You Can Go Home Again–Maybe

Returning to your old job can be a charm if you plan it right

Some things in life are cyclic, and that includes careers. Now that the downsizing dust of the past decade is beginning to clear, many workers have been invited back to their former companies. Good news? Perhaps.

Be it as a contractor, temp or full-fledged regular employee, those asked to return shouldn’t do so in haste. “Control your involvement,” advises Joan Moore, president of the Arbor Consulting Group in Plymouth, Michigan. “Consider your long-term needs, establish goals and ask yourself, How will this move help me to manage my career?” Whether it’s a short-term assignment or permanent employment, when negotiating your return you must factor in the elements that will give you future leverage and not make you a pawn in the industry.

In 1992, after 10 years with IBM, Timothy McCanelley opted to take the buyout package offered to employees when the company began streamlining its operations. Since then, he has returned to Big Blue in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, as a contract employee on two separate occasions. Well aware both times that a permanent position was not guaranteed, McCanelley looked at his return as a strategic career move.

“During my career I observed this industry carefully. I was aware of where the jobs would be and returned each time for skills, not money,” says the Alabama A&M University computer science graduate. Going back on a contract basis allowed him to take only the jobs he wanted. The first time, he moved into a position as test coordinator in a client/server platform. He then returned in 1996 for a nearly two-year tour in a networking hardware division. “I took jobs that offered transferable skills,” says McCanelley, 38, now a design verification test manager at a Dallas telecommunications firm.

If you’re offered a permanent position, come to terms with the fact that things will be different. People, jobs, even the decor may not be what you remember. There might also be resentment from co-workers who feel that you got a better deal. “Often, you may be returning with more money or at a higher position. Old colleagues may think you’re getting special treatment and not trust you,” says Margaret Munzel, senior consultant at the Arbor Consulting Group. Consider these other points before you go back:

Any bennies? Inquire about health benefits, seniority and becoming re-vested in the company pension plan, advises Moore. Find out if your employer will bridge your benefits. Other benefits such as stock options, vacation time and a car can be especially important, particularly if you return with a cut in pay, says Liv Wright, an outplacement counselor at Lee Hecht Harrison in New York.

Toto, this isn’t Kansas. Since things will be different, ask if you will be doing the same type of projects as you did before your departure and whether procedures have changed. Get the new terms and job description in writing so that your return doesn’t seem so capricious, advises Wright. It’s also important to know if mentoring or growth opportunities will be available and if layoffs are

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