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In 2007, Bentley Wolfe was laid off from his position as senior technical support engineer for Adobe Systems, where he had worked for more than 20 years.
"I was actually out of town at the time. I had occasion to check my e-mail, and I noticed a lot of 'thanks, goodbye' messages. My cell had not rung, and I didn't see anything directly related to me. But something was definitely going on," he recalls.
After a phone call with his boss, Wolfe's suspicion proved true: He had been laid off. But not for long.
"I kept in touch with as many of my former co-workers and friends as I could. Phone calls, e-mails and IM conversations served to keep me connected when I was part of that team, and I continued to need that," he says. "It came to my attention that my previous right-hand guy had found an opportunity to jump over to the new manager's team, only working on a different product. He and I had always been close, and he strongly advocated for bringing me back to the team. Between that and some of my other former co-workers putting in good feedback, I was able to arrange a phone call with the new manager. He wanted to know if I'd be interested in coming back, to essentially the same job."
Wolfe realized his unique situation -- the company had no one else to fill the spot -- and he planned to use that knowledge to his advantage. With nothing to lose, he "picked a number that I thought I was worth, which happened to be about $17,000 higher than what I had been making when I was laid off. I really figured that they'd say, 'Uh, no,' in which case my plan was just to remain laid off and either find some other work or start my own business."
A few hours later, the company called back -- and agreed to his offer.
Fast-forward to November 2009: Wolfe got another call from his boss. "I could tell right away that he had bad news," he says. "The economy sucks, everything is being outsourced, and my job that I got back in 2007 was being eliminated." Again.
Although getting rehired by your former employer after a layoff may seem like a long shot, it does happen. In a 2010 CareerBuilder.com survey, 32 percent of employers who had layoffs in 2009 said they planned to bring back those workers at some point in the year.
"Usually it is because [the employer] likes the people they laid off, or the people have a unique skill set now needed," says Richard Deems, co-author of "Make Job Loss Work for You!" "The people already knew the culture, knew how things were rewarded and knew how to work with key leaders."
But as Wolfe's story shows, risks are involved. And just because your previous employer liked you doesn't mean that you'll be their first choice when they are ready to rehire.
"A good track record before downsizing is a must. If an employee wasn't working up to expectations prior to a layoff, there is seldom any chance to get rehired," Deems says. "When working in outplacement with a person who would like to return to the former employer, we suggest the person remain in contact with the organization with her or his former boss, and maybe even the department head. Remaining in contact is important. Letting the old boss know, 'Yes, I'm very interested in returning.'"
But, even if your previous employer expresses interest in rehiring you, there are many things to consider, says Wolfe, now a partner with Bent Image Media.
"My advice is to think hard about whether or not you really want to return. The previous employer has shown that you're disposable," he says.
If you're thinking of returning, consider these questions:
1. How has the job changed? "It probably is not the same as when the person was downsized. Clarify duties, expectations, reporting relationships, etc.," Deems says.
2. Whom would you report to? "Always ask what is different about the position and the organization since leaving," Deems says.
3. Do I like this company?
4. Did I like the work?
5. Is there a good chance that I'll be laid off again soon?
6. What is the clear benefit to me? "[This] one is most important," Wolfe says. "In my case, I managed to get much more money and extend my 'safely employed' time frame in a way that would get us past my wife's college graduation. Those were my two goals and those were met. And my new boss was a really good guy. If you remove those things from the equation, then hindsight would say it was a mistake. The job was just way too hard after I went back."
If you really liked your former employer, and you really liked your old job and can get it back, then go for it, Wolfe says. "Just be certain it's not going to hurt you in the long run."
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