Need to Know: Boomerang Hires

Headshot of Kerstin Wagner

As organizations around the world grapple with talent shortages, hiring managers and project leaders are increasingly turning to familiar faces—former employees—to fill gaps.

According to LinkedIn, more than 4 percent of job changes in 2021 involved people returning to their former organizations—more than double the 2010 rate. And as The Great Resignation turns into The Great Regret for some, these so-called boomerang hires are also returning to their previous companies more quickly—in an average of 17 months, down from nearly 22 months in 2010.

“I’ve never seen a labor market as tight as this one before—you really have to make an effort to find candidates and talent,” says Kerstin Wagner, executive VP of talent acquisition, Deutsche Bahn AG, Berlin.

By treating former employees as alumni, organizations put themselves in a position to reinforce their talent pipelines. Boomerang hires can save companies time and expenses related to training and recruitment.

But even if they don’t return, former employees might be able to recommend other project professionals to the company. 

“Stay in touch with your former employees—they’re a great recruiting channel,” Wagner says. “Even if you don’t rehire somebody, they can be promoters for your brand.” 

Wagner explains five questions project leaders need to contemplate before they decide to rehire someone:

  1. Is this person the best fit for the job?
    First and foremost, I look at the skills needed for the role and select the candidate who best meets those requirements, rather than choosing to rehire a former employee and then looking for a position that person could fill. 
  2. Will this person’s experience help accelerate a project?
    When a project has a particularly tight timeline, a former employee who’s familiar with the company’s processes can hold an advantage over external candidates. They can jump right in and mitigate the risk of project delays. 
  3. Does this person want to learn something new? 
    Many employees want to keep growing in their careers. I always look to give a returning employee a new challenge based on their previous experience with the company. We want them to create a sense of renewal and personal growth. 
  4. Will this person help diversify our workforce?
    Diversity is a top priority at Deutsche Bahn, and recruiting is the most important lever to achieve this goal. Therefore, it’s crucial to always consider the diversity dimension in your hiring.
  5. Is this person enthusiastic about returning?
    First of all, learn why they left. If those factors haven’t changed, it’s fair to wonder about their long-term buy-in. Boomerang hires should be as excited and motivated as those joining an organization for the first time.

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