A reader writes:
Seven weeks ago, I left a job of five years with a nonprofit for a higher salary and the possibility of advancement at a much larger for-profit company. I liked working for my old employer, but the pay and opportunity were too tempting. My manager understood, and I left on a high note with recommendations from her, her boss, and even the CEO. My boss’s boss even made the offer that I could “come back anytime” if things didn’t work out at the new company.
And they haven’t. The new job has been nothing short of a nightmare. I was assured that work-life balance is important during interviews, but everyone on my team works around the clock, and my mentors lack experience and confidence in their ability to get me up to speed. Morale is low across the board. It has been a learning experience, and not one I want to suffer through for six months or more.
My old position has not been filled yet, but although I left on great terms, I know getting it back is no sure bet. My manager was encouraging when I left, but we were not close and I am unsure how best to approach her. Can you help me rebuild this bridge?
Email your former manager. Tell her the grass was not greener after all and that you’re thinking of moving on from the new company. Tell her that you’d love to talk about coming back if that’s something they’d be interested in.
Some people will tell you that you should pick up the phone and call for this conversation, but 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 there — before responding.
If she shuts you down — for instance, if she tells you that they have an offer out for your old job or have already hired someone — then you can consider whether it makes sense to reach out to others at the company, like the higher level manager who told you that you were welcome back anytime. Realize, of course, that people sometimes say that when someone is leaving and it doesn’t always mean they’ll have a position available when you decide to take them up on it … but there would be no harm in reaching out to them and saying that you know your old position is being filled but that you’d love to talk with them if they think a different role for you there might make sense.
By the way, if you do that, let your old manager know that you plan to. Either way, you’ll want to thank her for getting back to you and wish her luck with the new hire — and if you’re going to reach out to others, mention that too, so that she doesn’t hear about it later and think you went around her to try to undo her hiring decision or anything like that.
But before you do any of this, there’s one important thing to consider: If you go back to this company, you need to be committed to staying for a good long time. If they take you back and then you leave again in a year, you’re going to sour the relationship — and you shouldn’t sour a relationship that currently sounds very positive. So think carefully about why you were job searching in the first place (assuming you were) and whether you really want to go back or whether it’s just an easy escape from your current situation. Because you don’t want to find yourself shortly wanting to leave all over again.