Boomerang hires: How do you handle returning employees?

Boomerang hires: How do you handle returning employees?

It’s always a sad day when your top performer comes into your office to tell you they’ve received a better offer. Sometimes you can counter and sometimes you just have to say goodbye. After all, it’s a job-hopping market out there and you can hardly fault someone for doing what’s best for their career. Three common reasons great team members leave include salary, career progression, or boredom, each of which is hard to talk someone out of once their minds are made up. So what’s a hiring manager to do? Roll up your sleeves and replace them? Yes, for the time being. But if your lost employee might be an excellent future candidate, make sure you have a way to draw them back to you at a later point in their careers. As they groom their professional skills and grow their networks elsewhere, that great employee might end up returning as a powerhouse new hire if you have the system in place to welcome them back.

What are “boomerang” hires? 

Take a step back and think about modern hiring practices. Almost everyone that a company hires started off as a complete stranger prior to submitting their application — and honestly, even referral candidates are complete strangers too. They just come with a recommendation from a current employee that you choose to give weight. This leads to an under-discussed challenge of hiring. If most of your potential employees begin as strangers, you have no idea how successful they will be within your culture and processes — that is, unless you design a robust process around assessment and work samples. As many organizations still don’t do that, they’re hiring people they don’t know well based, often times, on instinct.

But boomerang hires are a completely different prospect from going the traditional hiring route. A boomerang hire is simply the hiring of a former employee. Easy, right? Some organizations have even gone as far as to call boomerangs their “No. 1 source for quality hires.” And it makes sense. When you bring back a former hire, they’re a known quantity, for better or for worse. So it stands to reason that if you liked them the first time round, they’re probably a safe bet the second time.

Read more:  Do you have an exit interview strategy? 

Should you have a rehire pipeline?

Yes. Period. Good night, folks. 

Of course, the longer answer is, there are numerous benefits to bringing back a boomerang employee. Three, in particular, stand out as compelling arguments for a boomerang pipeline. 

1) They know your culture: Boomerang hires already know your culture, your processes, and your decision-makers. They understand how the work gets done in your business. That’s really crucial because one of the main things new hires struggle with in organizations of all sizes is understanding the processes, players, and flow of work. This means a boomerang hire will get up and running faster than a true external candidate would be able to match.

2) The talent pool is tough out there: We’re facing a very tight labor market in North America. If you can’t find the people you need on the “open market” for hiring, why not go back to people who’ve already succeeded for you? Increasingly, HR managers are seeing value here — 76% say they are more open to boomerang hires than in the past.

3) They self-developed for you: One added benefit of a rehire is that they’ve done a lot of the work for your HR department. These are likely candidates who weren’t getting what they needed from the company so went elsewhere to grow and develop. Some other company carried their salary while they did this and now you’re in a position to reap the rewards without investing in any of the development. Boomerangs bring new skills and ideas with them that can be just what you need to boost a department or project. 

How should you set up a rehire pipeline?

It’s easy to say you need this sort of pipeline but how do you actually go about setting it up? The first overarching step is this: make sure that managers communicate with former employees, be it on text, email, LinkedIn, or wherever. Reach out to them periodically (and just to be clear, we mean employees where the departure decision was mutual, not terminated employees). When you have an open role you think a former employee would be good for, invite them to apply personally. 

Now there are also process steps you can bake into your talent management strategy:

  • In every exit interview for promising employees, explain what the reapplication process would look like and explain that you’d love for them to come back if their situation makes sense. Make sure your best people leave knowing exactly what to do if they ever want to come back. And make sure you get permission from the departing employee to reach out to them in the future if anything changes or develops at work. 

  • Create a different application or email process for rehires. Someone that has worked at your company before should not need to fill out a long ATS process. In fact, a boomerang might balk at that completely as it implies they are worth the same as any other candidate when in reality they are far more valuable. You don’t want to lose a rehire opportunity just because your application process needs some work. 

  • Get buy-in from upper management on the idea of rehiring, explaining the current labor market, the fact that these rehires understand how to get work done quickly as opposed to a brand-new hire, and explain you won’t rehire any employees who were viewed poorly on their initial go-round. This piece is crucial. Boomerangs will not stay if they are viewed as having “failed” at leaving the company or that upper management will punish them for their time away. Instead, clarify that this isn’t a negative in terms of their future at the company and they will have the same fair treatment as any other incoming worker.

  • Try to come up with a weighting system for boomerang hires vs. brand-new applicants. This will vary by organization for sure. But if there is some kind of numerical sense behind how you evaluate a potential rehire, it can calm any nerves around the process. Plus it also allows you to accurately compare new and returning hires. As great as boomerang hires are, there’s no guarantee they are better than a straight external hire. That’s up to the hiring manager to determine. So while you want your employees reapplying, have a system to ensure you’re getting the right person in the right seat, regardless of whether they’ve already been there. 

Pro-tip: Give your candidate experience a boost in your next interview

Doesn’t successful boomerang hiring rest on hiring well the first time?

Interesting question, right? Well the answer is yes and no. Ideally you want to hire well every time you hire. You want to use the right tools and then retain and develop the best people. That should always be the goal. As realists, though, we know it doesn’t always work that way. If you hire poorly the first time, it’s possible the hire can get a good manager or good team and learn the ways of your culture. A poor hire well developed would likely be a good prospect down the road but if there are any flags in their file, it’s important to consider them carefully before calling the potential hire in for an interview. And during the interview, you can address some of those concerns from the first round of hiring. Maybe the traits you didn’t like have been smoothed out through their last job. You’ll never know until you ask. 

But if you hire poorly and develop/engage poorly, then the chances are pretty high that employee didn’t leave on good terms. Hence, they’re not a good boomerang candidate in 1-2 years. These candidates, in turn, are the ones you likely won’t want to tell about your rehire pipeline. And if they apply on their own down the road, it’s worth having a conversation with Human Resources or their manager about the pros and cons of their candidacy before moving forward. 

Ideally, if you’re invested in developing the steps of an employee life cycle properly, everyone should theoretically be a boomerang candidate down the road.

The bottom line

The lower costs and effort needed to recruit boomerang employees can save companies up to $20,000 per hire. That’s huge. And yes, admittedly there are concerns — what if a rehire comes in hot with new ideas from where they just worked and wants to change everything? Or what if old politics flare up? These things can happen, but by and large, hiring boomerang employees is a benefit to organizations from a cost standpoint, a logistical standpoint, and a talent development standpoint. If you’re working the tools right, it can be a major boon to your talent management pipeline. 



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