All You Need To Know About Hiring Former Employees — Q&A with Brian Westfall from SoftwareAdvice

Thinking you have looked everywhere for candidates, yet your talent pool is drying up? You might have just missed one target group: your former employees. These are also called “boomerang employees”: they go away and return to you.

Sourcing qualified candidates have always been a challenge. At the moment, everyone seems to have a job (the US unemployment rate dropped to 4,6%, lowest since 2007). The chance that you would get a reply from cold emailing/calling/texting passive candidates is almost nil. Meanwhile, your former employees might have learned new skills AND be open to new opportunities… from you. This could be a huge time saving in the recruitment and onboarding process. If they got hired (again), win-win for both sides. Yet, there are certain risks and stigma to take into account.

What to know about hiring former employees? And what tools can help you smooth out the process? Brian Westfall, senior market researcher for Software Advice, has conducted a research for you. The takeaways are condensed into the infographic at the end of this article. Along with it, Brian has collected some notable insights into boomerang employees that he shares with us in the Q&A below. Enjoy!

Hi Brian, what made you start a research on boomerang employees?

“Whenever a new buzzword enters the HR zeitgeist, there’s usually a good reason why. That’s certainly the case with boomerang employees. The days of an employee staying loyal with one employer for 30+ years of their career are dwindling. At the same time, the stigma surrounding bringing former employees back has all but disappeared.

All of these forces are coming together to put boomerang employees on the rise, and recruiters need to be pay attention. That’s what prompted the research.”

Why should companies care about them now?

“The labor economy right now is not a great one for businesses. The U.S. unemployment rate hasn’t been this low in eight years, drastically limiting talent supply, but demand is at an all-time high — the number of job openings nationwide is approaching six million. Roles are staying vacant for more than a month and the average cost per hire has skyrocketed to over $4,000. If recruiters want to fill roles with competent hires fast, they’re going to need to get creative.

That’s why companies should care about boomerang employees. They’re an unlikely talent source that can prove to be immensely beneficial in trying times.”

Employees left for a reason. Why would employers consider them back?

“While it’s true that boomerang employees carry an increased flight risk, they also offer a number of benefits over your average candidate. They cost less to recruit and bring with them some certainties in a sea of unknowns along with newly acquired skills and knowledge from other jobs. They also know the company culture, don’t require as much training and carry a reminder to other workers that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Take a risk on a boomerang employee, and you could be handsomely rewarded.”

What role does HR tech play in nurturing and acquiring former employees?

“Because boomerang employees go on such a strange path, from current employee to non-candidate to passive candidate to active candidate, keeping track of this trajectory and doing the right nurturing at each step is key.

HR tech can help keep things organized. You can move the employee’s details from your HRIS to a variety of applicant tracking systems. From there, you can track your team’s interactions with that person and include them in the running for good fit roles when appropriate. You can also use software to keep boomerang employees in the know on company news and updates and ease them back into the company with a customized onboarding workflow.”

What is the most interesting case study or story on boomerang employees you have learned during the research?

“Recruiter experience with boomerang employees really varies. Some workers who struggled during their original tenure thrive upon their return. Other boomerang employees who looked like a sure thing quit just as quickly the second time as they did originally.

By far the most popular and interesting example of a boomerang employee is Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. He left the company on terrible terms in 1985 only to be brought back in 1997 to right the ship. I think we can agree that decision paid off.”

Last but not least, what advice would you give to both companies and boomerang employees?

“Eighty percent of employees say their former employers don’t have a strategy in place to encourage their return. My advice to companies is to make one! You never know when a talented worker will want to come back. At the same time though, recruiters should not skip steps in the recruiting process. Just because a former employee is in the running does not mean they’re the best available candidate for the job. Do your due diligence.

To employees, my advice is to not burn bridges. Life can take you unexpected places, and that includes putting you back in a company you thought you had left for good. Don’t let a grudge with a coworker get in the way. Still, it’s important to remember that employment is a two-way street. If you’re considering working again for a former employer, ask about any improvements that have been made since your original tenure. Ensure whatever caused you to leave in the first place — a terrible manager, poor work-life balance, etc. — has been addressed.”

Thanks Brian for your sharing!

With proper managing, hiring former employees could be a big win for you and the employees. This should not only be part of your tactics when the unemployment rate is low. Make it a permanent chapter in your recruitment strategy. Because the workforce is changing and heading in this direction. Dan Schawbel, founder at WorkplaceTrends.com, has a nice quote for it:

“Organizations should consider giving hiring priority to potential boomerang employees who had been a great cultural fit because they can reach a high productivity level quicker if rehired. In previous research we’ve done, we’ve found that Millennials are switching jobs every two years because they are searching for the job — and organization — of best fit. But this new study indicates that this younger generation is more likely to boomerang back when they’ve experienced other company cultures and realized what they’ve missed. We will see the boomerang employee trend continue in the future as more employees adopt a ‘free agent’ mentality and more organizations create a stronger alumni ecosystem.”

Originally published at recruitee.com on January 4, 2017.

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