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I graduated from college a few months ago and started a great job at a defense contractor. While I was there I met some great people and the work was very satisfying.

About six months in I received a call from a recruiter who had a position that seemed great and I ended up taking the offer. Unfortunately the new job isn't going well at all.

I have reached out to my previous employer and admitted that I made a mistake. Luckily I left on extremely good terms with all of the management, the company I left was great and I had no ill will towards them when I quit. So I have now started the process of returning.

Although this feels very embarrassing I think it is the best decision I can make right now. I want to chalk this up to being young in my career and making a mistake out of ignorance, but there is only so much I can do that for.

I should also mention that I will be at the same company, it would be with a new contractor who does not know how much I was making before.

Regarding salary, is it okay for me to ask for more money since they are offering me my old position back, or should I only ask for what I was making before? Should I just take what I can get?

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    around a month, in that time a quarter of the development department have left. – Andrew Ferguson Nov 20 at 12:05
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    You wrote "I should also mention that I will be at the same company, it would be with a new contractor who does not know how much I was making before." What do you mean by this? Are you a contractor for the company you left or an employee of the company? Do the people that you will be negotiating your salary with know how much you made before? Even if they don't, can they acquire that information? That sentence makes the question much less clear. – Aaron Nov 20 at 23:02
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FWIW, I knew someone a few years ago that was in a similar situation, and he actually had to take a salary hit when he returned to his old place of work. You're certainly not in a strong position to negotiate a higher salary here:

  • You've made it clear that you want your old job back - you've reached out to them and asked (they're not begging you to come back);
  • You've only been gone a month or so, which isn't going to provide any meaningful salary increases due to inflation;
  • You were only there 6 months previously before you left for another job, and it'd be very unusual to receive a pay rise during that time.

You can of course ask for more money than you were on previously, but you then risk alienating them, or them withdrawing their offer altogether (hang on a minute, we're doing this guy a favour by taking him back in and now he wants to milk us for more money?!)

  • That's what I am afraid of. I guess I should mention that this would technically be for a different contractor, I'll edit my post with that info too. The contracting company I am going with now does not know how much I was making before. – Andrew Ferguson Nov 20 at 12:16
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    This contractor business is confusing everyone. I get the impression there is a large company (let's call them The Company) and you originally worked for a small contract firm (Contractor A) which was doing a project with The Company. Now you are going to work for another contract firm (Contractor B) doing another project for The Company. Is this the scenario? – Oscar Bravo Nov 21 at 6:51
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    A pay hit sounds like one of those penny-wise pound-foolish practices which trade the employee's loyalty and morale for a sum which may look substantial to an employee but is almost always insignificant for a business. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 21 at 14:23
  • @AndrewFerguson Then your pay is coming from the contractor, so your employer never knew your pay rate to begin with. You negotiate with the contracting firm, not the client. I've worked for the same company under different contractors, and got wildly different pay and benefits because of it. – thanby Nov 21 at 15:11
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    This is common in government, especially defense. There is a project with a prime and multiple sub-contractors. In a lot of places, they all do the same things and work together, but work for different companies. Basically, he will probably have the same job and boss, just a paycheck with a different company's name. If he can apply to the other company for a legitimate open position, I see no reason why he couldn't ask for a raise citing his experience, even if it is only six months. Defense contracts have good budgets, and they probably cut the salary thin the first time because early career. – cutrightjm Nov 22 at 0:37
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Should I just take what I can get?

Yes. Your goal here is to get out of a failing company and back to somewhere you enjoy working. Failing to do that isn't worth a little bit of extra cash this year.

You're no more valuable now than you were when you left, so you've got no reason why they should pay you more.

Big defence contractors tend to have rigid, formal pay scales. The boss probably doesn't have a lot of flexibility, and you'll probably get a raise when annual reviews come around anyway.

  • I agree with both of the answers here, I guess I'll just hope that they'll give me my old salary – Andrew Ferguson Nov 20 at 12:29
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    I'm basically saying the same thing as Berry, we answered at the same time. Don't fixate on your starting salary, as in a year or two you'll be getting the market rate for your skills and experience. Instead concentrate on being in a position to gain the skills and experience to earn more in the future. – Robin Bennett Nov 20 at 13:18
  • @RobinBennett. Most of that comment should probably be in the answer – Mad Physicist Nov 22 at 15:17
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Just wanted to add that there's nothing to be embarrassed of. Every step you took made sense w.r.t the information you had at the time you took it. Each time you switch jobs there is a risk that it will be a change for the worse. The real error many people make is sticking to the new job no matter what because they are unable to admit they have made the wrong call.

Regarding salary negotiation. If you're getting hired by a new contracting company who has the same client as the old one used to have, you're not "returning to a position that you just left", you're getting a new job. You may be surprised by how much money contracting companies keep to themselves, to the point that there's almost no correlation whatsoever between what the client pays for your services and what you receive. You might as well get a pay raise by leveraging the fact that the client already knows you and wants you, which is very valuable for contracting companies which hate to hire someone only to find out that their client doesn't want them after a few months.

In case you're actually getting hired by your old employer, I would definitely try to get your old salary back. This sounds fair to everyone. You're already taking a hit because you have lost 6 months which would count towards your seniority if you didn't quit. If you can't get your old salary, it's up to you to decide how much of a hit you are willing to accept, but remember that your old employer is not a charity, they are taking you back because you're more valuable to them than a new guy they could get by calling a recruiter, not because they pity that your job hunt didn't go well.

Personally, I wouldn't offer a pay hit when re-hiring someone: I would either give them the old salary if they're worth it or turned them down if they're not. A pay hit is a sure way to demoralize an otherwise good employee and get a similar productivity hit in return.

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it would be with a new contractor who does not know how much I was making before.

Regarding salary, is it okay for me to ask for more money since they are offering me my old position back, or should I only ask for what I was making before? Should I just take what I can get?

The customers knows how much they were paying for your services. That amount covered your salary, your benefits and the companies profits. The new contracting company has bid positions like yours. They have a pay scale, so unless you have some skill set that they must have or they will be in violation of the contract, you have very little leverage.

If you are lucky the rate they bid leaves enough room for you to get a decent salary. Unfortunately in some cases the new company wins the contract by underbidding, if that is the case you might be facing a lower salary. You have to decide how much you should push for.

Make sure you get everything in writing before quitting the job you have.

  • Out of his salary, his benefits and the company's profits which do you think is biggest? I've known consultancies bill close to a grand a day for people they were paying 90K p.a., do the math. – Bloke Down The Pub Nov 22 at 22:47
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I should also mention that I will be at the same [defense] company, it would be with a new contractor who does not know how much I was making before.

You can ask for more, stipulating that it is contingent on the benefits they offer (showing that you're open to negotiations).

I worked for a US contractor a while ago that had the award for a [non-defense] federal agency.
That agency paid the same cost for each "position" in accordance with the contract - if it works the same way it used to work, you're just attempting to get a bigger piece of that pie from company B.

You're the one that wants back in though... don't ask for too much more than you were making before.

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