Some job hunters believe consultants should never take a job at a former employer, no matter how good the terms they might have left on—the company clearly chose them for a layoff and not someone else. Others note that layoffs are often financially driven and not reflective of an employee’s value and that it’s better to land in a familiar place than a strange one.
On the employer side, some companies have a strict no-rehire policy for various reasons, such as security concerns. Others, such as my current company, see an incredible value in tapping known resources who were let go due to purely financial reasons or who may have left for better opportunities.
For job-hunting consultants, former employment pastures can prove fruitful and shouldn’t be automatically eliminated as possibilities for many reasons. For consulting firm management, the opportunity to regain known skills and a valued team member can prove incredibly beneficial.
First, though, both consultants and managers need to understand all the issues and ramifications that accompany the rehire situation and how to keep those options open.
The employee perspective
Once you've made the decision to leave an employer, would it ever make sense to go back to work for that company? Some people say it never works out and that your position will be temporary at best. I don’t agree. I've known a number of people who were rehired and who are still gainfully employed there.
There's no hard and fast rule about rehiring. Initially, you likely cross off former employers with whom you didn’t have a good experience, but that isn’t necessarily a good move. Situations and people change constantly within organizations, and you’re very unlikely to land in the same job with the same management or the same colleagues. You might not want to automatically shut the door on those potential opportunities and roles.
Even if you take the worst-case scenario—let’s say you left a company because you didn't like the work, the manager, or your coworkers—would you really never go back if, two years later, you found yourself unemployed and your old company wanted to hire you? Depending on what your other options were, my guess is that you would at least consider it.
The option to return is the direct result of cardinal rule number one when it comes to a successful career—never leave a company on bad terms. The company could very well call you in a few months or a year about a position. It’s still up to you whether to return.
The employer perspective
The employer's position is a bit more complicated. First of all, they may have a policy about rehiring employees. Usually, a company doesn't have a rule that prohibits rehiring but does have a certain procedure and approval process for it.
An employer and the IT manager have more leverage and options when looking for candidates if they can consider former employees. The company and manager know what they would be getting in terms of performance, and the ex-employee doesn’t require the start-up or learning curve a brand-new hire would. They probably also have pre-existing relationships they can build on.
When I was hired as director of internal development a few years ago, we had another job opening in our group. Because our internal recruiting capability wasn't strong, our department typically relied on external recruiters to find candidates.
While I had no problem working with external recruiters, I wanted to try some other options first—specifically, reviewing ex-employees who might be a good fit. I decided to review a list of former employees who had left our department in the past two years. Since I was new, I reviewed the list of people with my two senior managers. I basically asked them about the circumstances of the person leaving the company and whether they thought that the person would be a candidate for rehire. We reviewed six people, and one person in particular seemed like a good fit for what we were looking for.
One of my managers cautioned me that this person had left to work for a dot com and had received a very good stock options package. He felt there was little chance she would come back to work for us. I acknowledged that possibility but wanted to contact her just to be sure. It turned out her new company was about to go under, her stock options were worthless, and she was more than happy to talk about coming back to work for us. The talks went quickly and she started with us three weeks later.
Since employers know about the work performance of prior employees, they can also discreetly screen people who are not a fit. I would estimate that if an employer considered all ex-employees, they would initially screen maybe two-thirds of all the candidates, eliminating those who did not leave on good terms, did not have a good attitude, or did not have a high enough level of performance. When I was hiring, many times I preferred to take a chance with an unknown new employee rather than rehire a known ex-employee who had some work issues the first time around.
Consulting firm managers should also consider these other issues when rehiring former employees.
Relationships with the team
It doesn’t make sense to rehire someone with whom other team members did not get along. If you consider a rehire, make sure you talk to the rest of the team, as well as your clients.
It’s a good sign if everyone is excited to have the person come back. If people grumble or are resistant about the person coming back, it usually doesn’t make sense. You don’t want to solve one problem and cause other problems at the same time. It is also not fair for the person being rehired to come back in an area where there will be instant problems.
When you talk to the team about the ex-employee, investigate whether there will be resentment based on the new position. For instance, if a person leaves and then is rehired six months later with a promotion, other team members may be resentful. (Similarly, if you rehire a former employee as a consultant, you could be in trouble with the current staff.) Determine how you’ll handle this issue before hiring on a former staffer.
Internal procedures and legal guidelines
As I mentioned, if your company has a policy on rehires, follow it to the letter. If you don't have a policy, always follow normal hiring policies. For instance, if ex-employees apply for a position, make sure they realize they don’t have any special status that puts them above other candidates. But don’t tell them they don't have a chance, either. As a manager, you must evaluate them as you would other candidates. An ex-employee may be the best candidate, but make sure you evaluate other candidates according to your hiring procedures.
Allow employment gap to occur
Many companies have a policy of not rehiring an ex-employee for six months to a year. This is a reasonable policy, in my view. Let some time pass to make sure that both sides are comfortable with a rehire situation and aren't responding to some kind of short-term pressure.