Brendan Browne, Contributor
Jerry Brown served as governor of California in the 1980s and 2010s. Jack Dorsey founded Square between his two stints as CEO of Twitter.
Michael Jordan even tried baseball before coming back to carry the Bulls to three more championships. These are all examples of a growing career trend called “boomeranging.”
A boomerang employee is someone who leaves a company, works somewhere else for a while, and then comes back. It might seem unusual, but it’s becoming more common, largely due to how often workers change jobs nowadays.
Think back to previous generations. It used to be frowned upon if you switched jobs every couple of years or even changed careers more than a few times.
However, over the last 20 years, the number of companies people worked for in the first five years after they graduated has nearly doubled, according to a recent LinkedIn study. People who graduated in the late 1980s averaged more than 1.6 jobs, and people who graduated between 2006 and 2010 averaged nearly 2.85 jobs. Anecdotally, I graduated from college in 1995, and I’ve worked at six different companies throughout my 21-year career.
In today’s job market, employees may leave a large company to experience life at a startup, try a new industry, or even go back to school for an advanced degree. And while in the past, companies discouraged the rehiring of former employees, now more and more companies are actually looking to recruit past top performers back into their businesses.
New research shows that the winds are changing favorably for boomerangs. A recent survey by Workplace Trends revealed that “nearly half of HR pros said their organization previously had a policy against rehiring former employees — even if the employee left in good standing — but 76% said that they are more accepting of hiring boomerang employees than in the past.” They’re right to do so.
Boomerangs can be exceptionally valuable to a company’s growth because they’re already familiar with its culture. There is an established employee-employer relationship that adds another layer of employee loyalty to the company, which in turn leads to increased retention. Boomerangs that have been away for a few years also have direct business value, as they bring with them new experiences, connections, points-of-view, and even potential customers.
Because of this, the way companies and their employees part ways has completely changed. I worked at a few companies that completely shut the door on me when I told them I wanted to pursue other opportunities. Their response changed my perspective of the company negatively and squashed any inkling I might have had to one day return.
Fortunately, most employers today understand that loyalty doesn’t go away when employees walk out the door; rather, it can stay with them throughout their careers and flourish over time as they navigate the workforce.
My time at Microsoft is a great example of this. When I left my role there almost a decade ago, my team and manager were very positive and encouraging of my aspirations. Eight years later, I am excited to soon be a part of the broader Microsoft family, because the company made sure I knew that I always had a home there.
It should come as no surprise that the boomerang trend is being pioneered by millennials. The Workplace Trends survey shows that almost half of the millennials surveyed for the study said they would consider returning to a former employer — compared to about one-third of both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
But jumping between jobs doesn’t mean that employees today are less loyal. Rather, the concept of loyalty has simply evolved. Employees might move around more, but they also remain much more connected to former employers. Social media and alumni networks have played a crucial role in helping maintain relationships between employers and their former employees.
While the idea of keeping alumni invested used to be confined to academia, it’s now a growing trend in the workforce. LinkedIn’s alumni program started out as a LinkedIn group that a few alumni employees created on their own in 2014. Today, our in-house alumni network has more than 3,300 members, which includes both current employees and alumni. That way, alumni can build relationships and feel like they are still part of the company.
As the leader of the talent acquisition team at LinkedIn, one of my guiding principles is that relationships matter. Good recruiters realize that most employees will not work at the same company for their whole career, and even if a job doesn’t last, relationships will.
My current motto is: “Come to LinkedIn, become part of our family, stay as long as you feel challenged and fulfilled. We will help you get to where you want to go, whether that’s here or somewhere else. Oh, and if you want to come back to LinkedIn for the right opportunity, the door is always open!”
One of my favorite LinkedIn boomerang stories is Josh Walker, who is now a director of search and discovery infrastructure. Josh left LinkedIn to launch a startup, but stayed close to many of his LinkedIn colleagues and connections. Through those relationships, Josh’s previous colleague at LinkedIn reached out to him about a new role on the team and encouraged him to come back. He has been back at LinkedIn for almost a year now. He told me that without the openness of LinkedIn and the relationships he built, he wouldn’t have had this career opportunity.
Ultimately, if you decide to leave a job, it’s important to end on good terms and maintain a relationship with your employer, because you may find yourself wanting to come back one day.
If interviewing for a job is like dating, accepting an offer is like signing a lease together and quitting is akin to breaking up. When you decide it’s time to move on, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t remain friends — who knows, you might find your way back to each other one day.
Brendan Browne is vice president of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn. Browne has worked in recruiting and HR for 15+ years and has experience working in markets across the globe. He has also worked at organizations big and small, from Microsoft to Northwestern Mutual to startups in Silicon Valley. Browne is passionate about education and serves on the board of the Jean Weingarten Children’s Center.