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Are Returnships Part of Your Hiring/Job Search Strategy?

by | Dec 1, 2021

If you’re like many companies, you may soon be feeling the effects of talent shortages due to the Great Resignation and the Great Retirement. And if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, or if you’re looking to change lanes and enter a new area, you may be struggling to find a re-entry point.

For employers and employees alike, a “returnship” may be what you need to build a bridge between talent and roles. It’s basically an internship designed for more experienced employees.

The concept was pioneered by Goldman Sachs in 2008, and has spread to more than 100 other companies. While professional women who took time off to have children are stereotypical candidates, it may be worthwhile for anyone who’s followed a nontraditional career path.

Employers need to think about engineering returnships to create an advantage in hiring. Employees need to think about how to leverage returnships as a re-entry approach.

Finding or Promoting a Returnship
  1. Start with search. Organizations like iRelaunch and Path Forward specialize in providing resources for returning professionals. LinkedIn and other general career sites like Indeed may also advertise returnship programs. As an employer, make sure you promote your returnship program aggressively. As an employee, make sure to search for this type of program specifically.
  2. Maximize conference attendance. Industry events such as conferences and happy hours (even the virtual ones!) are effective way to connect employers and potential employees. On either side of the equation, be ready to follow up immediately when a company/candidates expresses interest.
  3. Use word of mouth. Companies and candidates should use their networks for finding and promoting returnships the same way you rely on it for hiring and job hunting. Ask for introductions and referrals.
  4. Contact previous employers and employees. For an employee, pitch the idea to your previous employer and volunteer to go first. For an employer, think about reaching out to your recent departures who left in good standing, and notify them of the areas in your company a returnship is available.
  5. Go back to school. Smart companies are recruiting seasoned professionals from university continuing education programs. If you’re a candidate already taking courses, talk with your professors, check the campus career center and connect with sponsors of recruiting events for returnship programming.
Completing and Hosting a Returnship
  1.  Clarify your expectations. Most programs offer no guarantee of employment, but like internships, some hire a high percentage of their graduates. Compensation also varies widely. Ensure you understand and agree with the terms. I do offer caution about non-paid returnships—if a company is not investing in a candidate with compensation, they’re less likely to hire. I am adament that returnships be paid.
  2. Create connections. Ideally, a company will assign returnship participants someone who can guide them through your transition, a “buddy” or a Mentor. If not, as an individual, look for employee you admire, and make your own arrangement.
  3. Build a peer network. Being in a reentry program with other participants has its advantages. Candidates can share experiences, encouragement, and feedback. Employers can leverage the processes of onboarding and scale their projects quickly.
  4. Build new skills. Maybe there was no such thing as crowdsourced coding solutions or Slack the last time the candidate sat in a cubicle. Seek out tasks that will update your skills and help bring you up to speed on industry trends while you complete your returnship. Employers, make sure you are creating formal opportunities for this type of skill development.

In today’s talent market, we’ve all got to get creative to connect candidates and companies, and I love the concept of returnships for experienced hires returning to the workforce or looking to switch careers. If you’re as desperate for talent as most companies are, a returnship should be added to your overall hiring strategy.