Rehiring Ex-Employees


Recruiters all know that there is gold to be found amongst your alumni.  Hiring a former employee is a great way to bring talent into the workplace that knows the business, your culture, the team and the environment.  They are, depending on how long they have been gone, a known quantity and, let’s face it, potentially a cost effective sourcing method. We love them.  But don’t forget that they talk to each other in most cases.  If you have a chance to bring one of them back into the fold, you have to execute correctly or you might poison the well.  So treat them like an internal, pay special attention to them, and make sure they feel valued throughout the process.

But what about the employees themselves?  How easy is it to go back to a place you’ve left?  Let’s assume you left on good terms, of course.  Greener pastures and all that.  Or, at worse, you left in the middle of downsizing.  Either way, you didn’t leave under “take this job and shove it” terms.  In theory, if you are willing to go back, it’s an easy transition.  You know people, you know the work, you know where the bathrooms are.  You are ready, willing and able to do the job.  Once you know the door is open, inyou go.  No worries, right?  Not always.  Is it ever really that easy?

There are a multitude of problems you might encounter, whether you are the employee or the employer.  Here are a few that you are likely to encounter, and some ideas on how you can mitigate them.

“They should know that already.” – You brought back an alumni because they are better suited for quick production.  But that doesn’t mean nothing has changed.  How often do you go six months in your workplace without a major change initiative taking place?  Never, that’s when. So don’t treat them like they should know everything.  Let them go through orientation and assimilation like everyone else.  Give them all the information you can, and let them discard that which is redundant.  By the way, it’s not a bad way to handle employees coming back from extended leave as well.  They’ll appreciate the chance to get up to speed.

“If it’s so great here, why did you leave?” – Yeah, you knew that was coming.  You’re going to have to deal with it.  The corollary of this is “If your new job was so good, why are you back?”  Sometimes things don’t work out.  No one wants to work in a job that is unsatisfying, unappealing or just flat unwelcoming.  Sometimes you just want to go home again, right?  How do you spin that to your coworkers?  For the employee, it can be as simple as discussing the recruiting process, how much you wanted to come back, and how happy you are the door was open.  For the manager or HR side, there’s no shame in discussing the value of the alumni network.  Plus, it never hurts to send others the message that if you leave on good terms, the door might be open for you too.

“If you’re so great, why did we let you leave?” – Similar to above.  We got rid of you once, and here you are again.  This one will really depend on the way the person left, and their reputation internally.  Hopefully you got that out of the way during the interview process, so there won’t be anything too damaging.  But it’s OK to admit that you while you didn’t want to leave or couldn’t find a way to retain the person, when the opportunity arose to get back together, the right thing was done. Just be sure you don’t send a message that this person is somehow superior to those that never left.  That can get ugly in a hurry.

“What do you mean you already want a raise?” – I saved the best for last.  Salary inequity.  Depending on how long someone has been gone, the salary structure could be very, very different when they come back.  Or worse, your organization may have fallen into that old trap of paying more for incoming talent, throwing market equity out the window.  Bringing someone back often means they come in at their previous salary.  Suddenly you are looking at a new hire that is far removed from the “typical” compensation on your team.  Can it happen?  Boy howdy can it.  Can you fix it?  Of course.  That’s what HR is for, right?  Deal with it up front, swallow hard, and make it right.  Don’t chalk it up to an alumni discount.  Because as soon as that person figures it out (and they always do, right?), you can kiss your alumni recruiting goodbye.

These are pretty common things to encounter.  But the value of recruiting from your alumni group doesn’t change.  They still have the ability to get up and running much faster than an outsider, and potentially bring a lot of valuable relationships into the fold from day one.  Take care of these issues, don’t neglect their needs as a new hire in general, and you’ll get a lot of bang for your recruiting buck.  But blow it, and your alumni network may dry up in a hurry.


  1. Good post Dwane…we hire alumni regularly and I always welcome them “home” in orientation.

  2. What I see is people seem to have hurt feelings that someone would chose to leave. They often then talk much more negatively about them once they are gone then they did a few months ago (when they seemed to think they were good). And I think most of this retroactive adjustment is false (to some extent you have people that are falsely positive about those that are employees – scared to talk or even think of negative aspects of people they work with…).

    There are certainly people I wouldn’t hire (because they just were not that great) after they leave. But rehiring good people that leave is a great thing to do. Those hiring and those who would return close off this option too often.


  1. […] It’s OK to agree to keep in touch (on special occasions only) Maybe.  Depends on the term reason.  But there’s plenty of value in a robust alumni association for your business.  Just don’t screw it up. […]

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