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I'm leaving my first job out of college for something else, and when I left, the CEO (small company) said that their door is always open if I ever want to come back. I saw this as an exceptionally positive thing, but also assumed it was common at this particular company because it is a small company of very niche expertise and so someone they have already trained for two years would be a valuable asset to hire back later.

I mentioned this to someone who works at a much larger and much less specialized company in essentially the same field (we are both software developers so there is a wide range of job types in our field). He told me that every company tells this to departing employees and mentioned that at his office (a small subset of many contractors from different companies working together), they have said the same thing to departing employees.

That office does have a high turnover rate (much like the job I am leaving), and they work on specific in-house developed software that takes awhile to learn the ins and outs of. Apart from a couple of managers, they don't have a lot of developers that have been there long enough to really be deep experts. So I think it does make sense that that office would want to hire old people back, but the company is a separate issue and the office and the company would need to coordinate. Either way, I think I understand why that would be a common sentiment at that particular office (but I think it would be strange for the company itself which is large and tends to hire generic developers).

Is this true of every software development job? If I left a job at Amazon or Google, would they "save my spot" in case I wanted to come back later?

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    The question requires "goal we can help you achieve". Right now your Q looks like a starter of a discussion, which is off-topic here. What are you trying to achieve? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jan 13 at 3:27
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No company is going to "save your spot", but if you're a good employee, are productive, positive, have created goodwill, and are leaving on good terms then it makes sense to me that they might extend an open door to your return. Why not?

This is going to vary by company but it doesn't strike me as unusual, unorthodox, or suspect.

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They don't save a spot but you can come back more easily.

Google has it so that you can come back within a year, so the spot isn't guaranteed, but if they regretted you leaving you will have a very easy time returning. My prior organization would probably slot me into first place if they had a spot open and I wanted to return.

Software development everywhere has high turnover (my last organization had developers last about 8-16 months), so there are often always spaces available anyway. A friend of mine was HR at a company that employed about 40 developers and they always had 5 jobs open and took months to fill them because they were picky. Large organizations would always be hiring.

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It's true of many jobs in many fields, if you leave on good terms and skilled people are hard to find.

Keep in mind that finding an employee normally requires:

  • running ads or paying recruiters
  • doing lots and lots of interviews
  • when you find someone, training them in the way your company works, which might take months
  • finding a good spot for that person, with a team they enjoy and bond with

These things can easily take tens of thousands of dollars or euros per good new employee.

Now imagine you've got someone who has already gone through all of these things, already knows the company, the product, the people, knows they'll like it there, and the company already knows they're productive, dependable and a good fit.

The cost of saying "The door's always open" is zero, and it might save them a large sum of money down the line if you decide to come back and they'll get an employee that barely needs training or interviewing. It's a great deal for the company to get a good employee back over having to find a new one.

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Is this true of every software development job? If I left a job at Amazon or Google, would they "save my spot" in case I wanted to come back later?

This is much different interpretation of what "door is always open if I ever want to come back?" One is saying they're going to save your position whereas the other is saying you're leaving on a good note and you can always try to come back.

The door is always open means literally that... the door is open, you can go in, but not necessarily stay.

He told me that every company tells this to departing employees and mentioned that at his office (a small subset of many contractors from different companies working together), they have said the same thing to departing employees.

Yes, it means you're leaving on a good note. It's essentially saying, "Hey you're leaving on a good note and we're pleased with your work." That doesn't mean they're going to rehire you, if you know what I mean.

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Is it common for a workplace you are leaving to say “the door is always open”?

Whether it's common or not, does not really matter, it might be a cultural thing, it might be a personal note. What matters are:

  • If you're leaving the company on good terms (without burning bridges)
  • If you feel that it was / is a good workplace to be in
  • If the company sees value in you, at a later point of time, when and if you choose to apply

Yes, the door is always open. Usually any organization neither holds grudge towards an employee for leaving on good terms nor reserves or saves a position / job/ spot for them for future comeback, it all depends on mutual agreement - if the company needs the expertise you hold and you're interested in the job offer, it's not a problem to re-join an earlier organization.

I personally know some people in leadership, who had left and re-joined the same organization more than once, because of various reasons, but they all left on good terms and once re-joined, they seem to do pretty well. Mostly, it's a non-issue, irrespective of whether you are told welcome (while leaving) or not.

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When I worked as a Manager at a large multi-national firm the HR system literally had a box to check "Would you re-employ this person yes or no", finding good employees is hard - making clear you know the position should circumstances change is a very sensible thing.

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