How to Restart Your Career With a Returnship

In 2008, a talent recruiter at Goldman Sachs noticed that the finance industry was ignoring a pool of highly-educated job applicants with years of experience: women who wanted to return to work after rearing children.

To make it easier for these women to return to the workforce, Goldman Sachs created the returnship program (a name that they have now trademarked).

The idea behind the returnship program is simple: The company offers qualified candidates, who have been out of the workforce for at least two years, eight weeks of work at competitive salaries. The returning workers get paid to refresh their skill sets and rebuild their professional networks. At the end of eight weeks, Goldman Sachs gets first choice to hire the top candidates, who have been trained to be optimal Goldman Sachs employees.

Based on the success of Goldman Sachs' program, companies in various business sectors have created their own versions. Also, a number of headhunting and career development companies have sprung up, like iRelaunch and Corps Team, that specialize in staffing returning workers. Returnships are a new avenue for older workers to either rejoin the workforce or jump to another career, and there are some excellent perks to these programs. There are also a few downsides.

Returnship programs look for experienced workers

Unlike standard internships that are optimized for recent college graduates, returnship programs are geared toward retraining workers with established skill sets. They are looking for people who fit a specific niche within an industry. While returnships are as wildly competitive as internships, the competition for jobs is confined to one age cohort. Because returnship recruiters are actively searching for workers with experience-based knowledge, you will not have to compete with the kids these days in these programs. (See also: 6 Things Moms Should Do Before Returning to Work)

You get paid to learn

All industries are constantly evolving. Technology, and even jobs, can become obsolete in a matter of months. Figuring out which skills are important for job re-entry can be daunting. Returnships offer the opportunity to learn the required computer programs, workflow, and culture of a company in an efficient, immersive manner.

Although returnship compensation varies wildly, companies like Goldman Sachs pay a competitive wage, even during training, in order to recruit top talent. By the way, returnship compensation is a good method of separating the companies that are just exploiting workers for cheap labor from companies that are seriously recruiting older workers. Companies don't pay top dollar for people to do busywork. The best returnship programs want their graduates to have a running start at their new jobs. (See also: 10 Companies With the Highest Paid Interns)

Networking is easier at the office

It's much easier to get a job if you have regular face-to-face contact with the people who do the hiring. Returnships give workers the opportunity to interface with their possible future boss, and it's also easier to network with people in your industry, outside of your company, if you already have a job. Returnships are a great way to quickly build up a network of business contacts.

Even the best programs can be exploitive

High achievers, especially high achieving women, often fall prey to impostor syndrome, the psychological phenomenon where competent individuals second-guess their abilities and question their accomplishments. Returnship programs inadvertently feed on self-esteem and self-confidence issues.

The Goldman Sachs returnship program accepts 19 out of every 1,000 applicants, making entry to the program more competitive than admission to most universities. Obviously, anyone who is accepted into the program, whether or not they get hired at the end of the eight weeks, is already functioning at the top level of their game.

If you have the confidence to apply to a top-tier returnship program, you may not actually need the experience to get hired at that company. Has an internal recruiter told you that a returnship is your only avenue toward getting hired? If not, you might be second-guessing your abilities.

A returnship can hurt your job prospects

Due to their competitive nature, most returnships will not result in a permanent position. While a returnship can freshen up a stale resume, it's important to approach a returnship as one part of a bigger job search. Don't let a temporary returnship divert your attention from other leads that could result in a job elsewhere.

A temp job might be just as effective and more convenient

Temp jobs allow workers to test drive the culture of companies before they apply for a permanent position. Like returnships, a temp job can give you an immersive experience with a company. And, like a returnship, temp jobs pay you for your work. What temping gives you is flexibility. If you hate your returnship, you will have to tough it out until the bitter end of the program to maintain social and professional connections. If you hate your temp job, you can just quit without any interpersonal weirdness.

Labels can help or hurt you

My best friend just successfully engineered a full-time, paid position at her favorite charity. Because she has a special needs kid, she had been a stay-at-home mom for 18 years before re-entering the workforce. Although her charity has paid internship positions, my BFF decided that she would work for free as a volunteer instead. In her mind, the word "intern" implies training, while the word "volunteer" is open to interpretation.

Since highly trained professionals often volunteer their expertise to charities, she thought the title "Volunteer" would look better on her resume. As it turns out, she did not have to write a resume, because the charity hired her based on her work performance alone.

Create your own returnship if you don't like the existing program

My best friend approached her job search strategically. Volunteering for her favorite charity, although unpaid, gave her more benefits than the internship program. For example, she was able to set her own hours that worked with the rest of her family's schedule, while the interns are beholden to the program supervisor for scheduling and work assignments.

As a volunteer, no one bothered to check her resume for work experience. Since she was efficient and competent with every task she was given, everyone assumed that she had worked in a related field and gave her plum assignments. She purposefully volunteered for the two departments that appeared to be the most short-handed so she could maximize her face time with two separate department heads.

Fewer than 90 days after she started volunteering, the charity created a full-time, interdepartmental position for her with salary and benefits. Not only had she successfully tailor-made a returnship for herself, she also managed to segue seamlessly into a job that had been designed around her skill set. (See also: 9 Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering)

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