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Asking for Old Job Back if New One's Not Working Out Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit


Please help me! I've made a stupid mistake. About six weeks ago I quit a job I had been at for three years to take a new one that paid about 20% more and was closer to my home. The problem is I got caught up by my own greed and didn't investigate the new employer very much. Now it turns out I work for an awful boss (he nitpicks everything, insults me in front of my co-workers and is never around when I need him). Also they expect me to work much longer hours than before, but I have two young children and I'm used to seeing them. Do you think it's too late to call my old boss and ask her to take me back? I know she was disappointed (and I'm pretty sure a little hurt) when I left without much warning. But before that we got along great. How do I do this?
Gerrard Y., Moncton, New Brunswick
Dear Gerrard,

I know it won't be helpful at this point to remind you that before you accept a new job offer, the onus is on you to check out the new employer as best you can (click here for my articles on how to research a potential employer). But I'll repeat it anyway because so many people allow themselves to fall into the same trap as you have that it bears repeating.

Nevertheless, your goose may not be as cooked as you think it might be. I have known several people who have leapt before they looked, landed in hot water, and then sheepishly contacted their former boss to ask if they (the hasty employee) could possibly return and work in their former role. It happened once when I was working for a manufacturing firm where one of our Western Canada sales mangers bolted to a competitor, where he imagined the grass would be greener. More than three months later he phoned up the president of our company and explained that he (the hasty employee) had made a regrettable decision in leaving. Incredibly the president agreed to bring this sales manager back into our fold. I say ''incredibly'' because normally this president behaved as if she didn't have a single ounce of empathy for anyone but herself.

But believe me; it wasn't easy for the sales rep to make that phone call. He and I had gotten along well before his departure and one day, when he was here in Toronto, he and I got together for a beer after work and he told me all about it. Here's how he described it:

> For days beforehand he barely slept, thinking that he would make a huge fool of himself asking for his old job back. He feared getting told ''No way, you idiot'' so much he could barely look at a telephone.

> It took him five tries over a period of three days to get the nerve to actually make the phone call.

> During the early part of the call he was so embarrassed that he considered hanging up in the middle of the conversation just to escape the discomfort.

What helped his cause, he told me, was his honest and humble approach. Before making that important call he actually scribbled out a script that would guide him through the conversation. In this script he described how he had been hasty in leaving our firm and that he hadn't taken time to think things through, which was out of character for him. He admitted that he had made a big error in judgment but had learned now to be more strategic. He also promised to commit himself anew to the president (of our company) and to stay for at least a year, and hopefully for as long as he was being a solid contributor.

Lo and behold, the actual phone call went much better than he'd anticipated. The president revealed the she, too, had more than once in her career made decisions that she had soon come to regret. She told the sales rep that she admired his ability to rise above the obvious awkwardness of his poor choice. And she invited him back on the understanding that he'd be on probation for six months (in other words, if he messed up even once, or looked like he wasn't fully committed to our company, she'd axe him before he'd blinked).

So Gerrard, my suggestion is to prepare yourself first, as the sales rep did, and then make that nerve-wracking call. Be polite and contrite. And be sincere. Because if you're not prepared to re-prove your loyalty should your old boss be gracious enough to take you back, you may find yourself being ''let go'' sooner than you'd care to imagine - and your reputation in the industry would no longer be the best. Good luck with this!

P.S. In case your previous boss says ''no,'' I'd advise you to put your nose to the grindstone at this new job of yours while you look for ways to either improve things there, or else investigate jobs elsewhere that might be better.

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