should I return to a job that fired me 4 years ago?

A reader writes:

Four years ago, I was fired from a general manager position, They gave me a decent severance and reference, so we left on amicable terms — but it was a huge shock and unfair in my opinion. Now they want me to fill in on a temporary basis while another manager is on maternity leave. I am not working now by choice — it would be easy to help them out — but the idea makes me very uneasy. Any thoughts?

I wrote back and asked, “What would be the advantage of helping them? And what specifically are you uneasy about?” (That last question may seem to have an obvious answer, but I think there are actually a few possibilities there.)

Her response:  The main advantage to me would be rekindling that reference — I have a 5-year-old who I have joyously stayed home with the last 2 years so to get back in the workforce — which I want to do now — it would be a fresh yet long term reference. As far as my uneasiness — it’s part pride and thinking that chapter was done, and part fear they will try to suck me back in full-time. (My choice, I know.)

And then because I apparently can’t ask all my questions at once, I wrote back again and asked, “What was their reason for the firing?”

Her response:  They decided they wanted to bring in someone with more sales experience. It was a hotel — my strengths are in operations and it was at a time when the economy was suffering so sales were down.

Ah, that last part puts a whole different spin on this for me.

I’d feel a lot better about considering going back, given that. If they’d fired you because of a personality conflict or for not meeting utterly unrealistic goals or for no particular reason at all, I’d have a lot of trepidation about going back into that environment. But this reason actually makes sense, at least from the outside. If you’re going to be fired, hearing “We need someone with skills in X, whereas your skills are more Y” is a pretty straightforward and understandable rationale (even if you don’t think they really do need someone with skills in X).

And there’s another reason to seriously consider their offer — as you point out, you want to get back into the workforce and having fresh work experience and a stronger reference is probably going to be extremely helpful with that. Plus, this isn’t just any reference — this is a former employer who wooed you back to help out, and that generally looks pretty good to prospective future employers.

That doesn’t mean that you should go back, though. Returning to a job that fired you has the potential to be a weird emotional land mine. There could be awkwardness on both sides, resentment on yours, and all sorts of other unleashed emotions. So you’d want to be really realistic with yourself about what that will be like and whether you can plow through it or whether you’ll hate it. It’s legitimate to decide that that chapter of your life is behind you and you don’t want to reopen it. But it’s also legitimate to decide that the plusses outweigh the minuses here.

One other thing I’d throw in there to weigh all with the rest — do you generally like and respect the people there (or did you before the firing)? If so, I’d put that heavily in the plus column; that counts for a lot. But if not, I might not even bother trying to weigh everything else — no point in taking on a potentially awkward situation when you’re not likely to be happy doing it.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT

    A lot of people really struggle to get back into the workforce after staying at home, so this sounds like a great opportunity. And I like the OPs point about rekindling the reference. As long as you won’t be miserable there, I’d say do it!

  2. Joey

    Fired and no work history in the last two years vs. recent contract work and leaving on good terms. I say swallow your pride and do it. You probably don’t realize how tough it is to get a job right now. If you’re worried they’ll suck you back in just tell them you’re more than happy to fill in until x (which can be until you find a full time job). And since they’re in a bind ask for more money than you previously made plus some.

  3. Andie

    I think it is worth going in an having a discussion with them. A lot can change in five years. See what they have to say ask your questions and then decide. I have a lot of friends who are stay at home moms who are looking to get back to work now that there children are older. This sounds like something to seriously consider if the terms work for you.

  4. Sarah

    Having recently been in a similar situation, I’d say if you can get childcare sorted out, you should do it. The key for me has been to be completely dispassionate about everything, no embarrassment, no grudges, nothing. Do an amazing job, get good references and contacts and move on as soon as you can. Looking for work after a resume gap has been so very hard (a year of applying with only a few interviews and no offers hard) and going back to my old job is filling that gap for now.

    I should note that it helped that my immediate supervisors are great and that the reason I wasn’t working was bureaucracy rather than problems with my performance or personality, so there was no awkwardness on a daily basis. It sounds like your firing was truly a business decision with no other conflicts, even if it was personally upsetting to you, which should help with some of the unpleasantness.

  5. Nadia

    AAM in a situation like this, would you have the opportunity to negotiate? Like pay and perhaps childcare?

    1. tesyaa

      Seriously, does any employer (other than those enlightened places with on-site subsidized daycare) pay for childcare? Even if they want her, they probably don’t want her that badly.

      1. KellyK

        Usually not, but when she talks about pay, it would be perfectly reasonable for her figure to take childcare into account.

        1. tesyaa

          It’s perfectly reasonable (as is any request), but it’s also possible they’ll lose interest if she makes demands (or requests, same thing) that aren’t standard in the workplace.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      She can absolutely try to negotiate salary. I wouldn’t try to negotiate child care though, since employers don’t typically pay for that and she could look out of touch.

  6. WWWONKA

    Being asked back by a previous employer is a plus on your resume and it gets you back into the workforce. Being unemployed for more than 6 months is a high hurdle in the job search. I say take the job and use it to your advantage.

  7. Anonymoose

    I think this sounds like a golden opportunity! It will make this reference from them that much more powerful and really help your resume and prospects. I also think this is the universe’s way of rebalancing the blow you took from the firing. Congratulations! I see it as a huge compliment.

  8. Emma

    I’d like to argue that she was laid off and not fired. The OP didn’t do anything wrong, the hotel just decided they needed someone with a different experience set in that role. Still I could see why there is some hesitancy, but if you go in knowing it’s temporary and not permanent, that could alleviate some worry unless the OP had issues with the job or management prior to being let go.

    1. Nikki T

      This is what it sounded like to me too. They just didn’t need your position anymore. Seems like a win/win under the circumstances. Best wishes, whatever decide!

    2. Brightwanderer

      I was just going to say this – this doesn’t sound like a firing at all to me, especially if you got severance.

    3. William

      I was just coming to comment on the same thing. To me this sounds like a layoff more than a firing – the position was restructured and the OP was let go because she no longer matched the new position requirements. Personally that is something I would have tried to clarify during the exit process – to ensure both parties referred to it that way in future reference calls, etc. Being fired has a much different connotation than a layoff. And if the OP is returning to the workforce now, she may want to check that the company refers to her termination as a layoff from here on, regardless of whether or not she takes this new position.

      1. Ruffingit

        Totally agreed, came here to comment on the this. This wasn’t a firing. Firing to me denotes someone who did something wrong. This sounds like a lay off.

  9. Dan

    From the emotional side of things…

    Keep in mind that a lot changes at any company in 4 years, and this is probably more pronounced at a hotel which likely has higher turnover.

    For sake of argument, in the 4.5 years I’ve been with my company, we were sold twice, and quadrupled our staff size.

  10. MrSparkles

    I feel it depends on how you were let go from the original position.

    Just over a year ago at a Gov’t agency, two coworkers and I were abruptly laid off due to Gov’t budget cuts; two of us were let go due to seniority, whereas the third’s position was simply eliminated. At this point I’d been there just over two years and had been reassured that I’d have nothing to worry about job wise. We were escorted off the premises (so we couldn’t fetch our things at our desk), were given a contact for a head-hunter, experience the most uneasy small talk in my life, given a pittance of a severance package and sent on our way. I’d later find out from friends/coworkers who weren’t let go that the hired hitmen had told them that they’d do everything in their power to find work for is. They didn’t.

    Three weeks later I’d land a job that in everyday shape or form was leaps and bounds better than above….only to be suddenly laid off due to industry slow down.

    I’d come to hear that the Gov’t agency had laid off TOO MANY people (didn’t factor in sick time or vacations, duh) and they had contacted one of the people who was laid off alongside me; he declined. Personally, given how it went down, I’d feel lower than crap to go back to them. On top of knowing that the job in itself is a deadend, I know that they cannot be trusted and I could be suddenly out on my rear again.

    The things unemployed people have to consider…

    1. Ruffingit

      And this is a great example of how burning bridges goes both ways. The company really screwed up with the way they dealt with letting you go and now, should they need your assistance, they wouldn’t be able to get it. Good lesson for companies. They think they have all the power, but former employees can be assets to them in ways they don’t even realize.

    2. TrainerGirl

      +1000

      I was laid off twice in 3 months from a govt. contractor. The first position was eliminated due to budget, and then the 2nd was hit by sequestration. The first group is now looking for a trainer because someone left, and has contacted me to see if I was interested. Luckily I’m currently working on a 1 year contract, but I’m not sure I would want to jump back into that type of position knowing I could be out on my rear a few months from now.

      1. MrSparkles

        Ruffingit: Thanks for the kind words. I fully agree, however it’s amazing how shortsighted and “bottom line at all costs” companies are. The sad thing is that the position was intended to help the general public, so by laying off staff it meant that the Gov’ts stance on aiding the people are in name only.

        TrainerGirl: That sucks you’ve gone through that, but at the sametime glad you have at least something. Although I’m currently unemployed for the third time in 6 years post-university, I can’t bring myself to even considering “re-applying” for the aforementioned Gov’t job. I remember when I was in university and working for a company (rhymes with “Stallmart”). I initially got the job near my hometown and, once accepted to a school 4 hrs away, was able to transfer to one of their locations there. For multiple reasons I hated that location, but still worked throughout my 1st year. I transferred back to my hometown’s location for summer holidays and, upon moving back to the university town, had expected to re-up with that location. At the last minute, unknown to me, they declined the transfer, making me unemployed during my second year. I remember how crappy I felt when I found myself waiting in line at a “job fair” to re-apply at my university town’s location. I waited 45 minutes to have a 30 second “interview” in which I indicated that I had previously worked there.

        Never heard from them.

        Not long after that I landed a quasi-dream job at the time (music and movie store) so it worked out. But…I never forgot how low/depressed I felt re-applying for a job I was screwed over for.

    3. Flynn

      Yes! My organisation has been making a lot of cuts, they slashed the HR department… then had to ask a couple of them to come back in order to *process their own firings*

  11. Blue Dog

    They are really in a spot. They need someone to come in who can immediately hit the ground running but who they will also let go as soon as their employee comes back.

    You fit both bills. You know the system and you are not working, so you would consider this position (no one who has a job would leave for a temporary position unless they felt they had to do so).

    So, unlike most job search situations, you have the power in this negotiation. Don’t negotiate an “employee” rate. Negotiate a much higher “consultant” rate.

  12. mel

    I still think it sounds funny to say not to bother with a job you might not be happy at. People are happy at jobs? Say whhhaaaaaaaaat? :P

  13. Vicki

    If they gave you severance you weren’t “fired”. Your position was eliminated, you were laid off. Fired is for cause. People who are fired don’t get severance.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It doesn’t sound like her position was eliminated though; they wanted to bring someone in with a different skill set but they didn’t eliminate the position.

      (Also, people do often get severance when fired! Just depends on the employer.)

      1. Jessa

        Exactly. I also think the OP has an advantage here, if it doesn’t work well it’s a closed offer – all the OP has to say is “I volunteered to come back while Sally was on leave. I’m sorry I wasn’t planning on staying longer than x date.”

    2. Katie

      That’s not necessarily true. We had an employee fired for cause and she was given severance. She most definitely fired for an ongoing communication issue.

      Though I would agree that the OP was laid off, not fired.

    3. TrainerGirl

      In my old company, people were often paid to go quietly. The company had a bad history of pushing bad people off to different departments rather than firing them. They’d made the mistake of keeping people on when they’d committed fireable offenses, and when folks got wind of that, it became harder to fire people even when there was cause. As a result, there were bad employees who hung around for years, and when someone finally decided to get rid of them, they decided it was easier to offer them severance to leave without a fuss than to fire them.

    4. Treece

      The employer fired you and now wants you back. This means even if you do not go back for this temporary gig, you can still negotiate what they will say as a reference. I would ask them to tell prospective employers that call for a reference for you that the job requirements changed and it was a mutually agreed upon parting of the ways. This doesn’t sound like the usual being fired and being walked out of the building.

      I would go with my gut if it was me in this position. Does it feel good to go back short term? Do you dread it? Either way (take the job or not) sounds like a win to me. I’d be thankful for the opportunity to eliminate being fired from my resume.

    5. Esra

      People definitely can get severance when they’re fired. Like TrainerGirl said, it’s frequently used as a way to get them to go quietly. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to pay them off than to deal with the hassle of firing and having them threaten legal action etc.

  14. Not So NewReader

    OP, I am kind of optimistic about your setting, some of that optimism comes from everyone’s insights here and some from my own experience.
    The first job I ever had was a minimum wage summer job. I got fired from it. I was totally shocked. I did not realize there were problems and the way I found out about the firing was my time card was just GONE. I hunted down the boss who was supposedly my friend and asked her to explain why. She did. I was so shook by this whole thing.
    You can imagine my surprise the next summer when I got a letter in the mail asking me to come back to work! I was a year older and a year wiser. As Alison said- the people working in the department were NOT friendly. I did not trust my old boss and I did not trust the employer. The work was beyond BORING- it was mind numbing. By the time I finished reading the letter I knew my answer was NO thanks. Notice, many red flags here- not just one. But I decided that I was not going to worry about being fired from the job anymore either. I thought the letter indicated a change of thinking about that whole story.

    Your situation struck me because you did not hit that “NO WAY” knee-jerk reaction. There is something there that is causing you to think twice. It might not even be the points you discussed in your post.
    I guess I would consider a two stage plan.
    Stage 1 I would go and talk to them. “Look the last time I was here I was fired because I had plenty of Y but not much X. That has not changed. I still have plenty of Y and not much X. I am not sure I am the person you need. Has something changed here that I don’t know about?”

    Stage 2 would happen only if I agreed to fill in there. I would agree to a short term temporary position with an estimated termination date. It is amazing what human beings can do if they know it is short term. You might find that you are JUST FINE doing this job simply because you know it will end. And as a bonus you get to have a current work experience for your resume and you can demonstrate a happy ending for your previous release from your old position.

    Just food for thought. If you are reading this and getting knots in your stomach this might not be a good idea for you.

  15. KarenT

    “Look the last time I was here I was fired because I had plenty of Y but not much X. That has not changed. I still have plenty of Y and not much X. I am not sure I am the person you need. Has something changed here that I don’t know about?”

    I love this phrasing. It’s a great way for the OP to gauge how the company is thinking and where she stands.

  16. Sandra

    I was laid from my job back in 2008. Laid off, not fired. I was out of work for 99 weeks after that happened, and still to this day, it’s a struggle explaining a 99 week employment gap on my resume – even though it happened in 2008! Anyways, I would consider going back to that employer, only for myself, and only to strengthen my resume. There’s still a stigma that if you were laid off, that there must’ve been more behind it. So anyways, my old employer IS hiring, and I am looking for a new job, but. but. My old job that they laid me off from? It’s now paying $10,000 LESS than what I was making at the time. So no way, I won’t go back. But if the price was right, I would go back . Even though it’s a terrible work environment.

  17. Tara T.

    I agree that the poster should go back. She was replaced by someone with more experience, but that was not because of anything she did wrong – she did not have the experience they were looking for and they hired her anyway, then got rid of her. Now they want her back, which is proof there was nothing wrong with her other than a lack of that particular kind of experience. Here is her chance to get a little extra experience in that area. AND I have found that after I leave a place, suddenly people there who I did not know well, or even occasionally ones whom I had minor friction with, act like they are my best friend when I run into them. So, places change over time, as do the people working there. It is worth another try. As the poster said, at the time she was laid off, her strengths did not match the ones needed in that particular department, so it was nothing against her as a worker. She probably would have fit fine in a different dept. anyway.

  18. The questioner\reader

    I wish I could hit reply all- everyone’s comments are very helpful and valid- I have had 2 very positive conversations with ownership – it has been a huge compliment to me and especially my ego. It puts a fresh perspective on my “dismissal” or whatever they want to call it. For me this is win /win I help people I respected and cared about and I rebuild a reference- As for the work environment the more things change the more they stay the same. “Welcome to the Hotel California… Such a lovely place..” It is a very surreal situation-glad we can all help each other out- it will definitely be an experience but at most it’s only 6 weeks- I will easily survive – at this point I realize I have truly been handed a gift & a blessing.
    Thanks again for everyone’s input.
    Wish me luck :)

  19. Roy

    On the opposite side of this i was dismissed 30 years ago from my employment at the time, i recently applied to the same company and was offered a position with them which i accepted because of the financial benefits being offered. At no time during the recruitment process did i reveal my past employment with the company, will i be found out through security checks???

  20. Tara T.

    Answering Roy’s question: They probably have it in their archive somewhere. Maybe they stored their old records on employees from 30 years ago on a disk. That is a good question of whether they will find out from security checks. I think they probably will never dig it out again.

    1. Roy

      Thanks tara, my security check came back clear & as i am only a few yrs from retirement with all the benefits this company offers its staff on retirement lets hope they never find out.

  21. Rocco

    It is kind of odd going back to a job after a few years. But, if you need the money, you don’t have a choice.

    As painful and awkward it may be going back to a job you were fired or even quit, you have to deal with it in order to get paid.

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