If you got laid off and your former employer is hiring again, you might see the news as a chance to get your old job back. But first it's important to consider whether it's a good idea – and whether your current skill set is what the company needs now. The odds of that you can get a job back are good if you were let go simply for budgetary reasons and the company outlook has been improving.
But before you get too excited about trying to get that old job back, however, do a self-assessment – and be honest. "Sometimes there is some selectivity in who is laid off," says Jerald Jellison, a professor of social psychology at the University of Southern California who specializes in the workplace. Ask yourself, did you leave your old job under bad circumstances, or have relationship problems with your boss or coworkers? And how was the quality of your work?
You also should consider whether or not you feel a renewed commitment to the work you'd be doing if you get your old job back, says Mr. Jellison. "I liken it to returning to an old flame. Is it really a good idea? Do you really want to be there?"
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Next, consider what your company will need as conditions improve. If you were a marketing manager, figure out how you could return to your old job with a new strategy to make the company more competitive. If you've enrolled in any courses or taken part in webinars to improve your skill set, highlight these efforts in your cover letter.
Keep in mind that even if your old firm is starting to rebuild and your position – or something like it – is resurrected, you might not be able to get your old job back. Approach the job interview process as if you were a first-time candidate. Use keywords to tailor your resume, do research that shows you haven't fallen behind on what the company has been doing, prepare for the interview and be ready to answer tough questions.
And before you apply, contact former co-workers who have kept their jobs to assess how things are now relative to when you were there. Get up to speed on any other news that can help you understand key personnel changes or staffing needs, says Ruth K. Liebermann, managing director of HR Insourcing in Boston. "Contact your former boss and let him [or her] know that you're interested," says Ms. Liebermann. "Tell your boss what new initiatives you plan to bring, with the benefit of hindsight, and what new energy you have coming back."
When you contact your former boss or human-resources department, assure them that you harbor no bad feelings about being laid off and are eager to return to work. If you're trying to persuade a new boss to give you your old job back, focus on your accomplishments and get references to back up your claims. If there are no full-time positions available, consider asking to work on a contract basis. The pay is often higher and, though there are no benefits, the job may eventually transition into a full-time position.
Don't be discouraged if you get through the interview process and find out the job now pays less than you earned before. "You have to consider the market conditions," says Paul Glen, a management consultant in Los Angeles. "Everybody is taking pay cuts and losing benefits. If you successfully get an old job back, the salary situation will change as the economy improves."