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Say you left your previous employer about 3.5 years ago to pursue a growth opportunity, my primary motivation for moving. If a position currently opens up in that same company today for a Software Team Lead, would you:

  1. Apply for this position, if you still have a lot of good relationships
  2. If you would apply and can speak to the Engineering Director, who did all he could to keep you, would you call him to discuss about their needs and your interest? If not, how would you go about this?

As the Engineering Director, would you consider this candidate for Software Team Lead who left you 3 years ago despite all you tried to do to keep him, knowing that this guy has a tendency to seek opportunities for growth every 3-5 years? Yes, this person meets all of the requirements and has the potential to be a good leader.

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You can't keep people forever. 3-5 years is great. go for it. –  GolezTrol Aug 27 '11 at 20:38
    
Exact duplicate (same user): programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/104243/… –  Paul R Aug 28 '11 at 12:53
    
@Paul - you linked to this very question:-) –  littleadv Aug 28 '11 at 23:45
    
@littleadv: actually it looks like the two duplicates were subsequently consolidated by a kindly moderator –  Paul R Aug 29 '11 at 14:29
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

knowing that this guy has a tendency to seek opportunities for growth every 3-5 years

You're saying it like it's a bad thing. I would be very cautious towards people who stayed in the same position for more than 3-5 years.

I see no problem with people leaving if they can't find what they need at their current place. As long as they were professional and left without causing problems and on good terms - there's no reason for them not to come back when an opportunity arises.

For the company its definitely a good thing: shorter learning period, they already know what the person can or cannot do, there are personal relationships which will make it easier to get back into business faster, and of course it is much easier to evaluate if the person fits if he already fitted once. Much better than trying to guess based on a 1-hour interview.

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What you describe actually happened to me. I left a company and came back a year later to what would become a team lead role. After 3.5 years, I left again.

Regarding your questions, yes, it's ok to go back, there are a lot of wins for both you and the company to be had. And yes, if you left on good terms then I don't see why your director wouldn't be pleased to have someone back that doesn't have to endure as big a learning curve.

The responses from Doc Brown and littleadv were both good.

I would add these concerns and considerations:

  • There might not be a third time. If you left again as I did, it might be the last time. I left the second time for exactly the reasons you specified: I hit a ceiling and the company's IT department doesn't provide much of a career path; it's a small shop and there's just not much room to move in. Despite leaving on decent terms though, I think the company would probably not want to go through a third stint. It might not be that way in your situation, and of course things could change if the regime changes. But even though we should be logical about hiring quality people, we're also human and it's quite possible people in the company will feel you've slighted them a second time and will not be interested in future associations. That might be perfectly OK; in my case, even though I still like the company and the people, I don't suspect the company will change significantly enough to remove the barriers that caused me to leave. It's just something to consider.
  • Is taking this position going to be a wasteful diversion? I don't consider my second foray with the company a total loss, but looking back, I wonder if it ended up being a 3.5 year detour from the path I should have taken. I gained valuable leadership experience, but I went back to yet another traditional IT shop that doesn't get IT, answers to the CFO instead of the CEO, is reactive rather than strategic or innovative, values deadlines over quality, and didn't have much room for growth. These things didn't change when I left the first time, and had I been more careful about analyzing it, perhaps I would have done things differently. I think I'd have been financially much better off if I'd stayed at my former position for another year and then gone to consulting as I have, or found a different company entirely. But if you feel this second stint will still be of value, go for it. If you eventually feel you have to leave to earn more and learn more, then it's the company's fault for not managing its employees.
  • Is it the right time to go back? Related to both points above, if you're going to go back, and you want a career path, and given that there might not be a third time, is there a possibility you could wait for a manager or director job instead? Of course you can't time how all these things will work out, but if you really like the company and there's a chance you could get a position that you'd stay in for longer or that had more growth potential, that might be better.

No right or wrong answer in the end. It's up to you to do what you feel works best.

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Great thought prvoking response. I will edit my original question to provide more context. –  e28Makaveli Aug 28 '11 at 1:57
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How can the Engineering Director be sure another candidate for this position (perhaps someone new to him) will not leave after 3 to 5 years? And what if you get the job and leave after 3 years again - that might be 3 years for the company of having (hopefully) a good Software Team Leader, which is not too bad for them.

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You may as well go for it. Three and a half years is a long time, and I assume that they aren't going to hire you just to fire you, so really your only risk is that you go for an interview at which you have no chance.

If you have a connection to someone who was in a position to actively try to get you to stay, then you should very well use it. I assume that your old engineering director is a well-balanced person who doesn't resent your departure and will be glad to have you back, based on your description.

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