How and Why You Should Hire “Boomerang” Employees

Stephe Evans

VP Engineering at ACV Auctions



I joined a team as the CTO, and in that regard, I was coming to take over the management of the team. Since the team had been together for a couple of years, most senior engineers were placed in other leadership positions. There were about 4 vacant tech lead roles, where Joe (pseudonym) was in one of the tech leads. We were working on a large technical project, and he was much of the strong individual for that. He was perfectly technically competent, and most importantly, he had a great charismatic personality for a tech guy. A few months into the project, we were all amazed about how he was always on track, and he always had a clear way ahead of him.

Perhaps the saying “good people don’t last long” was indeed true. As Joe started to trust me during the 1:1s, he once said that he did not ask to be the manager of a team. He mentioned how he did not enjoy managing the team, nor did he feel like proceeding towards the right path. From my perspective, he was great at what he was doing, but he was very insistent over what he was saying. Over time, he was getting more and more dissatisfied with his work. During a charity event organized by our company, he came up to me and informed me how he had accepted a job offer elsewhere.

I was certainly disappointed because he was one of the strongest people on the team, admired by all. I could not retain him back in the team; he left for another role in another company. However, as time passed by, after about 2 months, I got another call from Joe. Interestingly enough, he called to let me know how he did not fit the company culture he yearned for in the new company and regretted leaving us. The bigger picture of the problem was rehiring a former employee who wanted to make a comeback. Would this person leave again if he was rehired?

Actions taken

First of all, I reflected on my actions. How could I have done something differently to retain this strong individual back into the team? Obviously, it was a bigger problem than I realized. He did not want to be a manager or a supervisor. All he wanted was to work on technology, even though he had the skills and personality to be a leader, but that was not where he wanted to be, for which he made the decision. Plus, I had to make sure that this does not happen a second or a third time. Hence I took further actions.

I worked with the broader organization and identified more senior technical roles beyond my teams' scope. To be precise, it was a role whereby he would be working with my team and a much broader and global platform. I was able to identify a carver role for him back in my company. He then became a senior individual contributor and did not have any senior management responsibilities while having a positive impact. I successfully connected the dots, went back to Joe, and brought him back into the company.

The main idea for him was to work with a minor team, but not as their manager yet put in his incredible positive impact. Four years later, when I talk to Joe, he has even more responsibilities of driving global architecture, which significantly impacts him in his career. I had to deep dive into understanding his motivations and what his ideal world would look like — talking to different stakeholders across the company to read between the lines. Looking back, I reinforced my learnings; now, I talk to people about their motivations, how they might be feeling, and what they would like to be doing. That would keep them engaged and accelerate their passion for contributing to what we are trying to achieve.

Lessons learned

  • As technology leaders, we need to provide unlimited career opportunities, especially for individual contributors at the technical level. Also, help people diagnose if they are on the right track and make those core adjustments.
  • Understand your team members' motivations, skills, and desires, and guide them towards what aligns the best with them. Help them explore their career planning and open those doors for them.
  • Never look at the external reflection of an individual to judge how they might be doing. While Joe seemed like he was doing great as a manager, I was just looking at the surface of it. I did not go deep enough to explore his motivations.

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Stephe Evans

VP Engineering at ACV Auctions

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionIndividual Contributor Roles

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