Post-career break: how about a returnship?

Calling anyone considering going back to work after a career break, whether that be after having had children or following a move abroad. If you are ready to make decisions and take action, be sure to consider all options. Did you ever think about going for a ‘returnship’? If you don’t know what that might entail, read on!

Many women are looking for the second act in their life after caring for the children for decades. Other women are already struggling with returning to work after only a couple of years of the career paths. No matter the lengths away from the workplace, many women have two things in common: they are highly educated and are lacking the network and the confidence to get back on track after a career hiatus.

Returnship: a definition

A returnship can be defined as a mid-career on-ramp tool. They are internship-like programmes for experienced workers seeking to re-enter the workforce after an extended period. The term was trademarked by Goldman Sachs in 2008 and aims to mitigate the obstacles faced by many mums – and expats in general – returning to work after a long break.

Typical student internships have been the role model here. Organisations are hiring women for a few months to a year and while these returnships are obviously paid (again high-qualified employees!) they are also paired with mentoring and training.

The goal is to boost the skillset to the current requirements, regain confidence by practice, offer connections and networking opportunities. That sounds fantastic for the candidate but it is also (let’s be fair here) a practical tool for employers to hire highly educated candidates risk-free. Candidates do not have to be judged on their resume but on their actual work outcome over a couple of weeks or months. Actual work samples instead of a series of interviews allow the employer to make the right hiring decision. So, there is less risk for the employer but also the chance to improve the bad image of taking a career break in the first place!

legoImportant: Don’t mix it up with return-to-work programs (RTW). RTWs are aiming to return injured employees to the workplace. It has been shown that initiating welcome back programmes allow a shorter time away from the workplace. When you are Googling for returnships, keep in mind the difference here!

In the beginning, the top five financial service companies within the US started this kind of programme and more recently seven of the biggest engineering companies have started returnship programmes to attract female engineers.

Are you a relauncher?

A great resource to watch when thinking about returning to work is the TED talk by Carol Fishman Cohen (see here).  She addresses those returning employees as ‘relaunchers’. In her view, there are several reasons for taking a career break and it reminded me again that it is not only about being an expat abroad or becoming a mother:

• elder care
• childcare
• pursuing a personal interest
• health issues.

On the other hand, there are also many other career transitioners of all kinds:

• veterans
• military spouses
• retirees coming back from retirement
• repatriating expats (hello!).

She comments: “Returning to work after a career break is hard because of a disconnect between the employers and the relaunchers. Employers can view hiring people with a gap on their resume as a high-risk proposition, and individuals on a career break can have doubts about their abilities to relaunch their careers, especially if they’ve been out for a long time.”

In her view, relaunchers are a ‘gem for the workplace’ and here is her reasoning for that:

• For those that took career breaks for childcare, there won’t be any or fewer maternity leaves
• There will be less spousal or partner job relocations
• You will most likely be in a more settled time in your life
• You bring along great work experience
• You have a more mature perspective on the world
• You are not trying to find yourself at an employer’s expense
• You have energy and enthusiasm ‘precisely because you have been away for a while’.

Are you ready to go back to work?

Do you recognise yourself in that description? Do you feel more stable, more mature after your career break? If not, do not worry. Often in life, we encounter several smaller career breaks triggered by a second move abroad or a second child. Life is dynamic and that is challenging but also beautiful.

In her talk, Carol Fishman is referring to a long career break. She is referring to women who have raised their children and feeling the urge to change from family into business life for good. When you are at that point you will realise that you will feel more mature and more settled in life.

What is important, however, no matter the scenario you are in, is the enthusiasm to get back to work. If you do not feel the urge, it might be a good time to look into it. How are you feeling about returning? Excited? Anxious? Are you rejecting the idea of it? What is your motivation behind? Are you eager to take on the challenge? Are you doing it because you have to do it? Is it only a financial necessity? If so, what could you do to make it more compelling?

It is worth investing the time looking into it because you will need that enthusiasm to convince the potential employer.

The two stereotypes you will be confronted with

Sadly, no matter how modern our society is getting, some stereotypes seem to remain set in stone. Here are two such stereotypes you might come up against:

  • Employers fear that you are not passionate about your career. You did not make it a priority back then, why should you do it now? Employers will note right away when you are not sure about why you want to return and what precisely you want to do. It is not the employer’s job to answer these questions for you! It is your task! To do this kind of preparation work, I started the mastermind group for mums. Go here if you want to know more or join our tribe!
  • Employers fear that your skills are outdated. Technology is developing fast and your confidence might shrink right away when you are not at all familiar with the tools that are used at the workplace right now. Brushing up on your skills and making yourself competitive is your job! Download a comprehensive workbook here if you need more resources and guidelines on how to do so.

Ready to take action?

So, there is some homework to do here before hopping on the application process. It’s always nice to have someone supporting you – whether it is your best friend, your partner, or a group of like-minded women. Create your very own support network to make sure to stay on track.

When you are ready to apply again, you can specifically look for returnship programmes at bigger companies. And please do not stop searching just because you could not find a programme called ‘returnship’. This concept is still new and slowly developing. It is definitely more common within bigger corporations. However, smaller companies are open to this concept but might not have the resources to establish it – or maybe they have are using different terminology. This might be a good time to show your enthusiasm again and be proactive here. Address the fears of the employer right away and prepare a proposal on how to tackle each fear.

What are your returnships experiences? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

What is important no matter the scenario you are in, is the enthusiasm to get back to work

First published on Share the Love.

1 reply
  1. Hafida
    Hafida says:

    I had a long break because of two reasons, relocation and childcare. My break lasted for 7 years and I have never heard of the returnship so, I got my first job which didn’t last for more than two month before they kick me out saying that I am not competent for the job. It was a straight strike that can kill anyone’s confidence and hopes. Luckily, my husband didn’t stop applying for me. After a couple of months, I got a better job with three times the salary I had in the previous one. I jumped from that one to another higher job in only a year and half. After that, I moved again to a very big international company in less than 3 years after my break. I was never chosen because of the number of years of my experience but everyone can see my enthusiasm after the break. I almost got all the jobs I applied for.

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