Returnship Programs: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know
Brought to you by Back to Business
Returnship programs are a great way for individuals who have been out of the workforce for a period of time to return to work. Returnship programs are internship-like programs that typically hire a cohort of people to work for a defined period of time, and provide mentoring and training. Ideally, companies offer the Returners a full-time job upon completion of the program. There’s a lot to know about Returnship programs so I’m going to really dig into the details here.
Returnship programs were first developed in the early 2000’s by a few forward-thinking Human Resource professionals who realized that having a gap in your work history made it difficult for people to get a job. They started in investment banks, and Goldman Sachs is credited with pioneering the first returnship program in 2008.
Returnship Programs Usually Require a 2-Year Career Gap
Returnships are an efficient and effective path back into the workforce for professionals who have some professional work experience, even if your work experience isn’t recent.
Recruiting for a position that actually requires a minimum of a 2-year career gap can be a very refreshing experience for people who are job-seeking after a career break. You do not have to worry about explaining that gap in your work history to employers!
Requirements vary by company, but the minimum 2-year career break is quite common among Returnship programs. Many programs specifically state that you qualify if you have been unemployed or under-employed for at least the past 2 years. Under-employed might mean that you took a job during the last 2 years that is not in your career field. It can also mean that you are working part-time instead of full-time. Sometimes that part-time job is necessary because you need to make ends meet or thought it might be a stepping-stone to get you back into an appropriately-leveled job in your intended career field. That will not disqualify you from most Returnships.
Returnship Programs Aren’t Just for Moms
Women who left their careers to raise children were the original targets of Returnship programs. However, these programs are also a good solution for anyone who has taken an extended leave to care for a sick relative or stepped out of the workforce due to their own health issue. Veterans transitioning out of the military are often targets of Returnship recruiting. Also, stay-at-home Dads are welcome to apply for Returnships!
Join the Group – Returnships are Often Cohorts
Returnship programs are often planned to include a group, or cohort, of people hired at the same time. The group is onboarded together through a new-hire orientation and continues to meet periodically for training opportunities throughout the Returnship. The group aspect of these programs is thought to be a major contributor to the success of individuals participating in Returnships.
Imagine making a big life transition such as returning to work after a career break and having a built-in support system of people making that same transition! Returnships can provide that kind of support with the cohort model.
You’d immediately be connected to others who understand exactly what you’re going through and who are likely experiencing the same pressures and stresses of balancing family and work and, well, life. Cohorts can range in size from just 2 all the way up to 16 at a larger firm with a well-established Returnship program.
Training Included In Returnship Programs
Returnship programs will vary by company, but many have skills training opportunities built into the program. These can either be at the beginning of the program, occur periodically throughout the program, or (ideally) occur at both of those times. Companies running returnship programs are investing in you and are providing training opportunities so you can refresh your skills and succeed on the job.
Soak it up – if you’re lucky enough to land a job at a company that spends time and money ensuring their employees skills are sharp, you are in a good place!
Many Returnships were created to fill technical positions, such as Software Engineer. We’re all familiar with the lopsided make-up of the technical workforce and how it skews heavily male. Returnships can be a great way to incent women with technical skills to return to the workforce. The upskilling these programs provide can solve the tricky problem that many women face when they take a few years off of a technical career and are left with outdated technical skills. It’s a win-win when a company hires engineers that will diversify their engineering teams and career restarters receive the technical training they need to return to the workforce.
All Kinds of Jobs Can Be Returnship Programs
Returnships aren’t just for technical positions. In fact, the Returnship model works well for jobs across a whole range of functions. Credit Suisse’s Real Returns Returnship Program sources candidates for roles across their business units in many different functions. In this case, they identify positions that need to be filled on different teams and earmark those roles for the Returnship. Then they get filled with candidates who meet the Returnship criteria and who will participate in the Returnship programming.
I’ve seen Returnship programs in HR, finance, marketing, and many other functional areas.
Sourcing General Returnship Candidates
In rare cases, I am aware of companies that want to run a Returnship program and put out a very general call for candidates that meet certain criteria. The corporate recruiter who evaluates those candidates is looking for (a) a good fit with the organization and (b) someone with the potential to thrive in a role that can be molded to suit their skill set. The only company that I know of that filled their Returnship opening this way was able to do so because they had just one opening. It would be very difficult to fill multiple roles this way! It’s also difficult to apply because you don’t know what they are looking for.
The pandemic forced many jobs to transition quickly to remote work or work from home (WFH). Even now there’s a lot of uncertainty around companies’ policies about working in-office or working remotely. As they hire new employees, many companies are having them WFH either temporarily or on a permanent basis. Personally, I think we’ll see quite a bit of flexibility surrounding work arrangements in the future, with many employers offering their people a hybrid model that includes the option to WFH a few days a week and work in the office a few days.
Some companies are sourcing candidates for their Returnships that live in a specific area or are willing to relocate there at some point in the future when and if they decide to enforce a return to the office policy.
If you are interested in a companies’ Returnship program, be sure to find out if the role is either temporarily or permanently remote.
What to Look For In a Returnship Program
If you are interested in pursuing a Returnship program as a path back into the workforce, here are a few things to look for as you evaluate the program and the position:
- Will you be part of a cohort of people hired at the same time?
- Is there a plan for professional skills training for Returnship hires?
- Will you be assigned a mentor or a buddy to help you navigate the company?
- Does the company hope to hire the Returnship participants on a full-time basis at the conclusion of the Returnship program? Be sure your expectations are in line with the companies’ plans on the subject of full-time employment.
- If the company has run a Returnship before, what percent of Returnship participants joined the company full-time at the conclusion of the program?
These are Paid Positions!
Returnships are paid work opportunities! You will be performing professional-level work and should expect to be paid for this work at a rate in line with the job market.
Can You Suggest A Returnship To A Company?
Yes! If you are pursuing a job at a company and are encountering resistance because you’ve been out of the workforce for a period of time, suggest a Returnship. You can always educate the employer about Returnships by sharing an article like this one. In lieu of a structured Returnship program, you can suggest the idea of a shorter-term project or contract work that could convert to full-time work in the future. If you and an employer are making arrangements like this, be sure to get the agreement in writing so you are both clear on what you’re committing to. And remember that both parties need to perform up to expectations in order for that conversion to a full-time position to make sense.
Mentoring In Returnship Programs
Mentors are typically assigned to Returnship participants to help ease their transition back to work and to help them succeed at the organization. Your mentor is likely to be someone in a senior position at the company and have the perspective of a seasoned veteran. They can help you navigate corporate culture, your relationship with your manager, and many other situations you might encounter as a new employee. If you are assigned a mentor, be sure to discuss how you plan to work together, how often you’ll meet and the types of things your mentor is willing and able to advise you on.
Be sure to let your mentor know of any areas that you might need extra support in, so they can be prepared to assist with those.
You might also be assigned a buddy in the organization. Your buddy might be a colleague at your same level who can provide you a perspective of a teammate and who you should feel comfortable asking any question of. Similar to your mentor, you’ll want to get clear on how you’ll work together. Talk about the best way for you to communicate and if you’ll meet on a schedule or if they’ll be available on an as-needed basis to answer questions for you.
How To Find Out About Returnship Programs
Join the Back to Business community and email list to learn more and to meet employers hiring for their Returnships. Returnships are also posted on company websites, specifically on their Careers page. Not every company has a Returnship program and most of those that do run them on a seasonal basis. Also, some companies might have a Returnship program but won’t be recruiting candidates when you are looking for a job. So check back often to see if / when the window for recruiting for the companies’ Returnship opens.
What Other Questions Do You Have?
Email me at katiedunn@BackToBusinessConference.com with your questions about Returnships. There’s a lot to know about these programs and I want to be sure you are armed with everything you need to be a strong Returnship candidate!
Join the Back to Business Community
Back to Business was started in 2015 to help women return to work after taking time off from their careers. We have built a community of women supporting each other during this important transition and we host the largest return-to-work conference in the Southeast, the Back to Business Women’s Conference. Join our email list to receive our best advice for your return to work and to stay updated on our events. We’re based in Raleigh, NC but welcome women from all over to join us!
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