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How to quit a job without burning bridges

July 07, 2007 10:07 IST

Richard Edsall left his job at Chubb twice. After each resignation, the company hired him back.

Was this a case of a recruiter asleep on the job? Absolutely not. Edsall is known in human resources parlance as a "boomerang" -- an employee who leaves a company to get other experience and then returns to the original employer. In many cases it creates an ideal employee, one who knows the original company's culture and brand and gained additional skills while at another firm. Granted, to be a boomerang you have to be a high performer.

Equally as important is the way you resign. Give plenty of notice, explain why you're leaving and maintain relationships with co-workers.

With aging baby boomers leaving the workforce and taking their years of experience with them, boomerangs are likely to become more valuable. "For a long time, if you left you were considered disloyal and the attitude was, 'We don't want to talk to you,' " says David Hyatt, president of CorVirtus, a human resources consulting firm based in Colorado Springs, Colo. "As the demographics change and companies need high-quality people, it will happen more often. Experienced people are harder to find."

The first time Edsall left Chubb, it was after four years as an insurance underwriter. It was his first job out of college, so when a Chubb competitor offered him a position with more responsibility, money and the opportunity to move closer to his family's home, he took it. He openly explained his reasons for leaving to his manager and offered to stay as long as needed in order to transition to the person taking over his job.

Also, he recommends not goofing off in your final weeks. "Do everything you can to leave on a good note," says Edsall.

He kept in touch with his co-workers and managers at Chubb as a way to leave the door open if he ever wanted to return. After four years at the competitor, that's exactly what he wanted. Keeping those relationships up made it easy to ask if there was any opportunity for him at Chubb. He returned as a more senior level underwriter.

A few years later, he was given the opportunity to get in on a start-up company and he felt it was an opportunity too good to refuse.

"I felt the experience of working at a start-up was something Chubb couldn't offer," says Edsall. "My bosses understood." Then the dot-com bust happened and he found himself looking for work. He used his network of former Chubb co-workers and was hired to run the directors and officers liability business for the department of financial institutions.

"Leaving enhanced my experience and made me a better employee," says Edsall. "I got insights I wouldn't have had if I stayed at Chubb."

Hyatt, of the human resources consulting firm CorVitrus, recommends being blunt about the possibility of returning to a previous employer. In fact, he says you should come right out and ask your supervisor when you offer your resignation if you'd be able to return after gaining more experience. He also suggests staying in touch with co-workers by mingling at professional events and inviting them out for casual coffees or lunches just to catch up.

That's what Chris Myers did when he left FedEx after three and a half years to work in marketing at BellSouth. He went from being a manager in corporate marketing at FedEx to regional marketing director at BellSouth. It meant more money and lots more responsibility.

When he brought the news to his supervisor, he explained that he could gain experience at BellSouth that he wasn't able to at FedEx, and that it was a good professional opportunity.

He stayed at FedEx for about six weeks to wrap up his business there. "I wanted the director of the department to have the opportunity to find the right person for the job," he says.

Myers wasn't thrilled with the culture at BellSouth and he missed FedEx's focus on customer service. He kept in close contact with his former co-workers and they suggested he apply for a job since the business was expanding and there was lots of opportunity.

His job interview was with folks he had known at FedEx for years. When they asked why he left, he was honest. "I told them it was a good, local opportunity with good compensation," Myers says. "But I soon discovered the culture difference and their expectations weren't in line with mine."

He was hired back in another sector of business, retail marketing. It was a lateral move but he quickly moved up the ladder.

Hiring former employees back at FedEx is a company philosophy. Says Sally Davenport, a spokeswoman for the company: It takes a long time [about a year and a half] to acquaint someone with our kind of business [transportation]. If we have the opportunity to bring back a strong employee, it makes good business sense."

Tara Weiss, Forbes