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Although there hasn’t been a surge in hiring, there are ripples that suggest more companies will be adding to staff in the near future. But whether companies are likely to rehire former employees, especially those who were laid off, remains to be seen. In some instances, jobs have changed and now require different skill sets. Even when job requirements are the same, a former employee may not be the best fit.

Indeed, Sheryl Dawson, CEO of (Dawson Consulting Group), a firm specializing in search, selection & retention and organization effectiveness consulting and training, tells HR Wire there are advantages and disadvantages to the practice known as boomerang hiring.

Hello Again

There are situations where rehiring former workers is likely, Dawson says. As business picks up, construction and engineering firms, for example, will probably bring back employees who were let go when the economy cooled. Similarly, as manufacturers see orders increase, they too will be inclined to turn to workers who were put on leave, she says. In other environments, rehiring former employees may not be so clear-cut. "One of the big things about hiring situations is that productivity has improved so dramatically. Because of productivity gains, the nature of the work has changed," Dawson explains.

As the economy picks up steam, there will be new jobs, she says. But there may be less boomerang hiring than might be expected.

New Opportunities and Ex-Employees

Nevertheless, even in instances where jobs have changed, former employees may still be good matches. Moreover, there are several advantages to hiring people who had previously worked for the organization. For one thing, retraining is easier than training anew, says Dawson. In addition, for the most part, former employees are known quantities, she explains. This is important as a predictor of job performance.

And there’s the matter of cultural fit. A former employee is familiar with the organization and has already demonstrated whether he or she and the company are compatible. Dawson points out that it is often difficult to assess cultural fit with a new candidate.

Rehiring former employees also keeps them away from competitors. This can be particularly beneficial in highly competitive areas like sales, or in jobs where trade secrets and/or processes may be worth safeguarding.

Considering the Candidate

Still, there are no guarantees that a former employee will turn out to be an ideal employee. Because it’s unlikely that the job he or she once had is exactly the same as the open position, Dawson says it’s important to look at whether the person has required or transferable skills.

She also cites one of the disadvantages of hiring former employees, particularly those who have left on their own: not knowing why they left. "The vast majority won’t say why they left," Dawson explains. As a result, there could be issues with management (unless management has changed), and/or they could be bringing other relationship "baggage" back with them.

Consequently, Dawson recommends looking closely at a former employee’s track record since leaving. And that’s not all. "I’m a strong proponent of reference checking-written references and oral references," Dawson says.

Although companies are often reticent to share negative comments about employees, Dawson says an oral reference provides an opportunity to get a feel for lack of enthusiasm. "Be sensitive to the tone of the reference. Sometimes you can learn a lot by what’s not said," she explains.

When reference checking, however, it’s also necessary to consider the environment the employee is coming from and whether a negative or less than enthusiastic reference might be the result of a bad fit. This is particularly important if the employee was a star when employed by your organization.

Approaching as a New Hire

Dawson recommends weighing all things, and weighing them just as you would if the employee were a first-time hire. Among the primary considerations is how the individual will fit with the culture, position and the team with whom they will work. "History doesn’t really matter. Having an excellent match for the individual and the company is at the top of the list of selection considerations," says Dawson. But because a former employee does have a history with the organization, there are practical considerations. The waiting period for benefits, retirement plan participation, and performance appraisals may be impacted by rehire, and former employees are likely to ask questions about these matters during the interview process. Dawson therefore advises organizations to have clearly defined policies, with an emphasis on consistency. Smaller companies are generally not as careful in this area of policy setting, she says.

Considering a former employee may require exploring how the person interacted with co-workers in the past. "The relationship with management is foremost, but companies work so much in teams these days," says Dawson, explaining that a lot of companies use team interviewing to see if there is a match. Yet, while the approach can be effective, Dawson points out that it can be tough to assess behavioral traits in an interview. "Whether competencies – skills, education, and experience – match are easier to pin down," she says.

And then there are personal issues. Individual circumstances may have changed since the person worked for the organization, and/or the employee’s goals may have changed. Considering goals can be important, particularly if the person is coming back to the same position, says Dawson. He or she may have outgrown the job, or may be burned out. Hence, making a quick decision should be avoided. "Don’t short-circuit the selection process because you think you know all you need to know about that person," Dawson says.

Finding a Fit

Nonetheless, all things being equal, a former employee can be a great hire. In addition to the advantages cited, less training required and a (somewhat) known quantity, Dawson cites loyalty. "If they have a strong affinity to the company, they may be very excited about the position," she says. This, in turn, is likely to generate enthusiasm for the organization both internally and externally. It may also generate employee referrals.

As the worker shortage intensifies, more organizations may find themselves turning to ex-employees. Dawson points out that the health care field is already aggressively pursuing former employees. And there are indications that others may follow. A recent survey by Recruiter’s World, a full-service site for recruitment professionals, finds 27 percent of companies are rehiring employees who were laid off.

Dawson says a growing number of companies are keeping in touch with former employees, and she advises others to do so as well. "I think keeping those databases up to date is important," she says.

By Paula Santonocito

This article was first published HR Wire and is used here by permission.