Cindy Krischer Goodman

They took a break from work. But things have changed so much, they need help

Gloria Samayoa at SapientNitro’s Miami office has been sifting through résumés as the New York-based digital marketing agency expands its new career return program to her office. The 12-week paid program for advertising professionals, which piloted in New York and Toronto, has spread to Chicago, Atlanta and London. It has led to full-time positions in some of those cities for people — particularly stay-at-home mothers — who had taken time off work and wanted to return.

In Miami, Samayoa has been surprised by the résumés she has received: An equal number of men and women are applying for the office’s return-to-work program. “There are all kinds of reasons why the men took a pause from their careers,” she said. “It’s just as difficult for them to come back in where they left off.” Samayoa expects to launch with one or two returners by early next year: “We want find that right person so the experience is successful. Our long-term plan is for them is to get hired.”

Even as the economy rebounded, people have continued to take breaks from the workforce for a variety of reasons, whether to start a family, care for a sick or elderly family member, travel or tackle an illness of their own. Unless they keep their skills up, re-entering the workforce with a résumé gap can be a challenge, particularly as technology has changed the modern workplace.

Now, in South Florida and across the country, return-to-work programs are popping up in various industries providing mid-career internships for caregivers who have been out of the workforce for a few years or more. With most programs, mentoring support is provided to the returner. The concept of a “returnship” was pioneered by Goldman Sachs in 2008, who trademarked the term. It has been replicated by financial firms such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and JPMorgan and tech companies such as IBM and Paypal.

There are about 108 active re-entry programs globally across industries, and more U.S. companies have committed to rolling out programs by year-end, according to a list compiled by iRelaunch, a New York/Boston company that works with employers and returning professionals.

These individuals, typically in theirs 40s, have something unique to offer the employer who understands their value, said Carol Fishman Cohen, the chief executive and co-founder of iRelaunch. They bring more workplace experience and usually have moved past the stage of needing future career breaks, unlike their younger counterparts. Cohen said iRelaunch is the largest supplier of candidates to Wall Street re-entry programs and has drawn more than 25,000 people to its return-to-work conferences and workshops all over the country — about 7 percent of them men.

In Miami, Akerman law firm is recruiting candidates for the office’s re-entry program that will launch in 2017 as part of a nationwide OnRamp Fellowship program. Ackerman already has brought on a lawyer in its New York office through the OnRamp program which matches experienced women returning from career breaks with law firms, legal departments and financial services firms. As of this month, 28 law firms and legal departments in the U.S. and Canada are participating in the OnRamp program, which says its goal is to fix the leaky pipeline in law with women who have the desire to return to the legal profession.

With all the changes in digital, it was like everyone was speaking a whole new language, but the advantage of the program was that there was an onboarding process.

Ellen Kalis at SapientNitro

In Toronto, Ellen Kalis chose to leave her job in public relations to be home with her son who has cerebral palsy. At the time, she saw herself as confident and driven. But four years later when she decided to return to work, she began second-guessing her abilities. “I wondered how my résumé would even get into HR’s hands and assumed it would be tossed to the side as soon as they saw the gap in my career,” Kalis says.

Fortunately, a family member led Kalis toward an emerging path back to employment: SapientNitro’s program. Similar to an internship, it paired Kalis with a buddy/mentor in the New York office who helped her transition into a permanent job as the public relations lead for SapientNitro in Canada and the Midwest.

“With all the changes in digital, it was like everyone was speaking a whole new language, but the advantage of the program was that there was an onboarding process,” she said.

Yet, as the concept of return to work programs took off, some career coaches have cautioned against taking that route back. In fact, Stacey Hawley, a Birmingham compensation and talent management expert, has made her argument on Working Mother Magazine’s website, WorkingMother.com.

“Why put your self at a disadvantage and actually SUGGEST to your employer that you should be constantly scrutinized or that you might not be able to handle the job?” she wrote in 2012. “And if you aren’t hired full-time after the trial period is over, you need to start all over again. … Go after the right job, the first time.”

Donald Chesnut, executive creative director at SapientNitro in New York, says even with compelling credentials, a résumé gap is difficult to overlook in a job candidate: “While we value their experience, if they had applied for these mid-level jobs they would not have made it in.”

Chesnut says the return-to-work program at his firm offers one-on-one mentorship to help returners who have a gap in skills and experience to transition more smoothly. Sapient’s interest grew from conversation about the lack of female creative directors in the industry: “This is a way for us to bring diversity to our firm at the higher levels, and understand the value these people bring, even while they are learning on the job.”

Some larger companies are starting return-to-work groups as large as 25 people at a time, and may bring in several cohorts throughout the year in multiple departments. The success rates for permanent hiring are as high as 90 percent, said Cohen of iRelaunch.

In another example, what started as an internal initiative to increase the representation of women in technical roles at Return Path, a New York-based data provider, became so successful that the company spun off a separate nonprofit called Path Forward. The nonprofit helps corporations’ human resources departments set up mid-career internships.

So far, online education platform Coursera, grocery delivery startup Instacart, as well as customer service software company Zendesk, marketing technology company Demandbase, and CloudFlare, a content-distribution network, all announced that starting this month, they will offer 18-week “returnships” to men and women through Path Forward.

With an estimated 2 million stay-at-home fathers, Simon Isaacs, co-founder of Fatherly.com, a New York-headquartered parenting resource site for fathers, expects to see more men who want to participate in these programs. For them, the transition back can be particularly daunting.

Isaacs said they have fewer role models to turn to for help, and most of their former male counterparts who stayed in the workplace have risen to high-level positions.

Along with return-to-work programs, Isaacs suggests working parents consider flexible jobs open to people with résumé gaps at companies participating in the sharing economy such as TaskRabbit and Lyft.

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes about workplace and work life issues. Connect with her @balancegal, or balancegal@gmail.com

or visit worklifebalancingact.com.

Tips from four female ‘career-returners’:

1. Carol Fishman Cohen of Boston returned to work at Bain Capital after 11 years out of the full-time workforce. She eventually founded iRelaunch.com, a firm that connects employers with returning professionals. Her advice: “Get clarity around what you want to do now at this point in your life. Once you know where you want to work, get to know the company you are applying to really well.” She also advises taking courses or refreshing skills before applying for full-time jobs or return-to-work positions. “Get into the mindset that you are open to training and the feeling you can do it.”

2. Amy Brenner Schaecter of Weston returned to work after more than a decade at home. First she went to a PR firm, then in-house at a multinational company. Her advice: “When you get back to work, make friends with a smart millennial. The synergy is awesome.”

3. Ellen Kalis participated in SapientNitro’s Returns Program after a four-year hiatus. Her advice: “You have to have confidence in your skills. If you go in and show your value right away, companies will see that. Even though I needed more ramp-up time than a millennial or someone who came from that position, hopefully I am adding value somewhere else.” Kalis is now a full-time public relations lead for SapientNitro, Canada and the Midwest.

4. When Carol Hansen returned to return to work in New York after 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, the industry she had left —marketing/advertising — was transformed. Hansen’s transition through SapientNitro’s return-to-work program had its challenges: It was her first time working with millennials, balancing work and family, and digital storytelling. Her advice: “Jump in and raise your hand to help with any project. In doing so, talk to people in all areas of the company,” she said. “Even if I didn’t make it past the returnship period, I knew I needed to learn more and make myself relevant. I saw areas where I was strong and got a reading on areas where I wasn’t.” Hansen is now a full-time senior user experience designer at SapientNitro in New York.

  Comments