You should never go back.
Once an employee has made the decision to leave your company, that’s it, they’re gone for good.
Or are they?
Returning to a former employer, or indeed, proactively approaching and hiring former employees, no longer holds the same stigma that it once did. Especially in infrastructure and transport where skills are in such high demand, looking for familiar faces, or “boomerang employees”, can be a good option.
There are of course reasons that re-hiring past employees isn’t a good idea; if they left on a sour note, didn’t fit in well with the company culture or didn’t perform well, then it’s probably best for all parties to explore other avenues.
But in some cases, welcoming back an old colleague can be positive for the company. Here’s our guide to re-recruiting past employees…
1. What are the benefits?
They are tried and tested members of the team
Many people in the organisation will have worked with them before so the referencing process is pretty much done for you. Speaking with old colleagues, managers and employees that the individual directly managed will give you a good indication of how well they will be received back into the business. It is important however to judge the person on the skills, knowledge and experience they have today, not ten years ago.
Familiarity with the company
The onboarding process and settling in period will be much shorter for candidates who know how the company works. Even if the business has undergone significant changes in the time since the employee left, the fundamental culture is likely to be similar.
This is particularly relevant with SME’s or family owned businesses, where it can be difficult for outsiders to fit in straight away to tight knit structures.
Employees that leave on good terms to explore opportunities will most likely learn a lot from their new roles and will be able to bring back the new knowledge, ideas and experiences that might not have been developed had they stayed where they were.
In some cases, we see clients actively encouraging their staff to take good external opportunities, recognising that the move will advance their careers much more quickly than they can offer, and letting them know that they are welcome back in higher positions down the line.
2. What are the reasons for returning?
Like any hiring process, there should be a strong motivator behind the move; you need to consider why the individual would wish to return and why the left previously.
Grass wasn’t greener
It happens all too often, a rival company over sells the role, making a lot of promises that didn’t materialise. Or the job is perfect on paper, but the working environment doesn’t quite suit them. This leads to a disgruntled ex-employee, and suddenly the old place is looking a lot more appealing.
Changes in policy, strategy or direction
If your company has undergone any significant policy changes, for instance if flexible working is now widely accepted or new offices have opened, then the business may be much more appealing place to individuals who left for more flexibility.
Likewise, the strategy and direction of the business may have changed and now be more aligned to the individual’s interests than it was previously.
If an opportunity should arise that wasn’t foreseeable at the time the candidate worked with you, then they may jump at the chance to return. We experienced just that with one candidate we approached for a client, it turned out he had always hoped he would one day return to the business as he had loved working there but the opportunities for progression just hadn’t been around at the time.
A high-profile example of this, is when Balfour Beatty welcomed Leo Quinn back to the business in 2015. He had started his career at Balfour’s back in 1979, but had since gone on to lead very different types of organisations. Would he have considered a CEO role with another contractor should the position have come up, or was it his association to his first employer that encouraged him back to the construction sector?
3. How can you reach out to past employees?
Longevity of senior management obviously makes this step a lot more straight forward. Past employees are likely to contact old managers or colleagues when they are actively looking for new opportunities or just to keep in touch. A high turnover of senior management means that the relationship to the business if often lost.
One way of combatting this is through the use of alumni networks. Frequently used by consulting firms, alumni networks and groups are a great way of maintaining contact, not only for recruitment purposes, but for business opportunities. Past employees can be future clients.
These networks can be particularly fruitful for large client organisations who go through cycles of needing talent for major projects. Using LinkedIn groups, events, emails and newsletters is a great way of engaging people who worked on past projects and keeping them informed of upcoming requirements.
In some situations, going back can be the best option for business. If you’re looking to get in touch with past employees, looking for new talent for your senior teams, or want advice on setting up an alumni network, feel free to give me a call on 020 3026 3871 to discuss how we can make the process easier for you.