Risks and Rewards of Rehiring Former Employees
Kazim Ladimeji

With many economies starting to rebound, downsized companies are returning to the candidate market only to be greeted by critical skill talent shortages. This creates problems as employers need to tool up with top talent to help fuel their growth.

Of course, many companies are looking to develop training strategies so they can take on underqualified staff and groom them into superstars. While this is an effective approach, it is also a more medium/long term strategy and, to be responsive and flexible, firms need to hire off-the-shelf, ready made talent right now.

One often overlooked source of fully qualified, culture-ready talent are not peers from your close competition, but alumni—former employees who resigned or you laid off during harder times. They are a known quantity—good, average or bad, you know what you are getting which means they can often be a safer bet than a new hire.  There is likely to be a much shorter learning curve due to them having good job knowledge as well being familiar with company culture, procedures and having an existing network of go-to people, so they know how to get things done in your organization.
They may have developed new skills since they left and may be an even better employees.
They may have insider secrets (which they can legitimately disclose) from the competition.

But, there are quite clear issues with rehiring alumni that you should consider. For example, the rehire may still hold some grudge against your business or a current employee for letting them go – and this could translate into conflict and disharmony in your business. This is why it is crucial—no matter how tempting it may be to skip it—to still hold a formal interview process with the rehire to establish (amongst other things) if grudges remain present and if they may hinder performance.
Another issue with rehiring, particularly those who have resigned, is that the things that caused them to resign in the first place may still be present. So, what is to stop them from resigning again? Therefore, during your formal rehire interview, it’s important to probe and get a clear explanation for why they resigned. If the issue has not been resolved, you’ll need to discuss this openly with the rehire for their thoughts rather than encouraging them to blindly step back into the frying pan.

Also, think about how they will fit back into the new structure. Often when a person leaves a team, the dynamic shifts—people step up and take on new roles and responsibilities and achieve a higher status within the team. How will the rehire fit into the new team dynamic? Will they be able to adjust to suit the new team dynamic and can the new team adjust to let them back in? Clarify any differences in the role and team dynamic to the rehire so they don’t simply assume they are coming back to the 2010 structure when it’s actually a 2013 structure. For example, are they now in charge of a former equal, or is a subordinate now in charge of them?

Also, try and avoid simply giving the role to the rehire by ensuring that internal applicants get a chance to apply for the role otherwise you could generate resentment from internal staff who have been overlooked.

As a final word, I think that rehires have the ability to be a core part of an organization’s future talent stream, but there are risks as well as rewards from rehiring alumni and it’s important that employers put rehires through a formal interview process where their strengths and weaknesses can be considered alongside internal and first time applicants. This means that if you do select a rehire you know you have hired the best possible applicant available at the time.