What Is a Boomerang Employee, And Why Is It Suddenly Popular?

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A great boss, friendly co-workers, inspiring work, free lunch—there are many reasons why we might love a particular job. Despite that, there are also many reasons why we might leave a job we love—for a change of pace, new experiences, or perhaps a sabbatical.

I worked at LinkedIn for six years. I started in 2007, back when Reid Hoffman ran product, and I grew alongside the company. I watched LinkedIn expand internationally and go through its initial public offering. It was an amazing experience, but after six years, I needed a change. I worked at a startup, took a sabbatical, and reassessed my career path. A couple of years later, here I am, a LinkedIn employee for the second time. How did I get here and, more importantly, why did I come back?

There are many things I considered when deciding whether to go back to my favorite employer, but the two most important were: Is the company still a good fit for me, and am I still a good fit for the company? I needed to know that I was making this decision not because I wanted to return to something safe and comfortable, but because returning could offer me real opportunities for professional growth and the chance to make a positive impact through my work. After a lot of thinking and many conversations, I realized that there are three big reasons why going back to work for a former employer can be a great career move.

1) While you grew professionally, the company did too

The biggest misconception about boomeranging—leaving a company for a while, then coming back—is that if you go back to an old employer, you’re taking a step backward in your career. You’ve “been there, done that,” so why go back over ground you’ve already covered? But the reality is that while you were off learning new skills in different fields and growing professionally, your former employer was undergoing a transformation of its own, too. It’s not the same company as it was when you left, just like you’re not the same person. That means there will be new challenges and opportunities to help you continue to grow and advance, not just the same things you did before.

My growth after LinkedIn was specific to working at a startup: learning how to wear many hats, often simultaneously. I worked on various projects, managed the designers, and built out the user experience team. I learned the ins and outs of the startup life—doing more with fewer resources, reshaping the design hiring process, and just generally embracing scrappiness.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn had also changed drastically, but in a very different way. On one of my first days back at LinkedIn, I went to a Research and Development (R&D) event where the SVP of Engineering did a whole presentation about LinkedIn’s technical accomplishments over the last six years. It was incredible to see how the company had scaled. I sat alongside many of my peers who were now in leadership positions, and I realized just how much the company had grown while I was away.

2) You can offer a fresh, outsider’s perspective on your work

When you work at a big company, the projects you’re working on and the team you’re working with are only a small fraction of what the company does, whether that’s a piece of code, a new feature, or a specific product. It’s so easy to get down in the weeds of what we’re working on that sometimes we lose sight of the big picture.

When you leave an employer, you allow yourself to experience the company’s product or service as an outsider. You gain an entirely new perspective about what you were building and a better understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve.

When I left, I started using the platform just like any other LinkedIn member. It was an entirely different experience that was very eye-opening. I was on LinkedIn every day looking for great designers to add to my team, reaching out to them through InMail, and chatting with our mutual connections. I also used LinkedIn to learn. I connected with designers and engaged in discussions about industry trends in fintech to build and share knowledge about my startup’s industry. So when I went back to working at LinkedIn, I could identify more clearly different pain points within the platform and go about trying to solve them, armed with this new perspective and understanding.

When you leave an employer, you allow yourself to experience the company’s product or service as an outsider.

Away from your company, you experience the product or service just like typical customers do, which can become a valuable asset when you decide to come back.

3) You know you really want to be there

Last but not least, if you’re even considering going back to a former employer, you know you’re motivated to follow the company’s mission. I wouldn’t be at LinkedIn right now if I weren’t super passionate about the possibilities of what the company can accomplish.

Assuming that the company you’re considering returning to hasn’t had a massive overhaul, at its core is still the same underlying culture and mission. So, if you return to a company where you knew you liked those elements before, you know you’ll still like it.

Overall, boomeranging has been a great experience. It’s allowed me to grow professionally, offer a fresh perspective to my new team, and most importantly, know for certain this is where I want to be. If you’re considering going back to your favorite employer, I would highly recommend assessing these three elements to help you decide whether this is the right time and right place to go back to. Who knows, maybe you’ll realize new things you love about your favorite employer when you come back for the second time.

Sarah Alpern is a design leader with experience building startup design organizations, as well as running large teams for established brands. She currently leads the 40-person horizontal design team at LinkedIn, including Growth, Search, Product Marketing, and Design Systems.

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