Returnships are one route to get back into a world that may have moved past you

You have taken a break from your career and now you’re ready to get back. If it feels like a struggle, you are not alone. Many women struggle to get back on the road again.

This road is windy from the start. When it comes to advancing careers, mothers often have to pivot and follow a nonlinear arc. They don’t trek upward, but rather scale back, drop out, drop into something part-time, or telecommute. The driver is obvious: almost 40% of women with high-performance careers have intentionally chosen a job position with lower responsibilities and pay in order to focus on domestic priorities.

When they try to get back into the workforce, they hit a maternal wall: unconscious biases against mothers in their abilities and commitment.

A career break does more damage than significant loss of potential life earnings. Women often find it difficult to fit into a world that has moved past them: less opportunities and lower perceived performance = a personal confidence crisis, which accelerates the downward spiral.

One solution initially trademarked by Goldman Sachs in 2008 was a returnship, or an internship for the adult who took a break. As of 2021, there are more than 100 companies which offer returnship programs, with the majority of them in the Fortune 500. Curators of career re-entry programs offer women access to job boards and coaching in order to pursue these returnships:

Broader digital marketplaces which offer women opportunities in family friendly corporations also offer some returnship access as well:

Returnships offer one route to get back into the game. If you decide to try interviewing for them, there are things to be mindful of in this competitive situation. Let’s take a look at them.

Don’t fake it till you make it

You’ll need to persuade this employer to take a chance on you. You start to delve into your experience. But how do you know if that experience is relevant or even up-to-date?

Experience is not about retrieving an encyclopedia-based moment to draw upon. No one cares! It’s simply about your ability to problem-solve ad hoc.

This is all the more critical when you are feeling insecure about a question;when your imposter syndrome meter is redlining.

Your answer cannot be bullshitting your way through it. Fake it till you make it? More like fake it and die from lack of credibility.

I suggest we play into a natural skill: honesty! The next time you are asked a difficult question and what kind of experience you have in said difficult area, a possible answer could look like this:

I have not specifically solved this type of problem in my prior role. But based on my background this is how I would approach it: [your thoughtful, detail oriented answer that is in line with the company’s values].

Prepare the experience of you

Luck is preparation meeting serendipity - blah blah. What does preparation even mean?

It is not just about your work experience, but the entire experience of you. That’s what is on the line. It is not just what you say, but how you say it, and how you present yourself. Check out Vanessa Van Edwards work on how to beat the charisma game. There is so much going on non-verbally in these interactions that is worth your investment.

Attention to physical details like what you are wearing (whether in person or in the zoom interview), should always come back to how confident you feel in your choices. Your confidence is a priority, because absence will negate preparation.

Be part hustler, part robot

Convincing someone you’re worth the chance is a game. Take a look at the reckless adventures of Alex Banayan in The Third Door. He convinced high-profile people to be interviewed. At one point, he was even writing a speech for Lady Gaga. While he hustled his way into these positions, he also proves in his interviews that the most financially successful people we know also did their share of hustling.

Consistency and repeat failures are part of the process of improvement. Keep interviewing and be self-critical about what went wrong without any self-judgment - I know it’s almost impossible. But being human here doesn’t serve you. Being more robotic with repetition is going to get you results.

Because of the maternal wall, it may prove very difficult to land this job. Keep trying. You already endure the never-ending, thankless stress of raising children - you have what it takes.


* primary business is to create returnships in corporations, but they also offer some applicant opportunities.

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