Getting Back to Work After a Career Break

‘Re-entry’ internships help employers find skilled people who’ve taken time out of the workforce

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 20, 2016
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carol-fishman-cohen.jpgORLANDO, Fla.—Re-entry internships are an effective way for employers to make an informed hiring decision in their search for high-caliber job candidates who are looking to return to the job market after a prolonged career break, according to re-entry expert Carol Fishman Cohen.

Cohen is the CEO and co-founder of Newton, Mass.-based iRelaunch and works closely with employers and professional organizations to create re-entry internship programs—sometimes called “returnships”—for returning professionals.

2016 Talent Management Conference & Exposition
2016 SHRM Talent Management Conference

She led a concurrent session, “The 40-Year-Old Intern: Understanding Mid-Career Re-entry Internship Programs,” at the 2016 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Talent Management Conference & Exposition.

“Re-entry internships are an effective way for employers to engage with experienced professionals returning to work after a career break,” Cohen told SHRM prior to the session.

She was referring to breaks of two or more years—although she knows of one woman who re-entered the workforce after a 25-year break. Women often step away from the workforce because of care-giving responsibilities, but “relaunchers” also include military spouses, individuals returning from military service, or—like the Robert DeNiro character in the movie “The Intern”— older workers who discover retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Employers that embrace the concept of re-entry employees, she said, value the employees because they possess great work experience, have a more mature perspective and are in a more settled period of their lives: They are less likely to relocate, and the women usually have their maternity leaves behind them.

“The employer can base the hiring decision on an actual work sample instead of a series of interviews and does not need to make the permanent hiring decision until the internship period is over. For the manager who is interested in tapping the pool of talent returning from a career break but views it as a high-risk proposition, using an internship to test out the relationship removes the perceived risk,” she said.

No one was talking about re-entry programs when Cohen returned to work in a financial analysis role after an 11-year break to care for her four children, but she started noticing a trend among employers in the financial sector. They were offering re-entry internship programs as a way to find women to fill mid- and senior-level leadership roles.

Re-entry programs typically are paid positions that range from 10-18 weeks and work best when participants are part of a cohort rather than a “one-off” internship, according to Cohen. Some organizations offer a stipend; others negotiate payment with each participant, depending on the individual’s background; others prorate payment for the number of weeks the internship is served.

In some re-entry internship programs, ndividuals serve in the role for which they would be hired if the experience is successful, according to Cohen. MetLife hired one woman as a program manager upon her successful completion of its re-entry program; she was returning to the workforce from a 14-year career break.

Goldman Sachs’ Returnship Program offers a paid, 10-week program for people wanting to return to the workforce after a break of two or more years. It launched the program in 2008 in the Americas and has since expanded the program globally.

Similar programs include JP Morgan’s ReEntry, Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work and Credit Suisse’s Real Returns.

The conversion rate from re-entry programs to full employment ranges from 50 percent to 90 percent, Cohen said. MetLife, for example, aspires for a 100 percent conversion rate among individuals in its three-month “Act2” re-entry internship.

Re-entry programs are not limited to the banking sector.

IBM, GM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Caterpillar, Johnson Controls, Intel and Cummins are seven global engineering-based companies piloting re-entry internship programs as part of the Society of Women Engineers/iRelaunch STEM Re-Entry Task Force initiative, whose mission is to find more female talent in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sector, Cohen told session attendees. She noted men are eligible to apply for and participate in these programs.

She advised employers interested in creating a program for returning professionals to model it after a traditional internship program, noting that many of the training modules, professional development components and job classifications can be the same.

Reach out to college and university alumni communities, publicize your program internally, and contact former employees who are high-performing candidates, she said.

Many people who take a long career break don’t think they have a chance of returning to their organization after they leave, Cohen noted.

“Now those companies are saying not only are we interested in having you back,” she said, “but we have a formal program ... to help you make that transition back.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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