my old employer took me back — and two weeks later, I might need to leave all over again

A reader writes:

My partner and I had been living out of state for the past two years. As part of a series of unfortunate events, he ended up losing his job (we had moved for a work opportunity for him in the first place). After he was first let go, I immediately began networking with my work contacts in the city we had lived in prior to our move. Fortunately, I was able to get rehired with my previous employer where I had worked for four years, and so we decided to move back and I am now on the first week at my new/old job. My spouse has had several interviews and has been a finalist in multiple searches, but he has not landed an offer yet. So, I am presently the sole income provider for us and really need this job.

Here is my dilemma: I didn’t love my old job when I left it and I feel like I am only working here again out of lack of other options (not a great feeling). However, before I started at my old job again, I did have an interview at another company in the same city that went really well. I believe I could be much happier in this position and would advance my career in the direction I would like to take it. I am now anticipating an offer by the end of next week, which would be two weeks into working for my old employer.

Now, I’m not crazy and will absolutely not quit this job unless I have another offer that would be worth leaving for — I am just really struggling with what to do should I get that other offer. I definitely feel a sense of loyalty to my old employer that helped us out tremendously during a really rocky time for my spouse and me, but I could also see myself really regretting passing on this other job, should I get an offer.

Note: I have watched my partner struggle with unemployment for the past four months and I recognize that potentially having two job offers to choose from is a good problem to have… so please don’t think that is lost on me. I have been practicing gratitude daily as we deal with our current situation!

Loyalty to an employer is great when it means being dedicated to doing your job well or looking out for your company’s long-term interests, but it shouldn’t mean that you have to turn down a move that’s best for you.

It’s true that when you accept an offer, you should generally be committing to stay for a few years (in most fields). And if you had continued to job search after accepting this offer, I’d tell you that you had operated in bad faith. But it sounds like this other potential offer had already been set in motion before you accepted your current job.

Sometimes timing is just bad. And that sucks, but you are not obligated to turn down an offer that would be significantly better for you/your career/your family just because the timing isn’t great.

To be clear, this isn’t something you should do cavalierly (not that you sound like you’re feeling cavalier about it). It’s a big deal — you made a commitment to this job, they may have turned down other candidates who are no longer available, and they’ve probably invested time and energy in you already. But sometimes there are things that trump that, and it sounds like that’s the case here.

If you end up taking the other offer, just act with as much integrity as you can. That means that you should tell your current employer as soon as you can, and be genuinely apologetic and acknowledge the inconvenience and bad timing — as in, “I’m so sorry about this. I was so glad to get your offer and excited to be working here again, but this has fallen in my lap and it’s such an unusually good opportunity that I couldn’t live with passing it up. I know that the timing couldn’t be worse, and I feel terrible about the inconvenience it will cause.”

It is probably going to harm the relationship with your old/current employer. It won’t necessarily  completely torch the bridge (a good employer should understand this sometimes happens, even though they won’t be thrilled about it), but it’s at least going to singe it and it probably means that you’re not going to have another opportunity to go back there in the future. They’re likely to feel that you broke a commitment, even if they understand why you had to.

By the way, whenever this topic comes up, people say things like “they’d cut you loose without a thought if it made sense for them” — and I want to note that that’s just not always true. Yes, employers will lay off good people if their business needs demand it, but it’s rarely “without a thought”; it’s often with a lot of lot of angst and heartache. But ultimately, they do make the decisions that make sense for them, and that’s fair for you to do too.

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. Kira

    I’m a little surprised at this advice. I’m used to hearing that once you accept a job, it’s a bad move to take another offer a week later. Is today’s advice different because the second job is a much better fit?

    1. animaniactoo

      I think it’s more than just it’s a better fit – it’s a much better opportunity so the “grade” of job is significantly better. Ideally OP should have withdrawn their candidacy on accepting the position with their old/current employer, but for rare opportunities, if you’re willing to burn the bridge as a one time thing, then you do what makes the most sense for you.

      We had our IT director leave recently after a 6-month old interview netted him a job offer 3 weeks after he’d started working for us. The pay, benefits, and some other things are significantly better at the other job. Staying here simply because he’d started working here didn’t make sense for his career path, and as far as I know, my company didn’t begrudge him making that choice. They understood it.

      1. Roscoe

        I think this is different because they took her back when she fell on hard times, probably to help her out. My guess is (although pure speculation) they also kept her at her same pay grade. Its the whole no good deed goes unpunished.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Where are you getting that they did this as a favor or a good deed? That’s possible, but the letter doesn’t indicate it, and it would be far more common for them to take her back because she was a good fit for a job they needed to fill.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Well, we don’t know anything about why they took her back. Perhaps they were thrilled to get her back; maybe they created a role to support someone they cared about.

          1. R102712

            Though I think they genuinely are thrilled to have me back (I have felt very welcomed since my return), they definitely did not do me any favors by creating the role just for me. They had a need and I happened to be planning to move back and available to fill that need.

        3. animaniactoo

          If they took her back specifically to help her out, they should be quite happy not to be continuing to be paying her for a position they don’t actually need her in. If they do actually need someone in that position, then it’s really not that they took her back to help her out, and would be more annoyed by losing her in that situation, but could be somewhat understanding if she handles the convo right (no guarantees no matter how well she approaches that).

          As for keeping her at the same pay grade – why wouldn’t someone come back in at the same pay grade? If anything, she’s got two additional years of work experience under her belt and might have wanted more to come back if she wasn’t primarily focused on finding a paycheck right then.

          1. MK

            It doesn’t sound to me that the OP has been working for the past two years; if she had a job when her partner was laid off, why start networking in another city?

            1. R102712

              OP here. I was working over the past two years, although in a very different setting from where I had worked before. After my spouse lost his job, and a lot of other personal hardship, we both began job searching in the city we had moved away from. I was the first to receive an offer.

        4. MK

          “probably to help her out” is not very probable in my opinion. There aren’t many companies who can afford to hire people they don’t need out of charity.

        5. R102712

          OP here. I would not say that my employer hired me back *because* we fell on hard times. I had reached out to him after my spouse lost his job, to let him know that we were planning to move back and that I would be looking for work. He did not know of any leads at the time, both within the organization and the city, but said he would keep an eye out. Then about 6 weeks later, he did have a position that became available and notified me about it. So not so much a good deed, rather he knew I was looking for work and he then had a position become available.

      2. Mabel

        How this sort of thing is handled is important. A few years ago, I hired someone, and before her start date, she emailed me to tell me that she had accepted a different offer and wouldn’t be starting with us after all. There was no explanation, no contrition, nothing. I assume that she did not feel cavalier about dumping us in favor of another company, but I have no way to know that for certain, and I would say that she burned a bridge with me. If she had given me a reason and was very sorry for the inconvenience she was causing, she may not have ended up on my not-ever-hiring-this-person list.

        1. Aca-Believe It

          That’s really bad!

          I backed out of a short-term post recently (six-week contract) as I was offered a permanent job starting before that one. I called to explain, it just felt like basic courtesy.

      3. Lemon Zinger

        The same thing happened to me last year. I had been working at one place for three months when an old job application I’d done resurfaced. They called me in for interviews and I got the job. It was awkward telling my boss that I was leaving after only three months, but he understood. The pay and benefits were so much better at the new job, and there was actual room for advancement.

        I couldn’t NOT take it.

    2. MK

      I think what makes it different for me is that the OP knows with certainty that she doesn’t really want the job she has. If both employers were unknown quantities, I would say don’t risk burning a bridge just for a vague possibility that the other job will turn out better ( it might not).

      That being said, I don’t agree that this won’t burn the bridge anyway. I mean, if the other offer is better in objective ways, they will probably understand. But the OP only says that she believes she will be happier, and of course she can hardly explain she has been unhappy in her current position.

    3. Geek

      Ditto.

      Dear Alison,

      My new employee just finished her first week. Unfortunately, a stellar candidate just applied. I know we already closed the process, but she’s such a great fit. How do I let my current employee know I’m changing my mind?

      Employer

    4. irritable vowel

      Aside from what others have said, what makes this situation different for me is that it sounds like the OP was not in a competitive hiring process for this position, and also since it’s a company she’s worked for before (even if the position isn’t exactly the same, but that’s not clear), they have not likely needed to invest a significant amount of time in training her. So, if I’m understanding correctly, the company is not as likely to feel like they’ve wasted a lot of time on this candidate and possibly missed out on hiring someone else for the role.

  2. Bee Eye LL

    I agree with this. Go with what is best for you. The company is going to go with whatever is best for it, and if that means up and firing you one day, then so be it. The real question is whether or not to put those couple of weeks on your resume. I wouldn’t even mention going back to the place to the new employer unless they specifically ask. You don’t want to look like you jump around a lot or seem wishy washy.

      1. Former Usher

        What about a formal job application that asks for dates and places of employment during the past X years?

      2. Joseph

        How is that impacted by the fact she spent 4 (!) years here shortly before though? When a future hiring manager does an employment verification (and/or contacts the manager), it’s almost certainly going to come out that “OP rejoined us in 2016 only to leave two weeks later”. I generally agree that you don’t need to list absolutely every job you’ve ever had, but this seems like a case where trying to keep a job off the resume isn’t really going to work out.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, it may come out at that point, but that’s not a reason to put on her resume. A resume is about presenting your strengths for the position; it doesn’t need to be a comprehensive account of how you’ve spent each week of your professional life.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I left off a stint of a couple of months–I ended up mostly doing a completely different thing than what they hired me for. I didn’t like that and ended up quitting (there were other reasons, but this was the main one). If I had to put it down, for a government position or something, and they asked about it, I would probably just say it was a poor fit on both sides and it didn’t work out.

  3. jhhj

    I read this as “you had an interview that went well before you started at this job, but didn’t bring this up to either job, by trying to delay the start date or speed up the hiring process or both”, which is I think not good play. If I were your old employer, I’d wish you well — but I wouldn’t rehire you, and I’d probably suggest you look elsewhere for recommendations.

    I think you should move on, but the circumstances do sound like a torched bridge to me.

    1. Mike C.

      That’s a rather unrealistic expectation on the part of the OP. There’s no way of telling if an offer is coming or if an otherwise forgotten hiring process is going to kick back into gear and contact you.

      1. Kira

        Agreed, if there wasn’t an active conversation with employer #2 then the applicant doesn’t need to worry about updating them when she gets an offer from #1. I always remind myself to let it go after the application or interview. I need to, otherwise I’d be busy worrying about a dozen “in progress” job applications!

    2. Patrick

      To be fair to the letter writer neither of those scenarios is ideal (or even realistic.) Delaying the start date would still be accepting a job with the intention of quitting if another offer comes through, and speeding up the hiring process on the candidate end is generally not doable (and a lot of the time is ultimately the same thing as asking to be removed from consideration.) The only people I’ve ever seen who were able to do the latter were either rockstar candidates (generally people that were specifically recruited) or people who had gotten a verbal commitment that an offer was in the works.

  4. Roscoe

    I’m usually firmly on the side of do what is right for you. But this one just seems like a really bad thing to do. I know you weren’t happy there, but you were happy enough to beg them for a job back, so it would be really crappy to pull a “just kidding” on them. This is one of those things that could really come back to bite you at some point in the future. I’d be ok with an employee not giving a full 2 weeks notice. I could even deal with them backing out of a job after accepting. But asking for a job back after you quit, then quitting 2 weeks in is just so shady to me that I would probably not blink about speaking badly of you in my network

    1. Leatherwings

      If an employee I had just hired came to me, apologized profusely and explained that an impossible-to-pass-up opportunity came by, I wouldn’t be super pleased, but I would also understand.

      I wouldn’t dream of badmouthing someone who left (under pretty much any circumstances, but especially this one) unless they stole from the company or something like that. That’s just crappy, unnecessary behavior. If I was asked, maybe I would explain that I wasn’t thrilled with it but I would also mention that I understood. These things happen.

    2. Spooky

      I’m sorry to say I agree. I think it’s very likely to leave a bad taste in their mouths, to the extent that they may talk about you in a less than flattering light. Am I reading the note correctly that at this point, OP has only spent a day or two in the new (old) job?

    3. Jaguar

      Yeah. It’s really not a great thing to do at all. I’d still do it, but it’s pretty obviously a bad thing to do to the company. I doubt many people would be happy if the tables were turned and someone got fired after a couple weeks because a better candidate showed up after the original person was already in the job.

    4. Tomato Frog

      It’s a bad thing to do, but that doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do. Just because the employer would be fully justified in disapproving and badmouthing her her doesn’t mean she should stay in a job she doesn’t like and give up a better career opportunity. It’s their employee but it’s her life, ya know?

      1. Kira

        “It’s a bad thing to do, but that doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do.”

        This seems perfect for this situation. I initially commented confusion (because the advice here is different from what I’m used to hearing), but it really makes sense for OP.

    5. Mae

      Timing isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, unfortunately. She didn’t beg (per her updates above), and it wouldn’t be a “just kidding” move. It would be a conversation met with candidness and some remorse, with the understanding that a professional bridge may be slightly scorched. Regardless, I still think the OP could maintain a professional relationship/good standing after leaving. This was not done out of malice, nor would I venture to say it was calculated. Opportunities have a way of sneaking in at inopportune moments.

  5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    Whoa. While I don’t exactly disagree with Alison, I think I have a stronger negative reaction than she does.

    For me, this would be a bomb thrown on your relationship with your original organization and all the employees there. It’s the kind of thing that I would remember a decade later and give me pause about hiring you again in a different role.

    1. Mel

      Depends on what the expectation was coming back. If you passed over a great candidate and she assured you she’d stick around long term then I agree with you. But if you knew this was a stepping stone type position it’s hard to really blame her.

    2. Goats

      I totally agree. I think OP will be throwing all chances of a positive reference out the door. That’s not a big deal for a 2-week gig you can leave off your resume, but when you’ve worked there for 4 years previously it becomes a bigger issue.

      1. Roscoe

        Exactly, this isn’t like a random job, its one that you would ideally use in the future since you were there for 4 years. Is it worth throwing that away

        1. R102712

          This pretty much exactly summarizes my dilemma. It is not some random job–I spent nearly four years here and have developed relationships with supervisors/co-workers whom I care about.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            My guess is that you will need to take this employer off your list of possible references. That’s unfortunately since it covers four years of your employment history. Even if they don’t badmouth you in a reference call, simply stating the fact that you came back and then quit after a few weeks will not come across as a positive reference.

            1. Marissa

              But if the newer, better position is on the resume, don’t you think prospective employers would be able to understand for themselves why the quick turnabout made sense?

      2. Mike C.

        I think that’s over the top is rather vindictive of a manager to do in this sort of situation. The OP has bills to take care of, just like everyone else and if this other job makes it easier to take care of those responsibilities how can you hold it against them to the point of giving a negative reference?

        What do you expect people to do? You don’t own them.

        1. Anna

          Don’t you know? The entire four previous years she worked there are worthless now that she has been back for less than two weeks.

          The thing I hate most about some of the responses here has raised its ugly head. The “bad reference” bogeyman. Sometimes that’s a risk a person can take if they know they’re doing the right thing.

          OP, take the other job. Go, talk to your manager, explain exactly what happened, apologize sincerely, and put in your notice.

          1. Goats

            Seems dismissive to call a bad reference a “bogeyman”… It is a real thing that can have a real effect on someone’s career. To me, it is not ugly to acknowledge that. It is just another thing to consider in the decision making process.

            … And like it or not, what you do at the end of your employment can affect how people remember you and the kind of reference they are willing to provide.

            1. Anna

              It’s a fear-based warning. There are times when it’s important and can have a lasting impact. There are times when the risk is worth the pay-off. Telling people they shouldn’t accept an offer for a job they feel would help them further their career because they might get a bad reference is not dismissive; it’s telling the people who use that as an excuse not to take a risk that would have a high pay-off that they may be focusing on the wrong thing.

              The way “bad reference” is used here is frequently like it is some sort of scary bogeyman. That one bad reference will forever derail a person’s career and they will end up working a job they hate because it’s the only job that will have them. That’s rarely if ever the case and it would be nice if it weren’t used as a dire warning about taking a risk. I hear more about how what a bad reference CAN do to end a career; I’ve never actually heard (or read) how a bad reference DID end a career. It is a bogeyman.

              1. Goats

                I can say with confidence that within my tight knit industry, reputation is extremely important and these types of issues can and do follow people around.

                You’re also unlikely to know when a bad references affects a career because even when it does, the employer is simply “going with a different candidate and wishing you the best in your future endeavours” etc…. You are very unlikely to hear that you are not getting a position due to a lukewarm reference.

                I also didn’t say OP should not take the new opportunity. I said the reference issue is something to be considered. (It might not be an issue in a 20 year career. If those 4 years are right out of college, or following a shakier employment history it could have a much bigger effect.)

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Mike, I’m nearly always on your side when you fight the good fight for workers’ rights on here. But it’s not vindictive to use the information you have about a person.

          If I were a manager at her current company, I would know these kinds of things about her (e.g.) and would have an impression of her based on them: she picked up the new software program really easily (quick learner); when she led the new training program she spent too much energy gathering input from others and too little generating her own direction (needs to take on more leadership if she wants to advance); her section of the annual report is always the most compelling (great writer); etc. Now I also know that she bailed on me two weeks after I hired her — even though she already knew the job and the culture, so she couldn’t have been surprised to learn that it was a bad fit.

          It is not, as Anna sarcastically said below, that the previous 4 years don’t matter. It’s that these 4 weeks matter too.

    3. Spooky

      I tend to agree. I’d have much more of a reaction as well.

      Grasping at straws here, but Victoria, I’m curious – would it make a difference to you if OP asked Old Job to make the position temporary on the grounds that she wasn’t sure where her husband would eventually get a job and didn’t want to catch them off guard by leaving again? If she worked it down to just a month, say, and the offer doesn’t come through until next week, then the next two weeks are covered by the standard notice period. That wouldn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth, though I realize even this is a real stretch. Do other readers think it might make a difference? It might not, I’m just trying to think of a way to do this that wouldn’t feel like such a slap in the face.

      1. Kira

        I think it would be really strange. The employer is trying to fill a permanent position, you wouldn’t go and ask them to make it temporary any more than you’d ask for a part-time position to be made full-time.

    4. Pwyll

      I don’t think there’s any question that this is a bomb to the relationship with the current employer. Just that sometimes throwing that bomb is the right decision.

      One shouldn’t be cavalier about burning bridges, but sometimes your best option is to bring it down.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Yes. But — with the obvious caveat that none of us know any details beyond what the OP has offered here — this doesn’t really seem like one of those times (to me). The OP “doesn’t love” her existing job; it’s not abusive, or mind-numbing, or unethical, etc. The new job “would advance my career in the direction I would like to take” and she believes she “could be much happier” in that position.

        To me, that doesn’t add up to a strong argument for backing out of a commitment (taking the existing job) and blowing up her reputation with a past/current employer.

        1. Tomato Frog

          “Advance my career in the direction I would like to take” can be huge, though. We don’t know the degree to which her career direction is changing. Especially if this is something a field or specialty switch, the bridges she’s burning may not even be that relevant to her.

          But also, I spend over a third of my waking hours at work. “Could be much happier” isn’t a minor thing.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Of course one’s happiness is important (I’m someone who took a nearly 40% pay cut to get into a job that made me happier; I get it).

            What I’m saying is that, given the information the OP gave — and obviously she has a lot more insight than she’s sharing here, which is perfectly reasonable — it doesn’t sound like a goodles risk. I could be happier if I left my job and became a minister. I’ve considered it. I might do it! But it’s risky, and I wouldn’t do it two weeks after I made a different decision.

      2. Emilia Bedelia

        Exactly- it looks like this is a bridge to nowhere, and it’s worth torching. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to build new bridges (or make omelets, or whatever).

      3. lawsuited

        +1 I think the relationship with this employer is torched, her relationship with the person(s) in her network who brokered the come-back job may also suffer, and she can’t count on a positive reference from this employer (even a neutral reference of “she worked here for 4 years, then we offered her a job when she wanted to move back to the city and she quit after 2 weeks” is not going to have a great ring to it), but that may well be worth it for the new job.

    5. Marmalade

      Yeah, I would think that was an absolute bridge-burner and would torpedo your chance of a good reference.

  6. Mel

    I think the real question is does the op give a heads up to her boss now or wait for the offer from the other place.

    I could argue both sides of this. Given her sense of loyalty Im assuming her boss is cool so there wouldn’t be any weirdness if the other job falls through

    1. Leatherwings

      Nooo, wait until she gets an offer unless she feels REALLY comfy with her boss. Because it’s such a short time frame, the boss is likely to feel a bit burned regardless, better to make sure an offer is firm before provoking that emotion.

      1. Mel

        it’s definitely not the safest thing to do, but if I were her supervisor I’d appreciate that she trusted me that much

        1. Leatherwings

          I think this line of thinking is true for most jobs where you’ve stayed a normal/acceptable amount of time. Imagine you tell an employer you *might* be leaving after two weeks. They’re going to be pretty annoyed at the least right? If you don’t end up leaving, you’re not going to be left with a lot of trust in that relationship because you announced shortly after starting that you’re still looking. 98% of employers aren’t going to trust you after that.

          1. Mel

            I’m saying that because I had someone actually do that- give me a heads up that they might leave, but ended up staying. I actually trust her more now than I did before.

            I’ve been on the other end of this too- I was in a new job and got a call from a place I applied to previously. I told my boss about it before I got the offer and she was genuinely happy for me and appreciated the heads up before my actual notice. That gave her an opportunity to shorten the time to hire someone new.

            Maybe the difference is not everyone sees a separation as a good thing. It frequently is a good thing for both.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Right, in general that can be good with a trusted manager. But what’s different here is that she’s only a week into the job — that kind of heads-up at that point would be hugely alarming.

            2. Lily Rowan

              Oh man, I did that once when I was going to move — I wanted my boss to know why I was taking so many days off. But I didn’t want to move until I got a job in the new location, so I didn’t give any kind of time frame. What I wasn’t thinking about was the anxiety I was giving my boss by letting her know, “Oh, I might give notice sometime soon!” Eventually I just set a date and did it, but it was a rough few months.

        2. Mike C.

          This is an incredibly huge risk to take, especially when the OP is the sole breadwinner in her household. It might feel nice to you, but for her it could have dire consequences.

          1. Christopher Tracy

            Yup. She should absolutely not do this. Maybe, possibly earning her manager’s trust when she’s trying to keep her family afloat (and consequently risking being let go before this other offer goes through) should not be her top priority right now.

      2. R102712

        I agree. This has been quite the internal struggle for me since starting back. Though I feel like I have a great relationship with my supervisor, I can’t imagine telling him about the *possibility* of another offer. But once that offer is definite, I will need to give it some serious thought and figure out how to approach him.

        1. Elizabeth West

          Can you offer to help with training a replacement, documenting some procedures, or being available for questions for a certain length of time? That might help. Or maybe a slightly longer notice period, if the new job is okay with an extra week.

          1. lawsuited

            I mean, isn’t this what’s required of everyone leaving a job? I’m not sure that offering to follow usual processes is going to take the sting out of her quitting 2 weeks in.

  7. Mona Lisa

    I saw this question when the LW originally posted it in the comments of A Practical Wedding last week. Alison, I think you said what I was trying to say to her then, but you’ve expounded on it a bit. What I said then basically boiled down to, “Think through your options, do what’s best for you and your family, and be prepared that you might burn a bridge or upset some people on your way out the door (if that’s the route you go).”

    I hope the LW comes back with an update because at the close of those comments it sounded like she was leaning towards staying so as not to potentially burn/singe the bridge, but I’d love to hear what she decided once she thought about it more and got your take on this.

    1. JR

      I’m so glad you wrote this. I was completely baffled, because I was 100% sure Allison had answered this question a week or two ago. Clearly I read it on APW, so glad I’m not losing my mind!

    2. R102712

      Yes, that was me! I was encouraged to submit my question here and was thrilled to learn it would be published!

        1. R102712

          I have definitely thought more about it, consulted with friends and family, have lost plenty of sleep, am now on two blogs reading all kinds of advice, but am still completely stumped! I have decided not to withdraw my application for the other position because I do want to see if I get an offer that I truly can’t pass up.

          1. Tax anon

            My advice is, go with what you really want. If the new job makes you an offer that you can’t pass up, then don’t pass it up!

            I recently put in notice after only 4 weeks with a company. It was a stepping-stone and I was mindnumbingly bored there. One day out of the blue, a job I had interviewed for at the same time called and made me an offer. It was absolutely and unquestionably the better career move, so even though it was agonizing, I took it.

            My husband was my best support during that time – he kept telling me, you do what’s best for you. Figure out what that is and then don’t be scared to do it.

          2. Mae

            For what it’s worth, I had a friend in your exact position years ago. Was about to start, the offer of his dreams fell into his lap days later, and he had to have that uncomfortable conversation. What’s more alarming, he did it via email and prefaced it with, “I wish I weren’t writing you this email.” The employer expressed great disappointment as expected, but thanked him for his candidness and said he understood. Years later, he grew unhappy in said job of his dreams. Guess who reached out around the same time– the employer he had bailed on! Know things can change, and while it’s important to keep a good rapport with everyone you touch professionally, I don’t believe in most cases that bridges are burned permanently. Case in point: be as human, candid, honest, open, etc. as possible. Good character and valued talent really does pay off.

  8. Joseph

    From the company’s perspective: You left your job a couple years ago, asked them to rejoin, then flaked out a couple weeks in because something better came along. They may be reasonable and understanding about the other opportunity, but they’ll certainly mentally flag you with a “do not rehire”.
    There are good reasons why it might still be a good idea (pay/opportunity/etc), just don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can change your mind again and come back to current company. Leaving them like this is going to close the door and lock it tighter than a bank vault.

    1. Mel

      that’s the case with almost all promotions. It’s a huge red flag anytime someone leaves for a promotion then tries to come back.

      1. Goats

        In my experience, I haven’t found that to be true. I don’t think leaving for a promotion and then coming back is necessarily an issue in and of itself. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

      2. Blank

        Every place I have worked in the last ten years, the boomerang out and back was the ONLY way to advance. Some industries are tighter and more closed than others.

        1. Security SemiPro

          This. I’ve worked in a few different industries, and in several of them the expected career path is boomerang shaped. No one promotes from within, so if you want to move up, you have to move out. After a few moves, you’re back where you started, three levels up.

          My current company has weird spots – they will do internal growth for a few steps, but there are lots of stories of people who stepped out for a few years to get to their next promotion, then get hired back. I can’t say there’s a whole lot of logic to the practice, but there’s a whole lot of evidence that it works in the industries I’ve been in.

    2. Anna

      Why would you assume she’d think she could go back again? She knows that was a lucky coincidence.

    3. JB (not in Houston)

      Eh, I think the OP sounds pretty aware of how this might go down with her current employer, and I don’t agree that leaving for a better job offer after careful consideration is “flaking out.”

  9. Stellaaaaa

    You can do whatever you want to do in this situation as long as you accept that your current employer might think you’re jerking them around. Can you live with being the bad guy? Then do it. But you can’t play it both ways and try to look for a way that roll have them thinking well of you. In addition to plain old hiring you, they probably feel that they went out of their way to help you in your time of need.

    1. Roscoe

      Yep. That is the big thing. OP is the bad guy in this situation. There is no way to paint this where she isn’t doing something crappy. So as long as she understands that, then do what she wants.

      1. Anna

        You know, sometimes there isn’t a bad guy. Sometimes there’s just bad timing. Unfortunately life rarely happens in a neat little flow chart we can choose yes or no on. I don’t think the OP is a bad guy for moving on to a better opportunity anymore than I think the company is a good guy for having an opening she could fill. Sometimes it just is what it is: imperfect.

  10. Jesmlet

    I think leaving a situation where you are comfortable and damaging that relationship for another situation where you’re only guessing you’d be happier is a bit of a risk. Unless you have multiple other references you can use and an excellent relationship with the boss you’d be abandoning, it’s not worth the trouble. Unless you’d be miserable hanging with your current job, I wouldn’t make the switch.

    Of course this is all hypothetical since you don’t even know if you have the option to take the other offer.

      1. R102712

        Yes, this is definitely hypothetical. It won’t be a done deal until I get that other offer!

  11. Parcae

    My concern is that leaving ruins the reference for your previous four-year stint at the company. OK, “ruin” may be a strong way of putting it, but if I were an employer giving a reference about an employee who did this, I would definitely mention the flakiness incident, even if I 100% understood the employee’s reasons for doing it. And that… doesn’t look great.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      Yeah, I agree I would mention it if I were her employer. But I’d balance it against the 4 years she put in before, for which she apparently did a good enough job that I was willing to take her back.

  12. some1

    “I am now anticipating an offer by the end of next week, which would be two weeks into working for my old employer.”

    Did they say they were going to offer you the job?

  13. C Average

    I tend to think that bridges can, with time, re-generate in cases like this. If you have a long history with this company and they think well of you in general, they’re likely to judge you harshly for this in the short term–especially if you’re leaving them in any kind of crunch–but over time, they’ll move their focus away from this isolated incident and think of you in terms of your whole stint with them, not just this moment.

    Case in point: my old company hired a guy with a really impressive resume to fill a role we had been wanting to fill for a long time. He came on board and immediately made a big difference with his work. We were really excited about the stuff he was doing, and he seemed like a great fit. We felt that we’d gotten really lucky, and that no one else could possibly fill the role as effectively as he was doing.

    And then he got a too-good-to-be-true offer from another company, a universally admired company. He’d have a more impressive title. He’d be doing work that really excited him. He’d make more money.

    Although he’d been with us for just three months, we all knew he deserved it and were happy for him. But we also snarked on him a lot in the days and weeks immediately after he left. We struggled without him and worried that we wouldn’t be able to fill the role effectively. We rejected a bunch of candidates and hired one who, on paper, was impressive but not as impressive as him. It took longer to train the new hire than it had taken to train him. We feared we’d never adequately replace him. We shook our fists at him and his spiffy new job.

    But over time, the new hire worked out fine. The work continued to get done. Life went on. The snarking eased off and eventually stopped. Now, if you were to ask any of us who had worked with him, we’d have only good things to say, and the “leaving after three months” thing probably wouldn’t be top of mind.

  14. HRgirl

    I am actually in a kind of similar situation. I worked for a company during college for 3 years, left when I graduated but LOVED the company. They offered me a job out of state which I declined and left on good terms.

    Well a few years later I found out they were hiring in another state and thought it would be the perfect time for a move. I was very wrong however, the job itself is just as amazing as ever but my health has been so bad with panic attacks that I ended up in the ER last week. I spoke to my boss who was immensely supportive and we decided that it was best for my health that I go home. She ended up telling me she was on my side that she wanted to keep in touch and honestly gave me a hug before saying that even though I was there for only a week and a half she was proud that I tried it out.

    I’m sure I can never be rehired again but she even told me she would help me out in the future.

    1. Persephone Mulberry

      At my last job, we hired an admin that lasted about 6 weeks before she had to quit for medical reasons. She was AWESOME during that 6 weeks and medical issues are understandable – we would hire her back if the opportunity arose.

  15. Purest Green

    I don’t know if a coworker’s perspective would be helpful to you, but I’ve experienced two situations where a recent hire stayed only for a short while.

    – #1: A former front-desk receptionist was hired for a desk-job role that involved significantly less face time. She spent the week she worked for us reading books in the break room during lunch and being an overall quite person except to remark on how much she liked her old job (never commenting on liking this one). She quit the job after only one week because she missed being around people. As her coworker, I didn’t want her to stay in a job that made her sad, but it seemed strange and a bit unprofessional to leave the way she did.

    – #2: A woman was hired to fill a role that provides in-person coverage during project implementations. I’ll call her Alice. Alice began during a time when we were gearing up to do a large implementation. Almost exactly a month after she was hired, Alice turned in her notice for a demonstrably better position. Even though she was effectively leaving everyone else in a lurch, I never considered her unprofessional because she did everything she could to help ease her passing, as it were. She never made it seem like she didn’t want to be doing her job or be working with or for us. Basically, Alice found herself in a potentially unprofessional situation and handled it professionally.

    I guess the takeaway is if you are offered this new job, keep your game face on. Do as much as you can to lessen the burden on your coworkers and don’t get too much of the “senioritis” mentality (surely there’s a better term than senioritis, but I can’t think of it).

    1. Kyrielle

      Short-timer syndrome. :) And yes to this. Do your very best by them if you do leave, OP, to soften the impact to them and to your reputation. You can’t get rid of it – but you can do your best and be seen to do your best.

    2. Donna

      True. It reflects so much better on a departing co-worker if the attitude is to prepare as much as possible for the replacement, rather than just showing up and doing nothing for two weeks.

    3. Kira

      I think it’s interesting seeing the examples various commenters are giving of people who did this “right”, or at least the best they could. A common thread is being an all-star. The guy who turned around a project in 2 months, the woman who threw herself 100% into her job while she was there.

  16. Ellenmopee

    I have to say, burnt bridge or not, if you get an offer for something that might be great and you turn it down for a position you don’t love, you’re going to love this position even less afterwards.

    Of course it’s sub-optimal to leave a job shortly after starting, no matter what prior history you have, but you really do have to put your career and your happiness above the inconvenience to a company.

  17. Coolb

    Granted I don’t know the employer or anything about them, but most employers would not hesitate to make a business decision that was in their best interest even if it disadvantaged one or more employees, or was at odds with the employees plans for their careers and work life. I DO NOT begrudge business decisions but that’s why you have to do what’s best for you, just with a professional explanation and behavior as much as possible. If the tables were turned they would not hesitate to lay off, re-org whatever. Just sayin…..

  18. DM

    Ultimately you do have to do what is best for you, but if you take that job, I’d do it with the knowledge that you very likely burned a bridge with your current/former employer. You can try to do it as nicely as possible (longer notice, if the other company will let you, and leaving things in stellar shape, etc.) but only take the job if you’re willing to X this company off of your list for the future, forever.

    1. NicoleK

      Yes, do what you want. But don’t expect for current/former employer to offer you a position again the next time you fall on hard times. And a glowing reference is probably out the window too.

  19. Donna

    OP,
    I was in your situation 10 years ago. My husband lost his job, I returned to my old job, then left shortly thereafter. I’ve never had any regrets about leaving. I think most people understand if you have only 1-2 situations like that in your past, especially if those choices were made for family reasons as yours were. Depending on their personalities, past employers can be incredibly kind if you explain a little about why you made the choices you did.

    In my case, my husband had a series of unfortunate events too. Unfortunately the series went on to become a pattern. My situation was rare, and I don’t think your situation is anything like mine, but I did want to pass on what I learned: don’t cater to your partner’s career highs and lows by sticking it out with a lesser job. Go for your dream job, even if you have to let some people down. They’ll get over it.

  20. Recruit-o-rama

    In my years (and years) of experience in recruiting, I have seen this happen a dozen times. How it is received is entirely case by case. There are a ton of factors. If the relationships are strong, if the exit is handled professionally with conciliation to the employers time frame, etc. it can be just fine. Only the OP can determine if her relationships are strong enough to survive this but based on her angst and careful thought, she will no doubt leave as professionally as possible. I think she SHOULD take the better opportunity. This is a business arrangement, she isn’t dating the company. Although the people who are in charge of conducting layoffs when they happen absolutely feel bad, they will make the cuts if it makes sense for the business. That’s the way business relationships work.

    OP, take the better opportunity, you deserve it.

  21. Pinniped

    OP, I once quit a job after a couple of weeks, and I’m so glad I did.

    This was maybe four years ago. I’d only just started a job at Company A when Company B, which I’d always wanted to work for, suddenly and unexpectedly offered me a job. Company B was very small and I knew that this was an opportunity which wasn’t likely to appear again given that they were small and only had one role that I was suited for. Also, Company B’s management fit 100% with my values and it was 100% what I wanted to be doing. I also considered that Company A was quite large and capable of absorbing a sudden departure, compared to a smaller business.

    This didn’t mitigate how awful I felt in quitting and working out my notice, but I’m still at Company B and I’m so relieved I changed, and that I work somewhere which is much more stimulating and much better aligned with my personal values. (Admittedly, I don’t rate my chances of getting a job at Company A again, and my industry is pretty small, so I don’t know if this will come back to bite me.)

    Funnily enough, at Company B we actually had a person quit recently after just a few weeks with us to pursue an opportunity in another city, but we all really liked this person, they left on good terms, and I think that management would employ them again if there was a role and if life circumstances brought them back into town.

    Good luck, and I hope you have the kind of employers who understand that this kind of thing happens.

  22. R102712

    Thank you all so, so much for your feedback. I have read each and every comment and really appreciate all this insight! I still have a lot of thinking to do, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that this week will end with another offer. This past year has been filled with more personal hardship than I ever would have imagined life would throw at us. But one major takeaway from all this is that life is unpredictable and I do not want to miss out on a potentially great opportunity because I am operating out of fear. I will post an update when I have made a decision!

    1. hbc

      If it helps, I think a major factor is how much of a “favor” your company was doing by bringing you back. (“Favor” probably isn’t right, but look at it from their cost/benefit perspective.) If you came in at the end of the hiring process for a position and they had to cut loose some awesome people who could have hit the ground running and been there for years, they’re going to be sore. If they had to spend a good chunk of the first two weeks training you up on their new software, ditto. Same for scrounging up new projects, redoing org charts, introducing you around to customers and whatnot. But if they were thrilled to get someone to take on extra workload who didn’t need training, having you there for a week or four is actually a good thing for them. There’s a couple of ex-employees I’d be glad to have for two weeks versus zero.

      You can mitigate the pain either way by being extremely available after you leave. You don’t “owe” them free work and I wouldn’t give up weekends or anything, but taking those “Where is the Smith file?” questions without irritation will serve you well.

    2. Karin

      Please tell us how it went! I’m in a similar situation and would help me a lot, and probably other people too. Thank YouTube!

  23. Jodi

    Did anyone else think of Ben from Parks and Rec? When he keeps joining then leaving Tilton & Radomski Accounting?

    1. R102712

      Totally! Love Parks and Rec. If only my co-workers will be as understanding as the accounting nerds. Maybe I can put together some Cones of Dunshire equivalent for them…

  24. AliceW

    I once had to leave a professional, high paying job after just two days. Due to an issue that came up suddenly in my personal life, I could not give the new job 100% effort over the six months or more. I checked first with my old job to see if they would take me back. I had worked there for ten years and had a much more flexible schedule because they knew my work. I had to have a very awkward conversation with my new boos, after he took me out for a fancy lunch, no less (I was waiting to get confirmation my old job was still available). I felt awful. I also felt awful that the recruiter who helped get me this job had to pay back his commission. Since this job was for a very prestigious company, they probably thought I was crazy. But I made the right decision.

  25. JOTeepe

    Please update us on whatever happens, OP! I’m Team Take The Good Opportunity, by the way, even if it DOES mean it’s burning a bridge. If you worked for me, I would be disappointed, but I would understand. It sounds to me that Current Employer may know, anyway, in the back of their heads, that you aren’t a long-termer unless they find you a role in the organization that is higher level/more aligned with your long term goals.

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