Is It Embarrassing to Go Back to Your Old Job?

It’s okay to go back to your old job, if for the right reasons. Here’s a career coach’s advice on what the right reasons are and how to overcome the embarrassment of returning.

9 months ago   •   4 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
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Is it embarrassing to go back to your old job? You left that job for a reason, right? But there you are, thumbing the edge of an old business card, considering a reunion with your former 9-to-5. Is it a brave step forward or a cringe-worthy misstep waiting to happen?

Even if it’s genuinely the right choice, you may feel reluctant to return to an old employer. After all, how do you explain that you failed to land a much better job after flouncing out when you were denied a promotion, or explaining to your former colleagues that your seemingly valid reasons for quitting now seem minor?

Keep reading for tips on how to overcome the embarrassment of coming back to your old job. But first, let’s take a look at whether it’s even a good idea to start with (and tips on how to make that decision).

How to tell if you should you go back to your old job

Debating going back to an old job? Here are some reasons to go back — and some reasons to stay away.

Reasons to go back to an old job

You should consider going back to your old job if:

  • It aligns with your career goals. Going back to an old job doesn’t have to mean going backwards in your career. If there are better opportunities for advancement at your previous company — especially if you’re returning to a new title, salary bump, or different position entirely — it’s probably a wise decision.
  • Familiarity. Don’t underestimate the benefits of familiarity. Knowing what to expect can be as good a reason as any for returning, especially if you value stability in your career.
  • You’ve maintained positive relationships. If you left your old job on good terms — especially if you’ve stayed in touch with former colleagues — there’s no reason why your return won’t be a smooth one.
  • Things have improved. If you left because of something that’s now been resolved — for example, if your terrible boss has left the company, or there are new opportunities that weren’t available before — it could make sense to return.
  • It’s the best option. Sometimes, returning to a previous job just makes sense. If you’ve explored the job market and found that there’s nothing better out there in terms of salary, benefits, or conditions, don’t let pride hold you back from taking the best option available to you.

Reasons not to go back to an old job

On the other hand, it’s probably a bad idea to go back to your old job if:

  • You left for a good reason. If you left a toxic work environment, unhealthy work culture, or problematic colleagues, then returning to that same environment can be bad for your physical and mental health, as well as your future job prospects.
  • There’s no potential for growth. If your old job doesn’t align with your long-term goals or a lack of opportunities for advancement was holding you back, returning is likely to be a step back professionally.
  • You’ve burned your bridges. If you left on bad terms — like if you quit with no notice or have badmouthed your old company since leaving — you’re unlikely to face a warm welcome even if you are able to return.
  • You’re motivated by fear. If the only reason you’re considering going back to your old job is that you don’t like your new one, or because it’s familiar, or because you don’t know what to do next, try exploring other options first. There may be more out there than you realize.

The process for deciding if you should return to a previous employer

Still not sure if going back to your old job is the right idea? Here’s how to make the right decision.

  1. Analyze your reasons for wanting to return. Understanding your motivation for wanting to go back to an old job is the best way to figure out if it’s genuinely a good idea.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons. Take a look at the list above. How many of them apply to your situation? If there are reasons both for and against, you may need to decide which ones are more important to you.
  3. Compare the alternatives. Try to think of your previous job like you would any other job. How does it stack up against other opportunities? Make sure you’ve explored all of your options before you commit one way or another.
  4. Apply for other jobs. Don’t go back to your old job just because it’s easy when there could be better ones waiting for you. Polish up your resume, run it through a free resume scanner, and start applying just to see what else is out there.

How to overcome the embarrassment of going back to an old job

If you’ve decided to go back to your previous employer but you’re worried about the embarrassment of walking back into an old job, here are some tips for how to overcome embarrassment.

Acknowledge your reasons for coming back

Owning your reasons for returning can be the best way to move forward. That doesn’t mean you need to share personal reasons with everyone who asks, but having a quick, breezy answer for when it comes up can help alleviate any awkwardness.

Reframe your decision

Even if you feel like you came back for a ‘bad’ reason, there’s no reason you can’t put a positive spin on it. Left over what now seems like a minor issue? Taking a break allowed you to focus on what really matters in your career. Had trouble landing a new job? Exploring other opportunities made you realize how much you value what your company and current role has to offer.

Focus on your long-term goals

Even if you feel embarrassed right now, trust that you made the right decision in the long term. Remember that this is one step in your overall career journey and think about where to go from here.

Check your ego

If you’re only embarrassed because your ego feels a little bruised, try changing the way you think about it. Adopting a growth mindset is all about taking risks — and accepting that those risks won’t always pay off. Try to focus instead on what you gained, whether that’s new skills, experience, or a fresh perspective.

Let it go

It can be easier said than done, but sometimes, the best way to overcome negative feelings like embarrassment is just to not care what other people think. If this is the best decision for you, own it — the rest ultimately doesn’t matter.

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