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Background: About 6 months ago, I left my previous employer for very difficult family reasons, I just needed to be closer to home. 6 months on, things have changed and I am now very strongly considering going back.

I am considering returning to the job I had as a mid-level engineer at a large company about a half-year ago. When I left for very personal reasons, my boss said that if I ever wanted to work for him again, to “let him know”. I have been considering this for a while, and believe it is the correct choice for me, but I have a couple of concerns:

  1. How can I avoid the optics that I only did this as a “springboard” to get a raise/am likely to do it again?
  2. How should I navigate the hiring process? I see that essentially my old job is open right now. Should I apply as a normal candidate, or reach out to my old boss who is doing the hiring?
  3. I am still on excellent terms with my old coworkers. Should I be cautious of any potential hard feelings or other issues?
  4. My company has a referral bonus policy. If appropriate, I would like to be able to kick some money to one of my coworkers for a referral, but want everything to be “above board”.

I realize I may be overthinking things here, but this company was where I saw my career long-term and would like to return to that.

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    @JoeStrazzere he asked when I handed in my notice if he could retain me with a raise, I answered “no”. This seemed like a relevant piece of information, though I know you didn’t ask. Are you suggesting that I explain why I left and that I am not likely to do it again? – agentroadkill May 20 at 16:14
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Reach out to your old boss. He should be able to tell you the best route to take. He may request you submit your application through the "normal process", and he can then shepherd it through for you.

In regards to what people will think? So what? People will think what they want--you can't control that. But be completely open and honest. When you have water cooler interactions with coworkers, emphasize that you didn't want to leave, but HAD to for a time for personal reasons. Don't even talk about money -- it's none of their business.

As for the referral? Nah--I wouldn't go there. Just wouldn't really be appropriate.

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    Referral bonus? Would be really inappropriate.. – user90842 May 20 at 20:01
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    Not to mention that there are usually policies against that within the referral policy.. i.e. "can't have worked here for at least a year prior to start date" or "only candidates that have never been an employee at Acme Inc. can be referred through this problem." – ebernard May 20 at 20:39
  • I did once get a referral bonus for a colleague coming back to work but that was because we were asked to recommend candidates and I let the former colleague know we were hiring and then passed on his interest. In the OP's scenario the boss might be due the referral bonus. – TafT May 21 at 13:28
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    Adding here that #4, your referral bonus question, might end up hurting #1, your optics for as to why you left. – nostalgk May 21 at 14:45
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    I also think the whole referral thing would just unnecessarily complicate things – Sarbus May 21 at 15:55
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You asked a number of questions:

How can I avoid the optics that I only did this as a “springboard” to get a raise/am likely to do it again?

Just make it clear that you're willing to return at the same compensation as when you left - which seems fair to everyone, unless you've become more skilled or valuable while you were away. If you'd consider asking for more simply because you were underpaid before, you need to treat that as a separate issue.

How should I navigate the hiring process? I see that essentially my old job is open right now. Should I apply as a normal candidate, or reach out to my old boss who is doing the hiring?

This is easy, your boss has already given you the answer. Let him know.

I am still on excellent terms with my old coworkers. Should I be cautious of any potential hard feelings or other issues?

We can't predict their reactions. It's good news that you were on good terms. Be ready for at least some minimal level of questioning, it may make sense to think through how you'll address people asking where you've been. If you were on good terms, they may do this out of concern, not out of hard feelings.

My company has a referral bonus policy. If appropriate, I would like to be able to kick some money to one of my coworkers for a referral, but want everything to be “above board”.

That seems inappropriate, since it doesn't reflect the truth. Referral bonuses are typically meant to be paid for situations where an employee has recruited someone fresh to the company - someone who may not have applied otherwise. That is clearly not the case for you. Further, most HR offices will do at least some minimal level of due diligence on referral bonuses, and at the very least, they will likely not pay a referral for a prior employee.

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    "Just make it clear that you're willing to return at the same compensation as when you left"... I would only add if these six months went over the normal raise schedule you would have had, then you should ask for the 2-10% you would have normally seen. – Kallmanation May 21 at 11:02
  • I have the feeling that referral bonuses often happen in cases where a candidate happens to know someone at the company, and they let them know that they're interested so the employee can initiate it as a referral. It increases their chance of getting the job, and benefits the friend. – Barmar May 21 at 15:58
  • Referral bonuses can come from within, but from my experience this really applies more to large organisations and the job being either very different or a step up from what they were doing before (I've seen this happen to finance graduates in lower paying admin roles being referred for positions within the company's finance department, for example). – DoctorPenguin May 22 at 14:27
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my boss said that if I ever wanted to work for him again, to “let him know”.

Here's your answer, just let him know, don't overthink this too much.

My company has a referral bonus policy. If appropriate, I would like to be able to kick some money to one of my coworkers for a referral, but want everything to be “above board”.

I don't think it's a good idea since you're not a 'new' employee in the company.

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Hiring you will be mutually beneficial to both parties, as they will not have to train/onboard a new hire.

Be completely open and honest about your situation. I wouldn't consider trying to get a referral bonus.

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Your boss specifically said that you should “let him know” if you consider going back, so you're really over-thinking here. Just let him know as he asked.

Regarding the "springboard" thing, nobody will look at you in this way unless you really try to use this as a springboard. Note that you can expect at least a little raise nevertheless, because as a new hire you will lose any seniority bonuses your company might have, so being hired on exactly the same salary as before will be a net loss for you.

As for the referral bonus, I wouldn't consider trying getting one ethical. Your company pays this money for the effort of finding a good candidate they didn't know about, which isn't your case.

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