A study of 31,000 employees who returned to their former employers found that boomerangs often underperform their non-alum peers. At the same time, more and more companies from a growing range of industries have added ex-employees to their talent-management programs. It’s therefore critical for recruiters to take a tailored approach when engaging with boomerang candidates.
The Reasons for Returning
My team and I have rehired many alums since I myself came back to Infosys as a boomerang employee more than a decade ago. Experience has taught me that alumni candidates usually have unique priorities and expectations as compared to applicants who would be joining the company for the first time. And yet, it’s often the case that former employees don’t clearly understand, nor can they easily articulate, what their priorities and expectations are.
As a recruiter, you may need to push the candidate to help them identify and articulate their priorities. For example, maybe the candidate wants to be part of a team that’s defined by an openness to doing things in new ways. Or maybe they’re excited by what they see as the company’s market position and growth strategy. We’re talking here about the candidate’s expectations for what their work experience will be like.
To be sure, identifying priorities is important for any candidate, but when it comes to boomerang candidates, there’s an additional factor to consider — namely, how much the candidate is motivated by feelings of nostalgia or wanting to go back to what they remember as a safe, comfortable environment.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with such motivations. It’s just that those shouldn’t be primary reasons for returning. The risk to candidates and the organization is that if the situation doesn’t meet those expectations, there will be disappointment and dissatisfaction. Circumstances like a different supervisor, a new organizational structure, or a new environment can undermine a returning employee’s sense of safety or comfort.
The most desirable boomerang candidates are those with a focus on the future, as opposed to reliving the past. Look for candidates with, for example, a strong desire to learn new skills and gain new experiences, a drive to apply what they’ve learned since leaving to the company, and an eagerness to talk about how their goals support the team’s and the organization’s objectives.
It’s also certainly a positive attribute for a boomerang to be familiar with the company, its culture, and the team they’ll be a part of. Recruiters should prioritize boomerang candidates who balance that experience with new career ambitions and goals and are eager to talk about how they can put those to work for the organization’s benefit.
Impact on Career Path
Next, it’s vital to examine candidly and in depth whether the position and the company can help the candidate meet their career priorities.
Here again, recruiters should keep in mind that a would-be boomerang might rely too much on memories of their previous experience when making their decision. The problem is, companies (and colleagues and managers) change, so a former employee shouldn’t expect to stroll right back into the same situation they once had.
Equally important, a boomerang is likely to be at a different stage in their career and have different expectations than they did the first time around. For example, the person may expect a career path with lots of room for advancement into new roles. So as a recruiter, it’s smart to be sure the candidate and hiring manager have spoken frankly about priorities and their attainability before any offers are made or accepted.
A Successful Reentry
It’s important to encourage the candidate and hiring manager to discuss candidly how the team, the processes, and other expectations may have changed. For example, the organization may have been restructured since the candidate left, which could mean the candidate would be evaluated on new KPIs, new revenue expectations, and new reporting structures. Or perhaps the candidate’s unspoken assumptions about their core responsibilities could differ from what the hiring manager expects.
Then there’s the question of the learning curve. Everyone should know that, despite the boomerang’s past experience with the company, the kinds of changes outlined above mean there will still be a lot to learn when the candidate reenters the company.
Below are a few examples of how Infosys’ recruiting, hiring, and onboarding processes are tailored for former employees:
Streamlined interview process. When an Infosys alum applies for a job, we accelerate the contact and interview process based on the information we already have on the candidate (in compliance with all local laws). When a candidate checks the “former employee” box in the online application form, an automated process immediately checks for eligibility for rehiring, the candidate’s last role, when they left the company, and other criteria.
Eligible candidates are assigned to a recruiter who makes expedited contact. In a highly competitive environment, it often makes a very favorable impression on former employees when a recruiter makes contact not only swiftly but also already knowledgeable about the candidate’s previous experience with Infosys.
Alumni-focused recruiting program. One of the key objectives of our alumni engagement program is to keep former employees informed about career opportunities at Infosys and make it easy for them to apply for jobs. The alumni portal features a job-search engine that presents alums with job opportunities that match their experience, skills, and interests (which alums keep up to date in their profiles).
We stay in touch with alums about career opportunities by email and through social media, including the Infosys Alumni spotlight page on LinkedIn. Alums can also refer friends for jobs through the portal. And finally, we also target specific segments of the alumni base through programs like Restart with Infosys, which provides women with an opportunity to rejoin the corporate workforce (the program is open to non-alums, too).
Onboarding tailored to the returning employee’s circumstances. Helping their new employees learn the new role, get to know new co-workers, and navigate the company and its culture is a big part of the job for anyone at Infosys who manages people. And yet, we found that boomerang employees need onboarding processes that differ from those designed for new employees. For one thing, we found that managers tended to assume that boomerangs were more familiar with their new role and the organization than was usually the case.
As mentioned above, the organization and its people can change significantly, even if the returning employee has only been away for a relatively brief time. So we’ve trained managers to adjust their onboarding of returning employees according to certain key factors, including:
- Length of time away from the company
- How different their new role is when compared to the position the boomerang previously held
- Differences in organizational structure compared to their previous stint
- How much — or little — of the boomerang’s previous internal network of peers, internal customers, and cross-team collaborators is still in place.
Creating and communicating a level playing field. When a former employee returns to Infosys, we found that — quite understandably — current staff might wonder if the returning employee will receive special treatment. We train managers to explain and demonstrate our policies that ensure no employee, current or returning, has any advantages or disadvantages over another. It’s a level playing field.
Ultimately, in your role as recruiter, you have a vested interest in seeing your candidates succeed once they’re back in the fold. Taking these steps with boomerang candidates can help all parties be confident they’re making the right decision — while setting boomerangs on the right course to be successful over the long term.