Bridging the Career Gap with Returnships

In its most recent publication, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that job openings and hires continue to trend upward, with the current unemployment rate hovering around 3.7 percent. This is great for those in the job market.

I remember when I was entering the job market out of college, someone told me that it’s great to look for a job while you have a job. So what about people who have made the choice to take a career pause for a variety of reasons? They don’t have the luxury of “weighing options” as they work and interview for other roles. I can relate because I took a career pause — not once, but twice.

My first career pause was after I had my second child. Having successfully kicked off my career as a product manager for Levi Strauss, managing the Asia Pacific business, I decided to stay home to dedicate my passion toward my two young sons. I was in good company at the toddler play groups; fellow moms consisted of a former CFO, a couple of CEOs, equity partners at law firms, and a judge!

The years went by in a flash, but during my career pause I recall many conversations with fellow moms and dads who were contemplating returning to work. We faced a lot of uncertainty on how we would be perceived in the workplace. There was stigma involved with those of us who opted off the career ladder. In addition, there were no official “return to work” organizations, or corporation-sponsored programs that we were aware of. Our re-entry basically consisted of reaching back out to our network — former colleagues, family, friends — to find open positions or simply applying for jobs. My, how things have changed!

At SAP, this is our second round of participation with Path Forward, a return-to-work program. SAP SuccessFactors leadership recognizes that individuals who took a career pause make up an amazing pool of talent. According to Working Mother, “More than 2.6 million women in the United States hold bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD degrees but do not work outside the home.” In fact, 40 percent of American mothers have at some point in their lives reduced their working hours or taken time off to care for a child or family member and 27 percent have left the workforce entirely.

I’m grateful for my company’s continued partnership with Path Forward. I recently had an opportunity to work with one of our returnees, Mimi L, and I’m so glad that she has taken a full-time position on our company, joining the User Experience (UX) team. Mimi is already making in-roads to help SAP deliver amazing experiences through the human capital management (HCM) suite.

I took some time to ask Mimi some questions about her experience in Path Forward and returning to work.

Q: What was your experience like at SAP through the Path Forward program?

A: It was fantastic for me. I had a great manager, Scott Litzke, the vice president in the UX Design group. He was very supportive and encouraging. I gained a lot of experience doing a variety of things and had a collaborative team of people.

How did Path Forward and SAP help ease your transition back into the workforce?

I think that on the part of my manager, he started off by giving me one main project. I also had a go-to person who I went to for support, Carrie Lande. I was working on putting together a workshop for customers for a design advisor program. It was a great entry back to have one main thing to work on, and to have a supportive person to partner with day-to-day on the project. From there, I was able to look around and learn about the company, the UX program and  design. It gave me a lot of exposure across the group and to different projects. It allowed me to start contributing and ultimately led me to the role I have now.

Did you see changes in the workplace when you came back?

I would honestly say no — I feel like it was not as difficult as people may think it is. Getting back in the workforce is definitely hard. People worry a lot about how well prepared you’ll be, but I never thought that it would be as hard as other people might fear. I’m pretty tech-savvy so there wasn’t really any new tech that I was unfamiliar with when I came back. I’m grateful to have the opportunity, because that’s the part that’s really hard: getting your foot in the door.

What support did you receive to help you as you rejoined the workforce?

Path Forward provided a lot in terms of support. The biggest contribution with Path Forward that was really invaluable is that they approach companies with the concept of creating a returnship, so they have real opportunities available. There are a lot of programs that are in the space of helping women go back to work. They’re definitely growing, but before they didn’t really have the roles. I think I ended up in a permanent role that is a really great fit. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get the role directly but I got it by having a few months of work to show what I could do through a smaller project. Only through a returnship would something like that be possible.

SAP also provided a lot of additional support. Sephanie Redivo was overseeing the program and we had a few onboarding events where she brought speakers to come talk to us. We also had meeting every few weeks where people could connect with her and get support, and to support each other. Everyone was really thoughtful in creating a culture of support.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your returnship?

I’m most proud of being able to get into a role that I find exciting and challenging; it’s really a great fit. Coming back, you’re a little worried about what you may have given up in terms of growth and what you could have been able to accomplish. To very quickly use that short period of time to find my footing and get into a challenging role is something I’m really proud of. It exceeded what I realistically hoped for.

Do you have any advice for people returning from a career break?

I highly recommend the Path Forward program. It’s my first recommendation because they have a lot of roles to offer. They’re now much more geographically diverse too. Networking is always important advice, that’s really key. Once I started doing it a lot, more opportunities started opening up. I think when you start a role, the advice I’d give is to have an open dialogue with a roadmap or set of goals with what you hope to achieve. Hopefully you have a manager who is open and wants to collaborate in that conversation — mine was really supportive.