Top 5 questions to ask before you rehire a former employee (updated 2024)

Rehire interviews are similar to regular interviews in that their purpose is to locate a suitable candidate to fill an open position. These interviews are complicated in that there are both advantages and disadvantages to pre-existing knowledge about a candidates past performance. It can both assist and taint the process. When interviewing rehires at your small business, consider whether the rehire is suitable for the position and a better choice than someone less familiar.

Rehire interview questions
  • What are your career goals?
  • Why did you leave the company previously?
  • What made you decide to come back to our organization?
  • What have you learned while you were working elsewhere?
  • What new skills do you bring to the position after working for another company?

Rehiring Employees

Am I hiring the boomerang employee because it seems like the easy option?

The employee knows the company, but is the new job exactly the same as the one they left? Most employees will come back to an employer for a different or more senior role. Consider how they’ll adjust to a different role and whether their colleagues will see them as capable of that higher-level position. Check in with their previous manager (if applicable), HR, and cross-functional stakeholders not only about whether the employee should be considered for rehire, but also about their soft skills and ability to adjust to new and dynamic situations. This will help you foresee any roadblocks to the boomerang’s success in the new role.

Then think about how they’ll fit into the culture of your team. Is it the same team, or has the team changed or grown since they left? If it’s a new team, how will the boomerang fit in with the current employees? Will they be managing any former colleagues who were previously peers? And how will that impact the team dynamics? What will you need to do to ensure a smooth transition for the boomerang and the team?

Finally, do you equate “easier” with “no ramp time?” You may think the boomerang doesn’t need much onboarding, especially if they’re returning to the same team, but companies, teams, and processes grow and change, and they deserve the same amount of ramp time as any new employee. If they get back into the swing of things quickly, then great!

Does the boomerang bring the right skills and capabilities to advance the business?

You’re familiar with the skills and capabilities the employee had before they left the company. What new skills and experience have they gained since leaving? Do those skills match the job description and help advance the business, or are their current and previous skills obsolete compared to where the company is headed? Making sure the boomerang has the skills based on the job responsibilities and business needs is critical to moving the company forward.

Is unconscious bias influencing me? 

When employees leave a company, they often keep in touch with former colleagues. If you’ve remained friendly with the boomerang employee and talked to them about a role you’re hiring for, there’s a chance unconscious bias contributed to how you designed the job description. Consider whether you drafted the job description objectively or wrote it to match the potential boomerang’s experience and level, which might not match the business needs.

Unconscious bias could also influence how you manage this friend-employee. Being a “frien-ager” — a friend who becomes a manager — can lead to inequity on the team. What will you do to combat unconscious bias in promotions, performance reviews, and overall strategic conversations?

When a high school friend hired me at NBC, we had a detailed conversation about our expectations as a manager and employee. I was fortunate he was a great boss and provided ample feedback and guidance. If I saw him and his family on the weekends, we did not discuss work or any employee, and when in the office, we didn’t discuss any personal information outside of a group setting. It was a delicate balance that required a level of maturity to not make others feel excluded from “inside jokes” or make them feel that their relationships with the manager were any less meaningful than mine.

The best way to combat unconscious bias is to understand what it is, acknowledge it can exist, and listen to all employees (including the boomerang) equally. A transparent, detailed conversation with all team members about how you expect to behave as their manager and what you expect of them — to tell you if you faltered in your efforts to manage fairly — will help your employees feel empowered to discuss any perceived unfairness and will combat divisiveness within your team.

“Why do you want to come back?”

This is an obviously important question, and is simply a slight variation on a question that all prospective employees should be asked: “Why do you want to work here?” Understanding what has changed in their mind and life since they made the decision to leave your organization will be a critical piece of determining whether it makes sense to make an additional investment in them this time.

Reasons to apply for a job as a rehire

Here are the key reasons you may choose to apply for a position at a company where you’ve already worked:

  • You find a position that fits your skills. Some professionals leave a company to take on new responsibilities and grow their abilities within their field. After you’ve achieved a new level of experience and expertise, you may find a position with your previous employer that fits your talents more closely than other job opportunities.

  • You already understand the company culture. Starting a new job typically means getting to know the company culture and learning to work within the organization’s established protocols. Working with a previous employer means you are already familiar with the environment and can focus more closely on developing your new role.

  • You’ve already established connections within the organization. Working with people you already know also helps you focus more on your position as you renew previous professional relationships. You may also have connections with former coworkers who are now in positions of authority within the organization, making it easier for you to communicate with company leaders.

  • You’ve proven your ability to perform a role for the company. Going through the interview process with a proven record of success within the organization can improve your chances as a candidate. You can discuss what you’ve already accomplished for the company during your rehire interview and share what you hope to accomplish should you get the position.

  • You have a chance to take on a leadership position. You may decide to rejoin a company so that you can take on a leadership role within the organization. Coming back to a previous employer may be your best opportunity to accept a promotion to a higher-level position as a manager or even an executive leader.

  • You were asked to apply for the job. If you maintain a professional relationship and stay connected with your previous employer, they may ask you to apply for a specific position. A former manager may feel that you have the necessary expertise needed for the job and want to shorten the time of their job search with someone they know qualifies for the role.

How to prepare for a rehire interview

1. Consider your reasons for returning

Be ready to discuss why you want to come back. Talk openly about your goals with your former employer. For example, you could discuss that you came back to the company to take on a new leadership position after gaining more experience working somewhere else.

2. Think about your exit

Before you return to your former employer for an interview, it’s a good idea to revisit your reasons for leaving. Consider if the benefits of returning outweigh the reasons you left. If you still have a copy of your resignation, reread the document or email to ensure you left in a positive way because of your own decision.

3. Practice for your interview

When you plan to interview, it’s a good idea to prepare using practice interview questions based on the position you want. Even though you are interviewing with a familiar company, you may be trying to get hired for a different position. Use your interview to prove how your knowledge and expertise prepare you for the prospective role.

4. Prepare a list of questions

Returning to a company after time away means you may need to learn new processes and expectations. Preparing a list of questions for your former employer allows you to find out more about your new role. You can also ask specific questions about the department where you’d be working, along with salary expectations.

5. Reconnect with former colleagues

Another way to prepare for an interview is to network with connections from your previous job. Ask former colleagues the kinds of questions you may not be ready to ask an interviewer, such as changes in management or salary increases since you left. Keep your interactions positive and professional as you apply for a new role.

Rehire interview questions

Preparing for your interview with a previous employer is an important step in getting a new position. Practicing how you will answer questions related to your rejoining the company and your experience can help you stand out as a top candidate. You may be asked questions like this during a rehire interview:

  • What are your career goals?

  • Why did you leave the company previously?

  • What made you decide to come back to our organization?

  • What have you learned while you were working elsewhere?

  • What new skills do you bring to the position after working for another company?

  • What is one thing you’d change about this organization?

  • How do you fit into our company culture?

  • How would you describe your relationship with your team prior to leaving?

  • What leadership skills would you bring to the position?

  • What did you like most about working here?

  • Why are you interested in this position with the company?

  • What is your 30-60-90-day plan if you were rehired for the position?

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A boomerang employee is a person who worked for the organization previously and left (typically on good terms), but returns to work there again at a later date.

Historically, leaving an organization voluntarily was often seen as a lack of loyalty. Many companies refused to rehire anyone as a matter of principle, regardless of how well they had previously performed.

However, in recent years, it has become far more typical for people to work for many different organizations throughout their career. Particularly where there are skills gaps in many critical functions, employers have become steadily more comfortable with using the former-employee talent pool and bringing people back on—particularly those who have performed well previously.

Note: A true boomerang employee is typically someone who worked for your organization recently enough that they are remembered by at least some current employees. If they worked there 10 or 15 years ago, it makes sense to treat them like any other prospective new hire.

Turnover is natural and to be expected, regardless of the quality of your company and culture. Today’s average employee will work for 12 or more different employers over the course of their career! Even excellent employees who love working at your company may see a variety of reasons to move on, including:

  • A new job opportunity with a significant increase in compensation.
  • A new job opportunity in a more advanced or different role than is available in your company.
  • A personal situation requiring a move away from your location.
  • Leaving the workforce or cutting down on work hours for family or health reasons.

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