Making a U-turn: How to Return to Your Old Job

By Roxanne Abercrombie

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When it comes to career change, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Jumping ship to a new job can be a risky business, and although it usually results in success, there are times when the risk just doesn’t pay off.

You might find yourself sat at your new desk thinking “What have I done?”, missing your old workplace and the familiarity and friendships which accompany it. You might find that you’ve been sold a lie, and your new job is neither as exciting nor as rewarding as it was painted during the interview process. It might be the case that you fundamentally dislike what you’re doing and can’t adjust to the change. In these circumstances, where a change of job feels more like a mistake than a successful step forwards, can you ever make a career U-turn and venture back?

The answer is yes, but it isn’t a decision which should be taken lightly. If regret is compelling you to return, here are 5 steps you can take to help you make that critical homecoming as smooth and successful as possible.


1. Consider your underlying reasons for wanting to leave

Remember, acclimatising to a new role and a new working environment takes time. Fully understanding the business, developing relationships and getting to grips with your range of responsibilities can take a few months, and during that transitional period you have to be realistic about what to expect.

You need to identify whether your concerns run deeper than the standard disorientation that comes with starting a new position. Are you just going through a natural process of change, or is the role really not what you were looking for? Only if you seriously feel that you’re not suited to the job or that your dissatisfactions could not be solved even after ‘settling in’ should you contemplate making the U-turn.


2. Think about feasibility

Is it even possible for you to go back to your old job? You might have left on bad terms, your role might no longer exist or your former boss may no longer be with the company. There’s also a strong chance that you’re viewing your previous role with rose-tinted glasses, allowing nostalgia to gloss over the reasons you decided to leave in the first place. Plus, you have to consider the fact that you may have to start from scratch after leaving.

Test the waters with some discreet research, using your trusted contacts within the company to build up an idea of whether or not a profitable return would be realistic. Depending on these kinds of factors, it might be a better option to find a new job altogether than try and return to your old one.


3. Consider your approach

If you have a valid cause for leaving coupled with a strong chance of a successful return, the next thing to think about is strategy. Even if you left your old job on excellent terms, your former employer will still have some trust issues and will need to see that you’re coming back for all the right reasons. You’ll have to assure your old boss that this isn’t a fall back plan for you, and that you won’t be walking out again in the short-term for the same reasons as before.

It’s a good idea to propose an informal chat with your former employer so that you can find out whether you’re eligible for rehire in a non-pressurised environment. Let them know how you’re feeling and request that they consider for you interview, giving you both time to prepare for a more formal employment discussion. Use that time to pull together a list of your key achievements at the company, as well as the new skills you’ve gained and how they could prove to be an asset.


4. Negotiate

There’s no guarantee that your former boss will want to offer you the same pay, position and remuneration package that you had previously. In such a circumstance, you have to be prepared for salary negotiation. Even though you may feel like you’re in no position to be demanding, you have valuable skills and experience that you’re bringing to the table: don’t sell yourself short. In fact, with your new, stronger range of experience, your market value will be higher than before and could even win you a more lucrative pay packet.


5. Don’t burn any bridges on your way out

Tact is key to making a smooth exit from your current role. If you’ve only been at the company for a relatively short space of time, your employer has lost a considerable amount of money by hiring you and may already be disinclined to help you out with any future work references. Don’t aggravate the situation by slating the company and engaging in regular water cooler complaints about what an awful experience you’ve had there.

Be honest when resigning, by all accounts, and explain to your employer that you feel unsuited to the role and its responsibilities. However, do so in a way which does not come across as embittered or full of blame. Leaving on poor terms will not put you in a great stead for returning to your old (or rather, new!) job, and will leave an avoidable bad taste in your mouth.


Making a career U-turn doesn’t have to be a shameful or awkward experience. In fact, if handled well, returning to your old job can be one of the best and most well-informed career decisions you’ll ever make. Good luck!


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