Turning to an Old Employer for a New Job

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It may make you a comeback kid, but returning to work somewhere you've worked before offers several obvious advantages: there are familiar faces, you know how things are done, and it doesn't take you more than twenty minutes to locate the restroom and staff restaurants.

The highest profile returnee of recent times is John Mack, chief executive of Morgan Stanley. After ignominiously quitting the bank in 2001, Mack returned triumphantly last July. He's not the only financial services executive to have gone full circle. Bob McGann, the new head of the private client business at Merrill Lynch, quit as head of research in February 2003 only to be rehired six months later. Jamie Shepherdson, newly appointed executive vice president of Axa Financial, was among the company's founders in the 1990s before leaving for MetLife Investors Group.

John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger Grey & Christmas, says working at the same place twice is increasingly usual for financiers: "It's almost unavoidable these days. The idea that you can't go back home is long passed."

Faster Promotion, Higher Pay

Exiting a firm and returning a few years down the line also has its pay advantages. Richard G. Lipstein, a managing director at Boyden Executive Search in New York, says it can improve the trajectory of your career: "By changing jobs and coming back later you can often return at a higher level than you would have been if you had stayed at the firm," he says. "But more clearly, you will likely short circuit the time it takes to gain a compensation increase."

Philip Suttle, a former head of European macroeconomic research at JP Morgan, is one banker who played the comeback game with success. Suttle quit JP Morgan in 2002 to join the World Bank, only to be rehired a year later as a managing director and global head of foreign exchange research. He recently left again, this time for Barclays Capital.

Pitfalls

However, if you plan to rejoin a previous employer, recruiters and career specialists warn against becoming unstuck. What are the pitfalls?

  • Leaving too soon: If you want to go back and work for the same bank in future, it's not a good idea to resign straight after training, says one recruiter: "If a bank has hired and trained you, they will have spent a lot of money on your behalf. If you leave within the first three or four years you will probably not be looked upon very kindly."
  • Coming back too soon: If you come back too soon after leaving, you might be viewed as less trustworthy, warns Lipstein. "We always counsel people that if you're going to resign, you need to go through with it," he says. "Don't just threaten to leave or change your mind before the ink's dry on a new contract."
  • Being pigeon-holed as your previous self: If the organization you come back to is too similar to the one you left, you could find former colleagues stuck in a time warp. Richard Stein, global head of capital markets at Korn/Ferry International says: "People will always remember you as the associate you were as opposed to the managing director you've grown into. There's not much you can do about individuals' preconceived notions and prejudices."
  • Colleagues' resentment: In some cases, you may face resentment from former colleagues disgruntled about your original departure. In this case, Challenger advises direct action: "Don't leave anything unsaid. Go to people authentically and talk things through. If there are any feelings of rancor, bitterness or resentment, it's better to get them on the table and create a fresh start."

How Not to Do It

A measure of the difficulty in going back to work for a previous employer is the fact that, like Suttle, plenty of returnees move on again.

One U.S. debt banker who returned as a director to the bank where he was a graduate trainee left again after less than twelve months. He says the atmosphere was stifling: "I went back with a bit more prominence, but it hadn't changed at all. Friends had told me the culture was different and more meritocratic, but it was just as institutionalized as ever. I also had some issues with individuals who I didn't get one with previously. It was the same scenario all over again."

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