Land the Job

How to get your old job back if you hate your new one

Maskot | Getty Images

Is it ever a good idea to get back together with your ex?

When it comes to your career, a surprising amount of people say yes.

Nearly half of people said they would try to get their old job back if they regretted taking their new one, according to a January survey of more than 2,500 millennial and Gen Z jobseekers from The Muse.

It might bruise your ego to do so, but The Muse founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew says attitudes around the workplace are changing, and it could end up being a good move.

The Great Resignation has given rise to the "boomerang employee" as companies desperate to hire recognize that former employees "carry a tremendous amount of current and historical knowledge, and it's natural that they may want to look elsewhere," Minshew says.

Plus, people are becoming more accepting that it's OK to leave a bad job quickly if you were misled about the role or company. "People are explaining: There were key differences in the opportunity than I was signing up for,'" Minshew says. "Culturally we're accepting that this is a completely reasonable explanation."

So if you're thinking of going back to an ex-boss after a short time away, here are a few things to make sure it's a successful reunion.

A few things to consider

Changing jobs is a huge decision, so you should carefully consider going back to an old one.

First and foremost, Minshew says, reflect on why you left your old job. Some things might be negotiable, like getting a higher title, more money or new responsibilities. But not everything can be solved after a few months away, like structural leadership issues or a fundamental misalignment of values.

So be honest with yourself if going back will give you leverage to progress in your career, or if you'll run into the same roadblocks as before.

You should also be honest about whether you want to go back to your old employer for good, or if you just need a steady paycheck while you continue to job-hunt on the side. If it's the latter, Minshew says it could be worth asking your former boss about consulting or contracting for them. You'll help them out while they work on hiring your full-time replacement, and you'll have some income and extra experience as you look for a new gig.

How to make up with your ex-employer

If you do, in fact, want to rejoin your old company for good, Minshew suggests re-opening the conversation with your old boss or the last person you spoke with in HR. Start with email: "I've been thinking about a lot of things in the time that I left the company, and I'd really love to reconnect. Do you have time for a quick phone call in the next week?"

Make your actual ask over the phone so you can explain the situation and your feelings more openly, Minshew says.

Minshew says to focus on why you left for the new company, especially if you can get specific on what your former employer couldn't give you. Then be honest that the way the opportunity was presented to you wasn't the reality you were experiencing in the new role.

You could say something like: "When I left Company A for Company B, I was really seeking an expansion of my responsibilities and something new. I realized upon starting this new job, that not only is it not what I expected, but I really missed and perhaps didn't adequately value a lot of elements about my former job. I want to explore whether it would be worth opening a conversation about me coming back if you haven't yet filled the role."

A return works best if you left in good standing with your old company, and there's been a gap on the team in your absence, Minshew says. If both are true in your scenario, "there are many employers who would love to have their employees come back."

What about the other recruiters you turned down?

If you turned down other offers in order to take the job you now want to leave, Minshew says it's worth reaching back out to the recruiters you were just working with. You might feel embarrassed to go back to a company you turned down, but given today's tight labor market, Minshew says "many employers would be delighted to re-engage a candidate that they have been previously speaking to, if they have not already filled the role."

You could say something like: "I know that I withdrew from your process. The job that I ended up taking has been very different from how it was portrayed, and I am considering whether it's the right professional move for me to stay here. Are you open to revisiting the conversation of me joining your company?"

Make it clear to hiring managers that you know exactly what you are looking for in a new job or company, and do your research to ask the right questions to make sure it's a good fit, Minshew says.

Check out:

Why it’s so satisfying to watch people complain about their jobs on TikTok: ‘People are sick of work’

72% of young workers say they’ve regretted a new job after starting

This company pays new hires to take a vacation before they even start

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

This 27-year-old former NYSE trader went from making $12,000 to $650,000 in 4 years
27-year-old former NYSE trader went from making $12,000 to $650,000 in 4 years