Should You Take Back Your Ex-Employer?

Remember, Rothenberg advised, it's a boon for your ex-employer to skirt the recruiting and training process and land someone who already knows their way around company culture, customers and procedures.

"In some ways," he added, "you can be a more effective negotiator because you know the ins and out of the company."

"Denise," a technology worker from Tampa, agreed.

"I came in as a known entity," said Denise, who returned in January to the employer that laid her off at the start of the recession. "I already have those relationships."

Because Denise had another job she liked when her ex-employer came calling (albeit a lower-paying one), she asked her former company for a 20 percent pay hike -- and got it.

"Georgette," an interior designer in Boston who was laid off in early 2009, doesn't plan to jump at the first figure her former employer offers, either. The company, which she said has reduced the salaries of its remaining staff by 20 percent, called her in "to talk" last month.

"They said they weren't ready to make an offer that day," Georgette said, "but that they knew that the best people were going to get snapped up first and that they wanted to make sure I gave them a chance before going somewhere else."

Georgette, who's been living on freelance work and unemployment checks since losing her job, is receptive to the idea of returning to her former employer -- but not if it means taking a pay cut. In the meantime, she's interviewing with other firms.

Beggars Can't Be Choosers?

Of course, the more desperate you are to start working again, the less you'll want to ask for the moon, said employment attorney Jay Warren, who's a partner in the New York office of law firm Bryan Cave LLP.

"You don't want to set conditions," explained Warren.

For example, he said, if your former star client or plumb project is now the domain of an ex-colleague, exclaiming, "You're not going to let that guy keep it, are you?" won't score you any points at the negotiation table.

"Richard," a video game producer in Seattle, will attest to that. When he convinced the company that laid him off in 2007 to give him a shot at a position a bit beyond his skill set, he didn't want to push for too many concessions. So he agreed to take the job on a trial basis last year, signing an eight-month contract rather than accepting a permanent staff position.

"For me, the most difficult part was balancing wanting to negotiate for something that was worthwhile and the incredible dread that came from being unemployed and maxing out my savings," Richard said.

"Jonathan," a technical support specialist from Kansas City, Missouri, can relate. When his former employer called at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night last year to ask him to return to work, he didn't care that it was for a lesser position than the one he'd lost in 2008. For one thing, he'd still be making the same salary. For another, he was about to run out of unemployment checks.

"The call to come back was a life saver for my family," said Jonathan, who skimped on health insurance and his much-needed cholesterol medicine while unemployed. "We were busting our heineys doing everything we could to keep our heads above water."

Read the Fine Print

Compensation, job description and employee-vs.-contractor status aren't your only concerns when returning to an employer that laid you off, Warren said. You also need to consider the following details:

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