How to Quit — and Leave the Door Open to Coming Back


Whether you’re parting with a company to pursue a new opportunity, being let go in a mass layoff, or leaving a toxic team, you never know if an opportunity will arise to be a “boomerang employee” — that is, to return to your previous employer. The author presents five ways to set yourself up to be a successful boomerang, even if you’ve already left your previous company.

When “Samantha” left her company to pursue a new opportunity, it wasn’t because anything was wrong at her previous company. She simply had an opportunity to manage a team and gain additional skills to advance her career.

What she didn’t realize was that the culture of her new company and her new boss didn’t align with her values, leaving her stressed and unfulfilled.

A short 10 months later, Samantha was able to show that her new skills and capabilities could fill a newly created management position at her previous company. She boomeranged back and continues to grow in her career.

Whether you’re parting with a company to pursue a new opportunity, being let go in a mass layoff, or leaving a toxic team, you never know if an opportunity will arise to be a “boomerang employee” — that is, to return to your previous employer. Here are five ways to set yourself up to be a successful boomerang, even if you’ve already left your previous company:

Leave on a good note.

This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people badmouth the situation they left, not realizing it only reflects poorly on them. Bad boss, bad processes, bad leadership team — these can all change after you’ve left. It’s best to depart without voicing your strong opinions about the internal messiness at the company or specific people you don’t respect.

If you’ve already left on not-so-great terms and have since realized how you contributed to that toxicity, reach out to those who may remember your departure or inappropriate behavior and try to initiate a conversation about what you learned and how you’ve grown and matured. If needed, to say you’re sorry about the way you behaved in the past. Apologizing doesn’t imply that there weren’t other contributing factors to why you left, but owning your part in it will make your boomerang easier.

Keep in touch.

There are five categories of people you want to keep in touch with after you leave a company: your previous manager, your direct reports, cross-functional leaders, at least one or two other colleagues, and either a recruiter or HR business partner. Why? These are the people who can refer you to new opportunities at the company.

Keeping in touch means sending holiday cards or ecards, as well as quarterly emails that inquire about how the recipient is doing and mention what skills you’re gaining, big projects you’re working on (without revealing confidential information), and exposure you’ve had to the C-suite. At least once a year, invite your contact out to coffee or lunch, where you can demonstrate your executive presence and discuss your growth and interest in returning to the company. Make sure you know what type of position you want to return to so you can express how you can bring value to that type of job. Staying well connected will keep you top of mind and might give you the advantage of learning about upcoming jobs before they’re posted.

Follow the company.

Just because you’re familiar with the company from your time there doesn’t mean you’ll be automatically chosen as the right fit for a new opportunity. Demonstrating in conversation with your network and a potential hiring manager that you’ve kept up with the company’s progress and successes could give you an edge to become a boomerang because it shows it will take less time to onboard you than a candidate without that familiarity.

Do your homework so you’ll be prepared if an opportunity arises. If the company is public, you can find glimpses of its standing and successes — as well as challenges — in their earnings reports, such as 10-Q and 10-K reports in SEC’s EDGAR system. Read recent media about the company and the products it’s bringing to market.

Gain skills and capabilities.

While you’re in your new job, find a way to upskill. Showing that you’ve developed new hard and soft skills will put you in a better position to uplevel yourself if you return to your previous company.

If you haven’t departed your company yet and know you might want to return someday, print your performance reviews before you leave and look at your growth areas. Even if you don’t agree with everything written, try applying the 2% rule: Assume you can believe at least 2% is true. So what can you do to change that perception? Figure out which hard skills you need to master to continue your career growth and which soft skills will help you improve your ability to influence, manage stakeholders, and lead.

Examine why you left — and why you want to return.

Dig in deep to understand what made you leave the company and whether those conditions still exist. For example, did you leave a bad manager who has since moved on? Or if you left because there was a change in strategy you disagreed with, how would you handle that now? If you were let go in a mass layoff, is the company more stable now or more careful in its talent acquisition plans so you’re confident you wouldn’t be in this situation again?

When communicating with people from your old company, your messaging shouldn’t be about how your new company isn’t the right fit. It’s about why your previous company is where you will stay long term. Keep in mind that the company you left isn’t the company you’ll return to. Organizations change. Leaders change. Goals change. Sometimes, cultures change. Try to understand how the company has grown or changed since you worked there so you can hone your message about how your skills and capabilities can bring value to the new job — and convince the new hiring manager you won’t leave again.

Whether you’ve already left your previous employer and want to return or are about to leave and don’t know if you’ll want to return in the future, consider how you leave and how you’ll stay connected. More importantly, work through any trauma you may have experienced while working for your previous employer so if you decide to go back to a new opportunity, you can enter at peace. And always keep in mind that life isn’t linear.


Marlo Lyons is a certified career coach and strategist, HR executive, and the author of Wanted – A New Career: The Definitive Playbook for Transitioning to a New Career or Finding Your Dream Job.

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