What Is a Returnship? [Understanding Career Reentry Programs]

what is a returnship

A returnship is a professional internship designed for individuals who are re-entering the workforce after an extended absence.

Much like internships, returnships offer structured work opportunities, but they are tailored to experienced professionals who have taken a career break for various reasons such as child-rearing, caregiving, or health issues.

These programs are typically paid and can last from a few weeks to several months, offering recent returnees a chance to update their skills, rebuild their resumes, and gain new work experience in a supportive environment.

For employers, returnships provide access to a pool of mature and often highly skilled talent who may bring diverse perspectives and life experiences to the workplace.

These programs help reduce the employment gap on participants’ resumes, making them more competitive in the job market.

Additionally, returnships have a structured framework that often includes mentorship, training, and the possibility of full-time employment at the conclusion of the program.

Understanding the nuts and bolts of these programs, including how to secure a returnship and the criteria for eligibility, is crucial for those interested in this pathway back into professional life.

Key Takeaways

  • Returnship programs facilitate the re-entry of experienced professionals into the workforce.
  • These programs provide mentorship, skill renewal, and potential full-time opportunities.
  • Returnships benefit both participants and employers by bridging employment gaps and enriching workplace diversity.

Understanding Returnships

As you explore career re-entry options, returnships present a structured and supportive bridge back into the workforce.

Woman celebrated after completing her returnship.

Definition and Origin

A returnship is akin to an internship designed for experienced professionals who have taken an extended break from their careers, typically for personal reasons such as childcare or health issues.

Originating from a concept developed by Goldman Sachs in 2008, returnships facilitate your reintegration into the professional environment through mentorship, training, and networking opportunities.

Perhaps the most recognized advocate for the formalization of returnships is the organization iRelaunch, which champions these return-to-work programs as a means to address career gaps.

Comparison with Internships

Target GroupPrimarily students or recent graduatesProfessionals with substantial previous experience
ObjectiveTo gain initial industry experience and skills.To update skills and re-enter the professional field after a career hiatus.
DurationTypically a few weeks to several months.Often ranges from a few months to a year.
MentorshipMay or may not include mentorship components.Usually involves a significant mentorship component to guide you back into your role.
CompensationOften unpaid or with a stipend.Usually provides competitive pay, reflecting the experience levels of the participants.

While both internships and returnships offer learning opportunities, returnships are specifically tailored to your needs as a professional re-entering the industry, offering a more seamless transition and aiming to result in a permanent position.

Benefits of Returnships

A returnship provides significant advantages both for you as a returning professional looking to re-enter the workforce and for employers seeking valuable talent.

This initiative fosters an environment for growth, skill enhancement, and increased confidence, while offering numerous employment opportunities.

A middle-aged male professional, appearing grateful and content, receiving guidance from a mentor in a well-lit office meeting room. The mentor, another male professional, is pointing at a document, explaining details, which underscores the supportive environment provided by returnships.

For the Returning Professional

As you embark on a returnship, your journey is marked by skill acquisition and refinement.

The opportunity to work on real projects allows you to update your technical and soft skills in a supportive environment.

You are likely to experience substantial personal growth and a boost in confidence as you re-establish yourself in the workforce.

Moreover, a returnship offers you a chance to demonstrate your value to potential employers, potentially paving the way to a full-time employment opportunity.

  • Updating and refining technical and soft skills
  • Personal growth and increased confidence
  • Demonstrating value to potential full-time employers

For the Employer

Employers participating in returnship programs gain access to a pool of experienced and motivated talent who can bring fresh perspectives to their team.

This arrangement is particularly beneficial as it encourages diversity within the workplace by reintegrating professionals who have taken a career break.

By providing these opportunities, employers can evaluate and shape returnees into reliable employees who might become integral to their operations, helping to fill skills gaps and potentially leading to long-term value for the company.

  • Access to experienced and motivated talent
  • Encouraging diversity by reintegrating professionals
  • Filling skills gaps and identifying long-term value for the company

Criteria and Eligibility

When considering a returnship, your previous professional experience and the length of your career break are pivotal factors.

A middle-aged female professional, looking thoughtful and introspective, standing by a window with a view of the city skyline. She is holding her resume and looking out the window, symbolizing contemplation of her past professional experiences and the future opportunities through a returnship.

Evaluating Candidate Background

To qualify for a returnship, you must typically have a substantial record of professional experience prior to your career break. The specific criteria may include:

  • A minimum number of years of professional experience (often 5+ years).
  • A career break, usually a minimum of two years, for reasons such as child-rearing, elder care, education, health issues, or other personal commitments.

Returnship programs often require that your skills be relevant to the field you are re-entering, yet they also usually provide training and development opportunities to update and refresh those skills.

Target Demographics for Returnship Programs

Returnship programs are specifically tailored to you if you are:

  • An experienced professional who has been out of the workforce for an extended period.
  • Interested in returning to work in a field where you have previous experience or expertise.
  • Willing to engage in a temporary assignment that has the potential to convert into full-time employment.

These programs recognize the value and skills that you can offer and aim to bridge the gap between your last professional role and the current job market demands.

Structure of Returnship Programs

Returnship programs are typically structured to provide a seamless transition back into the workforce. They encompass comprehensive training alongside a support system to ensure your return to a professional setting is successful and beneficial.

A middle-aged male professional, appearing engaged and enthusiastic, participating in a training session within a corporate training room.

Duration and Format

Returnship programs typically run for a period of 3 to 6 months.

During this time, you will be expected to work on projects or assignments that are reflective of your desired role within the company.

The format is often:

  • Full-time: Similar to regular employment, but with the understanding that you are there to learn and grow.
  • Part-time: Allowing for a more flexible schedule if needed.

The specific structure is designed to accommodate your re-skilling and acclimation to the current business environment.

Mentoring and Support Provided

An integral part of returnship programs is mentorship.

You will be paired with an experienced mentor who will guide you through the nuances of your position and the workplace culture.

Additionally, training sessions will be conducted to bring you up to speed on relevant skills and knowledge.

Support groups or networks may also be available, offering you:

  • A channel to connect with peers.
  • A place to share experiences and offer mutual support.

These components reinforce the mentorship and training provided, ensuring a structured and comprehensive system of support to aid in your professional development.

Securing a Returnship

To embark on a returnship, you’ll need a well-crafted approach to the application process and interview preparation.

A middle-aged female professional, looking confident and prepared, sitting at a desk in a quiet, focused environment, tailoring her resume on a laptop. Papers and a cup of coffee are on the desk, suggesting a meticulous approach to applying for returnships.

The Application Process

Your first step is to create a resume tailored to the returnship you’re eyeing, highlighting relevant experience and skills.

When crafting your cover letter, explain your career hiatus and express your enthusiasm for re-entering the workforce.

You should gather references—former colleagues or mentors—who can vouch for your past work and your ability to adapt to new roles.

  • Resume Checklist:
    • Contact Information
    • Professional Summary
    • Key Skills
    • Professional Experience
    • Education and Training
  • Cover Letter Tips:
    • Address the career gap directly
    • Focus on your professional readiness
    • Emphasize your excitement for the opportunity

With these documents, complete the application thoroughly and double-check for accuracy.

Job seekers must ensure their application materials are free of errors and clearly showcase their qualifications.

Preparing for Interviews

Once your application lands you an interview, it’s essential to practice.

Research common interview questions and prepare thoughtful responses.

Understanding the company’s culture and aligning your answers to reflect their values makes a strong impression.

  • Interview Preparation Steps:
    • Research the company thoroughly
    • Review possible interview questions
    • Prepare and practice your answers
    • Plan your interview attire in advance

Mock interviews with a friend can help you gain confidence.

Remember, the interview is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and determine if the returnship aligns with your career goals.

Key Employers and Industries

Your awareness of key employers and the industries that offer returnship programs is essential as you explore opportunities to re-enter the workforce.

Your awareness of key employers and the industries that offer returnship programs is essential as you explore opportunities to re-enter the workforce.

Prominent Returnship Programs

  • Amazon: Offers a 16-week “Return-to-Work” program geared towards professionals who have taken a career break.
  • Goldman Sachs: Their “Returnship” program lasts 12 weeks and is designed for individuals who have been out of the workforce for two or more years.
  • Deloitte: Provides “Encore” returnship opportunities spanning 20 weeks, catering to those returning to work after an extended absence.
  • LinkedIn: Runs the “Reach” apprenticeship program which includes roles that can suit returners looking to re-enter the workforce.

Other notable programs include:

  • Microsoft’s LEAP Engineering Acceleration Program focuses on several areas, including those who have taken a career break.
  • Ford offers returnship opportunities targeting experienced professionals returning to the workforce.
  • Morgan Stanley’s 12-week re-entry program is built for those who have taken a career break and are looking to re-engage in their profession.
  • Boeing: Through their re-entry program, they help experienced professionals return after a career break to work in areas such as engineering.
  • Accenture: Their “Return to Work” program supports those who have been out of the workplace for at least 18 months.
  • Cognizant: Also provides programs for professionals in various fields to reintegrate into the corporate environment.

Industries Offering Returnships

  • Finance: Major players like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley run programs that support your return to the financial sector.
  • Technology: You’ll find opportunities at companies such as Microsoft and LinkedIn to bridge gaps in your tech career.
  • Retail: Amazon stands out with programs aiming to support the transition back into various roles in this sector.
  • Professional Services: Firms like Deloitte and Accenture offer structured paths back into the industry.

Career Advancement Post-Returnship

After completing a returnship, you’re equipped with new skills and poised for professional growth. This section explores how your journey continues towards full-time roles and sustainable career development.

A middle-aged female professional, looking proud and accomplished, in an office setting, discussing a project with a small group of younger colleagues. This image captures her role as a valuable team member contributing significantly post-returnship.

Transition to Full-time Roles

Your returnship serves as a foundation for transitioning into full-time employment. Companies often use returnships as a means to evaluate a candidate’s fit for long-term roles within the organization.

Upon successful completion, you may receive an offer for full-time employment, signaling recognition of your capabilities and the value you bring to the team.

Securing a full-time role may entail:

  • Demonstrating proficiency in new skills acquired during the returnship.
  • Showing how your contributions during the program align with the company’s long-term objectives.

Long-term Career Growth

A returnship is a stepping stone toward broader career goals.

Post-returnship, you should set your sights on continuous skill development and leveraging your experience to advance in your chosen field.

Strategies for achieving long-term growth include:

  • Identifying areas for learning to stay current with industry trends.
  • Pursuing professional opportunities that align with your career goals and personal aspirations.
  • Building a professional network to open doors to future employment and advancement opportunities.

Networking and Professional Development

Enhancing your professional network and participating in ongoing training are fundamental components of a returnship that pave the way for career progression and skill enhancement.

A middle-aged male professional, appearing proactive and engaged, in a seminar room, exchanging business cards with another professional. The background shows a seminar in progress, emphasizing ongoing professional development and networking during the returnship.

Building a Professional Network

In your returnship, you’ll connect with industry professionals, which can lead to mentorships and job opportunities.

Your professional network will be vital as you re-enter the job market, offering support and knowledge from diverse perspectives.

  1. Attend Industry Events: Utilize these occasions to meet peers and leaders.
  2. Engage in Company Activities: Show initiative and be visible within your returnship environment.
  3. Leverage Social Platforms: Professional sites like LinkedIn can be powerful tools to maintain and grow your network.

Continued Learning and Development

Throughout the returnship, you’ll engage in education and training sessions to update your skills and knowledge, ensuring you stay relevant in the ever-evolving job market.

  • Structured Training: Participate in workshops and seminars designed to enhance your technical skills and industry knowledge.
  • On-the-job Learning: Gain hands-on experience through real projects, which is crucial for your growth and understanding of current industry practices.

Impact of Returnships on Workplace Culture

Returnships significantly influence workplace culture by fostering diversity and reshaping traditional views on employment continuity.

A diverse group of three professionals, looking collaborative and innovative, in a modern office brainstorming session. They are gathered around a laptop, discussing ideas, showcasing how returnships enrich workplace diversity and culture.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

By introducing returnships, companies enable a varied cohort of professionals to re-enter the workforce, thus enriching the organization’s talent pool.

You’ll often find returnships opening doors for individuals who have taken voluntary career breaks for various reasons, such as parenting or caregiving.

These programs specifically target experienced talents and often promote gender diversity, as women are more likely to take career breaks for caregiving.

  • Benefits include:
    • Enhancing team diversity with different perspectives.
    • Bringing in employees with life experience that contributes to a richer culture.
    • Increasing workplace equity, by offering fair opportunities to reintegrate into professional environments.

Changing Perceptions of Employment Gaps

Returnships help to dismantle the stigma associated with employment gaps. They champion the notion that a hiatus from your career does not diminish your value in the job market.

In fact, these programs recognize the skills and perspectives that returning professionals bring to the table.

  • Innovation can gain momentum in your organization since returnees often return with fresh ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Culture within the workplace evolves to become more accepting and flexible towards non-linear career paths.

Challenges and Considerations

In considering a returnship, you need to be aware of the potential hurdles and the alignment required between the program’s offerings and your career aspirations.

A middle-aged male professional, appearing contemplative and somewhat concerned, sitting alone in a quiet part of a corporate library. He is reading a document and making notes, symbolizing the personal and professional considerations involved in re-entering the workforce through a returnship.

Barriers to Entry

Your re-entry into the workforce may be hindered by several factors.

Firstly, employment gaps could lead to skepticism from employers regarding your current skills and relevance in the industry.

Secondly, the emotional toll of adjusting to a professional environment after a period of absence should not be underestimated.

You might find it challenging to cope with the pace and social dynamics among colleagues, especially if the work culture has evolved significantly since you last worked.

  • Employment Gaps: Concerns about skill relevancy
  • Emotional Adjustments: The need for adaptability to the current work culture

Aligning Returnship Goals with Personal Objectives

It’s essential to ensure that the returnship’s goals align with your career goals.

Carefully evaluate if the returnship will offer you the pay and learning opportunities commensurate with your experience and aspirations.

Clarify how it will contribute to your career trajectory and address any skill gaps, keeping in mind the balance between your personal life and the demands of the returnship.

  • Pay vs. Experience: Assess the financial aspect against your skillset.
  • Career Trajectory: Identify how the returnship will advance your career.


In approaching the end of a returnship, you’ve gained valuable experience, expanded your professional network, and demonstrated your capability and dedication to potential employers.

Your ability to integrate into a team and contribute to company goals has been put to a productive test through real-world projects and mentorship.

  • Key Takeaways:
    • Renewed skills and updated industry knowledge
    • Connections with professionals and mentors
    • Insight into current company culture and expectations

Your effective transition back into the workforce depends on how you leverage this experience. You should:

  1. Reflect on your accomplishments and any new skills acquired.
  2. Update your resume to include your returnship and highlight your contributions.
  3. Stay in touch with your network and seek recommendations.
  4. Be proactive in pursuing further career opportunities.

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