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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

3 steps to take if you want to unretire or return to your old job

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

Want to pull a Tom Brady and unretire? Here's how to do so gracefully. Getty/Cliff Welch

  • Eileen Smith coaches professionals in public speaking, executive presence, and career success.

  • She says to treat asking for your old job back like a job search, not a heart-to-heart.

  • Find out what's possible, focus on the value you'd add, and anticipate how people will respond.

It seemed like a good idea at the time when you announced your resignation or retirement. You enjoyed your party and you said your goodbyes. But now you're considering making a return. Sometimes you don't know how good you have it until it's gone.

If you want to boomerang back to your old job like Tom Brady, consider these tips.

Find out what's possible

With just six weeks between retirement and return, Tom Brady hadn't been replaced yet as the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No matter how long you've been out, the first step is to ask a former colleague for the lay of the land.

Is your position still open? Has it been advertised? Coming back may be as simple as calling your old boss, who might be grateful to skip finding and training up a new employee. If an eager former colleague is acting in that job or already en

sconced in your old position, your task is a bigger challenge. If you can't have your exact job back, has something else opened up? If you left because you were looking for a change, that breath of fresh air may present itself in a different division of your old organization. Treat your approach as a job search where you have the benefit of excellent prior knowledge of the mission at hand and familiar faces on the inside.

For example, you can say:

I've been enjoying my time off, but it's amazing how quickly I ticked off everything on my to-do list once I wasn't working full time! I'm starting to think I should've taken a long vacation or leave of absence instead of walking away all together. I miss the adrenaline rush of meeting our quarterly goals. Do you know if my old job is still open? Or if there's something similar? I would appreciate your advice.

Focus on the value you can add

As much as you may want to pour your heart out to your old boss about how the grass was not greener on the other side, stop and take a deep breath. You wouldn't call the hiring manager of a new company to lament your life choices. Instead of dialing them up to share what you miss, talk with your old boss about what value you have to add, what you've learned since you left, and how you want to contribute in a new or better way. Treat it like an informational interview with someone you know but still want to impress. As much as this person may like you, they have a bottom line to meet. Depending on how long it's been since you left, you likely still have institutional knowledge that's valuable to the company. Talk about how you can help your old boss meet their goals. It's a job search, not a homecoming.

For example, you could approach the conversation like this:

Thanks for finding time for a phone call. It's been so nice to have these last few months off to slow down, think, and finally read all those business improvement books I had stacked up on my table. The more I read, the more I think about how we were doing our processes and the improvements we could make with some no-cost streamlining. I would love to talk with you about my new ideas and see if there's a way I can come back to help implement them. When I was in the thick of it, it was hard to step back to see how we could do things better. Now I want to bring all these ideas into the office and see how I can help you meet your goals without you having to put in so much time reviewing everyone's work.

Anticipate your coworkers' point of view

Even though you left in a blaze of glory, you sent a gracious, meaningful goodbye note that highlighted what you all achieved together, and you thanked the people who contributed to that success, it's still awkward when you change your mind. What tough questions might they ask? How will you explain what's wrong with your new situation?

Keep it classy. Don't spill the tea about how awful the working conditions are at your new job, if you have one, or all the ways you don't like your new boss. If you left to retire or take time off, don't share that you've lost all will to climb out of bed and shower in the morning. Prepare (and practice) an explanation that shows you still have a fire underneath you and you miss what you could accomplish with your colleagues as part of a team. You want to come back so you can embrace a larger, more meaningful mission in life — not because you no longer enjoy sitting on the sidelines.

For example, you can say:

I've learned so much these last several months working on my own as a consultant. The change of pace has been nice, but I miss being in the action. The long-term projects I was working on with our team were creating lasting change in our industry. I'd like to come back and be part of making that impact happen. Working for myself has its benefits, but I've learned I want to make a bigger difference than I can as a solopreneur. If your old company is ready to give you another chance, they may want a commitment from you that you won't boomerang again in a short period of time. Decide what kind of promises you're prepared to make. Since you're the one who left and then changed your mind, you must also be the one to demonstrate that you're quite sure about this next step.

Call it the Big Quit or the Big Upgrade — regardless, it's a frothy job market right now. People are trying different locations and flexible lifestyles. You can be forgiven for taking a step off the path, then wanting to find a way back. Your old employer may even be thankful to hear that you want to return and take some of their workload off their shoulders. Like the Bucs and Tom Brady, your old company might see a brighter future with you in it.

Eileen Smith is a public-speaking coach, career whisperer, and former US diplomat. Find her tips to help business executives, policy experts, and rising professionals achieve preparation, confidence, and career success at

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