Even though it may seem you were wronged with a layoff during the downturn, your employer may have faced pressures from the board or from executives to cut staff. A lot of the people I've worked with have been successfully brought back by former employers, and it has been to their benefit."

Jessica Hernandez, president and CEO of Florida-based Great Resumes Fast, disagrees.

"I may be a little jaded, but in my experience, the last one hired is the first one out," she says. "You can always listen to what the old company has to say, but I would never go back."

Hernandez and Smith-Proulx do agree that if you entertain interest from a company that dumped you, do your homework on the health of that company.

"Researching them and being up on what's going on in the industry would make sense," Smith-Proulx says. "Get the annual report, dig up press releases, even get on LinkedIn and see what people who work there are doing. Look at what has taken place in terms of projects since you left."

Then remember who is important in this scenario. (Hint: It's you!)

If you are going to flirt with a former company, make sure it's offering something that will improve your life, whether it's more money, more flexibility or a solid career path.

Smith-Proulx notes that it can be a nice addition to your professional narrative.

"Being able to say you were valued enough to be recruited for a return engagement makes for a great resume story," she says. But crafting the happy ending is up to you.

Don't overvalue workplace fidelity; no matter how dedicated you are to your work, it's unlikely the company will ever love you back in equal measure.

That's business.

Conversely, it's not necessarily wise to leverage your former squeeze against your current one in trying to get more out of your employer.

"I think you'd risk damaging your reputation with the current company if you tried to use (interest from another company) to push for more money or a promotion," Hernandez says. "It's kind of manipulative, if you ask me."

Smith-Proulx agrees.

"So much of our work life is similar to dating," she says. "And if you're in a long-term relationship, you don't exactly say to your spouse, 'Hey, this other person over here wants to talk to me.' "

If you're fortunate enough to have a job and have other companies interested in you, hooray! Nothing wrong with being popular.

But remember, this ain't about love, it's about business.

Do what's best for you.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at

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