Once nearly all job-hunting experts agreed that it was a bad idea for scientists, engineers and technicians to go back to work for a former employer. Many employers had policies against hiring former employees. This changed ten to fifteen years ago. Why?
Willingness to return
Widespread layoffs resulted in large numbers of scientists, engineers and technicians entering the job market. Recently the collapse of the housing market meant that many job hunters feel they can’t afford to relocate to accept a new job. At the very least they are reluctant to do so because of the financial loss they would incur in selling their house. Going to work for an ex-employer often means there is no need to relocate and suffer this financial loss.
Many job-hunters feel that it is a matter of pride not to go to work for a former employer. However, many ACS members are spending a long time in the job market in the wake of the recent recession. According to data collected in the 2010 ACS Salary and Employment Survey, the mean unemployment period for ACS members was 11 months with the median unemployment period at 9 months. This discouraging news makes it easier for chemical professionals to take a giant gulp and go to work for a former employer.
Willingness to hire them back
The large number of chemists in the job market makes it more difficult for employers to sift through job candidates to find those well qualified for a particular job opening. Many former employees have left a reservoir of good will and respect behind them at their former employer. Because of the widespread nature of twenty-first century layoffs, everyone knows that many good employees lost their jobs. In hiring new employees, employers are always rolling the dice to a certain extent. In hiring a good ex-employee to return to work, the employer is taking less of a risk. Some employees at the firm, known and trusted by the hiring manager, can testify to the former employee’s qualifications, experience and work ethic.
Going back to work
Okay, your former employer has made a decision and you’ve made a decision. You’re going back to work for a former employer. How can you get off to a good start?
First, be careful of what assumptions you make. Things are not necessarily the same as they were when you left. Most employers restructure in the wake of layoffs. There may be different departments and different people running the show in each. R&D in some areas may have been terminated while new programs in new fields have been initiated. Human resources policies and procedures may have changed. Workplace procedures on many things from reserving time on instruments to signing out equipment may have changed. Determine what the current workplace procedures are rather than assuming nothing has changed. Treat returning to work for a former employer just like going to work for a new employer and try to learn as much as you can about the current state of affairs.
Second, no one likes a complainer. Avoid the temptation to talk to people about how much better things were in the good old days or how tough it was being unemployed.
Third, make a strong effort to get along with all your coworkers. There may have been coworkers with whom you did not get along before your layoff. Overcome your former dislike and make it your business to get along with them. The last thing you want is for your manager or coworkers to start thinking that the company made a mistake in hiring you back.
If you were hired back while unemployed after the company had laid you off, in essence you have lost seniority. For example, if you were unemployed for one year after being laid off, your coworkers have developed a year of seniority and additional accomplishments while you have languished in unemployment. It is easy to be resentful of this. However, there’s nothing you can do about it. It may be difficult but shrug your shoulders and move on. Realize that developing an excellent track record of accomplishment in your new job with your old employer is the only way to catch up.
Fourth, let your manager and coworkers know what new skills you have developed while unemployed. Seek ways to use these skills in your job. This is another way to catch up to coworkers.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.