In 2021, a record-shattering 47.4 million people quit their jobs during the pandemic and Great Resignation. And according to a ResumeBuilder.com poll of 1,250 American workers, about 23% of employees will look for new jobs this year.
This is the hottest job market we've ever seen. But not everyone is leaving their role for greener pastures.
As CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest organizational consulting firm, I've spent more than a decade counseling people at every stage of their job search journey. And these past couple of months, I've been seeing a common theme: People who wish they hadn't quit their jobs so abruptly.
This question I recently received from a mentee sums it up nicely: "I left my job for a higher-paying position at another company. Now I'm miserable and regret it. Do I ask for my old job back?"
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What to do when you regret quitting your job
Although it may not feel like it, experiencing regret is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you want from your career.
While there's nothing wrong with a boomerang move back to your old employer, its important to remember that whatever reasons or behaviors that made you leave might not change. It could be that you want to go back because that's the most familiar path.
Here are five key questions to consider before asking for your old job back:
1. Did you burn any bridges when you left?
Think critically about how you behaved in your last days at the company. Why did you say you were leaving? How did people respond?
If you vented your frustrations and acted negatively on your way out, there's no going back. Without strong relationships in tact, it may be harder to comfortably settle back into the role.
Even if the circumstances are unpleasant, I always encourage people not to burn bridges. Being graceful gives you the option to return to an old job. Plus, there's no telling where your coworkers will end up. You might need them as a reference in the future.
2. Why did you quit?
There's a reason you left. Maybe you didn't get along with your team. If that's the case, will anything change once you return? Make sure you aren't setting yourself up for the same problem.
On the other hand, your decision to leave could have been related to salary. Too often, people quit for a higher-paying job without considering what non-monetary perks they might be giving up.
Yes, money is important. But research shows that it is only marginally related to job satisfaction. Meaningful work, strong relationships, and the opportunity to grow can be much more valuable.
3. Were you expanding your skill set?
If you weren't learning and growing in your old job, then why go back?
The best reason for taking on a new opportunity is so that you can expand your knowledge and learn new skills. This should help you, hopefully, land a higher title and increase your salary.
You don't want to come back into a role that feels the exact same as when you left, especially if you felt boxed in.
4. Did you like your boss?
This is more than an issue about personalities. Your boss has more influence than anyone on how much you grow; they decide whether to give you stretch assignments or additional responsibilities that build skills and experience.
In my career, I can think of four jobs I took because I wanted to work for — and learn from — a particular boss. There's nothing like working for someone who champions you, invests in your success, and gives you ample room to grow.
5. Does going back feel like a bad idea?
Let's say your position has already been filled. Or you did burn a lot of bridges. Or you weren't growing. Or your boss was toxic. Whatever you do, don't quit your current job and rely on getting your old one back.
Make a Plan B and stick to it.
What to do if going back to your old job isn't an option
It used to be that people approached their career paths as ladders, moving slowly and steadily upwards with their eyes on where they want to be in 10 years.
Today, however, career paths that are more like winding labyrinths with the job seeker's focus often just two to three years out. This allows for more exploratory lateral moves and career shifts.
With that in mind, make a list of companies that you'd love to work for at this stage of your professional life. What roles would best suit you? What kind of boss do you want to work for? Then, think about who in your network can make an introduction.
When you get to the interviewing stages, really focus on telling your story. Be authentic and make a connection. With so many trends and changes happening at once in the job market, employers won't be surprised that you took a leap for a new opportunity — only to find out that it wasn't for you.
Gary Burnison is a best-selling author and the CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest organizational consulting firm. His books include "The 5 Graces of Life and Leadership," "Leadership U: Accelerating through the Crisis Curve," "Advance: The Ultimate How-to Guide for your Career," and "Lose the Resume, Land the Job." Follow Gary on LinkedIn.
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