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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Getting Back Together: Interviewing at a Company You Used to Work For

Over time, your career path can take some pretty unexpected twists and turns. Like—when you suddenly find yourself trying to rejoin a company or team you once left behind.

If you’re lucky, you were approached by your old boss or co-workers—and they really want you back. But maybe you realized that you made a mistake by leaving in the first place; or, after spending time elsewhere for a few years, you see a great new opportunity available. No matter what the reason, though, that first step back to reconnecting with your former company is one that needs to be handled carefully.

So, how do you make the initial connection and interview a little less awkward and a lot more productive? In order to get some useful tips, I talked to a few professionals who were once in your very same shoes. And while their “return stories” were all a little different, their suggestions hit on some similar themes.

1. Review Your Resignation Letter and Exit Interview

Hopefully, you left your former job on good terms and had a carefully crafted resignation letter—the last thing you want is HR pulling out your file and remembering your choice words about the company on your last day. (And frankly, if you didn’t leave on a good note, you need to really ask yourself if going back is worth it.)

But assuming your parting words were complimentary and thoughtful, they can be useful icebreakers when you apply or when you first contact those influential employees who can help you land an interview. For example, did you say that you were leaving to gain management experience at a bigger company, or mention that you would be open to certain kinds of opportunities in the future? Use that as an opener or a segue to more detailed discussion about your future responsibilities.

2. Treat the Interview Seriously

So you’ve landed an interview with the company you once left behind—great! But don’t automatically assume you’re a shoo-in. Sure, your familiarity with the company is a huge plus, but keep in mind that you’re likely one of many other qualified candidates. Any one of them may have expertise that surpasses yours, and some of your company-specific experience may not be relevant anymore.

In addition, consider who you’ll be interviewing with. You may be meeting with newer employees (who will look at you just like any other “fresh” candidate), or interviewers who do know you but may not remember your former contributions. Make sure you not only describe your past accomplishments and responsibilities in detail, but that you also highlight any new skills you’ve gained since you left.


3. Be Prepared for the Tough Questions

Keep in mind that those same interviewers who never knew you from your previous job (and even some who did) may be skeptical of your motives for coming back. There may even be some resentment, especially if you left them in a bind or if they had invested a lot of time and money into your career.

So it’s your job to assure everyone that you’re not a flight risk and convince them that you’re worth the investment once again. Be prepared for lots of questions about your departure, and have specific reasons for why you’re excited to come back. And when in doubt, be honest. If you made a mistake leaving the company in the first place, don’t afraid to admit that.

4. Address Your Concerns

That said, while the interviewers need to be assured that you’ll be the right fit, don’t forget to ask them your questions as well. First, don’t assume that you already know everything about the company and its culture; company dynamics, policies, management, and more may have significantly shifted since you left. And if you were disappointed with the company when you quit, you’ll need reassurance that things have changed. Think back: What were the specific reasons you left? Was your career path limited? Were you unchallenged? Make sure that the interviewers can give you exact details on how these things have evolved so that you don’t run into the same disappointments again.

One last note: Even if the company specifically contacted you and only you for the gig, make sure that you thank your interviewers for the opportunity. Follow up with thank-you letters right after the interview and make sure you’re gracious to the people who believe in you enough to ask you to come back. If you make the right moves, your old company could be the start of a wonderful new chapter in your career.

Photo of woman interviewing courtesy of Shutterstock.