How to get back to work after a career break | Carol Fishman Cohen

How to get back to work after a career break | Carol Fishman Cohen

People returning to work
after a career break: I call them relaunchers. These are people who have taken
career breaks for elder care, for childcare reasons, pursuing a personal interest or a personal health issue. Closely related are
career transitioners of all kinds: veterans, military spouses, retirees coming out of retirement or repatriating expats. Returning to work
after a career break is hard because of a disconnect
between the employers and the relaunchers. Employers can view hiring people
with a gap on their resume as a high-risk proposition, and individuals on career break
can have doubts about their abilities to relaunch their careers, especially if they’ve been out
for a long time. This disconnect is a problem
that I’m trying to help solve. Now, successful relaunchers
are everywhere and in every field. This is Sami Kafala. He’s a nuclear physicist in the UK who took a five-year career break
to be home with his five children. The Singapore press recently wrote
about nurses returning to work after long career breaks. And speaking of long career breaks, this is Mimi Kahn. She’s a social worker
in Orange County, California, who returned to work
in a social services organization after a 25-year career break. That’s the longest career break
that I’m aware of. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took a five-year career break
early in her career. And this is Tracy Shapiro,
who took a 13-year career break. Tracy answered a call for essays
by the Today Show from people who were trying
to return to work but having a difficult time of it. Tracy wrote in that she was a mom of five
who loved her time at home, but she had gone through a divorce
and needed to return to work, plus she really wanted
to bring work back into her life because she loved working. Tracy was doing what so many of us do when we feel like we’ve put in
a good day in the job search. She was looking for a finance
or accounting role, and she had just spent
the last nine months very diligently researching
companies online and applying for jobs with no results. I met Tracy in June of 2011, when the Today Show asked me
if I could work with her to see if I could help her
turn things around. The first thing I told Tracy
was she had to get out of the house. I told her she had to go public
with her job search and tell everyone she knew
about her interest in returning to work. I also told her, “You are going
to have a lot of conversations that don’t go anywhere. Expect that, and don’t
be discouraged by it. There will be a handful that ultimately lead
to a job opportunity.” I’ll tell you what happened
with Tracy in a little bit, but I want to share with you
a discovery that I made when I was returning to work after my own career break of 11 years
out of the full-time workforce. And that is, that people’s view of you
is frozen in time. What I mean by this is,
when you start to get in touch with people and you get back in touch
with those people from the past, the people with whom you worked
or went to school, they are going to remember you as you were before your career break. And that’s even if your sense of self
has diminished over time, as happens with so many of us the farther removed we are
from our professional identities. So for example,
you might think of yourself as someone who looks like this. This is me, crazy after a day
of driving around in my minivan. Or here I am in the kitchen. But those people from the past, they don’t know about any of this. They only remember you as you were, and it’s a great confidence boost
to be back in touch with these people and hear their enthusiasm
about your interest in returning to work. There’s one more thing I remember vividly
from my own career break. And that was that I hardly kept up
with the business news. My background is in finance, and I hardly kept up with any news when I was home caring
for my four young children. So I was afraid I’d go into an interview and start talking about a company
that didn’t exist anymore. So I had to resubscribe
to the Wall Street Journal and read it for a good six months
cover to cover before I felt like I had a handle on what was going on
in the business world again. I believe relaunchers
are a gem of the workforce, and here’s why. Think about our life stage: for those of us who took career breaks
for childcare reasons, we have fewer or no maternity leaves. We did that already. We have fewer spousal
or partner job relocations. We’re in a more settled time of life. We have great work experience. We have a more mature perspective. We’re not trying to find ourselves
at an employer’s expense. Plus we have an energy,
an enthusiasm about returning to work precisely because we’ve been
away from it for a while. On the flip side, I speak with employers, and here are two concerns
that employers have about hiring relaunchers. The first one is, employers
are worried that relaunchers are technologically obsolete. Now, I can tell you, having been technologically
obsolete myself at one point, that it’s a temporary condition. I had done my financial analysis
so long ago that I used Lotus 1-2-3. I don’t know if anyone
can even remember back that far, but I had to relearn it on Excel. It actually wasn’t that hard.
A lot of the commands are the same. I found PowerPoint much more challenging, but now I use PowerPoint all the time. I tell relaunchers that employers
expect them to come to the table with a working knowledge
of basic office management software. And if they’re not up to speed, then it’s their
responsibility to get there. And they do. The second area of concern
that employers have about relaunchers is they’re worried that relaunchers
don’t know what they want to do. I tell relaunchers that they need
to do the hard work to figure out whether their interests
and skills have changed or have not changed while they have been on career break. That’s not the employer’s job. It’s the relauncher’s responsibility
to demonstrate to the employer where they can add the most value. Back in 2010 I started noticing something. I had been tracking
return to work programs since 2008, and in 2010, I started noticing the use of a short-term
paid work opportunity, whether it was called
an internship or not, but an internship-like experience, as a way for professionals
to return to work. I saw Goldman Sachs and Sara Lee start corporate reentry
internship programs. I saw a returning engineer,
a nontraditional reentry candidate, apply for an entry-level
internship program in the military, and then get a permanent job afterward. I saw two universities
integrate internships into mid-career executive
education programs. So I wrote a report
about what I was seeing, and it became this article
for Harvard Business Review called “The 40-Year-Old Intern.” I have to thank the editors
there for that title, and also for this artwork where you can see the 40-year-old intern
in the midst of all the college interns. And then, courtesy of Fox Business News, they called the concept
“The 50-Year-Old Intern.” (Laughter) So five of the biggest
financial services companies have reentry internship programs
for returning finance professionals. And at this point,
hundreds of people have participated. These internships are paid, and the people who move on
to permanent roles are commanding competitive salaries. And now, seven of the biggest
engineering companies are piloting reentry internship programs
for returning engineers as part of an initiative
with the Society of Women Engineers. Now, why are companies embracing
the reentry internship? Because the internship allows the employer to base their hiring decision
on an actual work sample instead of a series of interviews, and the employer does not have to make
that permanent hiring decision until the internship period is over. This testing out period
removes the perceived risk that some managers attach
to hiring relaunchers, and they are attracting
excellent candidates who are turning into great hires. Think about how far we have come. Before this, most employers
were not interested in engaging with relaunchers at all. But now, not only
are programs being developed specifically with relaunchers in mind, but you can’t even apply
for these programs unless you have a gap on your résumé. This is the mark of real change, of true institutional shift, because if we can solve
this problem for relaunchers, we can solve it for other
career transitioners too. In fact, an employer just told me that their veterans return to work program is based on their reentry
internship program. And there’s no reason why there can’t be
a retiree internship program. Different pool, same concept. So let me tell you
what happened with Tracy Shapiro. Remember that she had to tell
everyone she knew about her interest in returning to work. Well, one critical conversation
with another parent in her community led to a job offer for Tracy, and it was an accounting job
in a finance department. But it was a temp job. The company told her
there was a possibility it could turn into something more,
but no guarantees. This was in the fall of 2011. Tracy loved this company,
and she loved the people and the office was less
than 10 minutes from her house. So even though she had a second job offer at another company
for a permanent full-time role, she decided to take her chances
with this internship and hope for the best. Well, she ended up blowing away
all of their expectations, and the company not only
made her a permanent offer at the beginning of 2012, but they made it even more
interesting and challenging, because they knew what Tracy could handle. Fast forward to 2015, Tracy’s been promoted. They’ve paid for her
to get her MBA at night. She’s even hired another relauncher
to work for her. Tracy’s temp job was a tryout, just like an internship, and it ended up being a win
for both Tracy and her employer. Now, my goal is to bring
the reentry internship concept to more and more employers. But in the meantime, if you are returning to work
after a career break, don’t hesitate to suggest an internship
or an internship-like arrangement to an employer that does not have
a formal reentry internship program. Be their first success story, and you can be the example
for more relaunchers to come. Thank you. (Applause)


66 thoughts on “How to get back to work after a career break | Carol Fishman Cohen”

  • career breaks are for the privileged. Career breaks to us lower class people is called unemployment & it means you get less breaks or you're gonna be homeless if you don't keep going. We need a TEDtalk from somebody we can relate to more, not these upper & middle class people. We are on the cusp of class based warfare & we need start connecting people, use a platform like TEDtalk to branch to the lowest class or they will continue to feel alone.

  • Юрий Гапончук says:

    спасибо большое за перевод!
    очень надеюсь,что и далее будете переводить выпуски.

  • belizeantodabone says:

    +I dislike the new youtube I'm black and took a break to raise my children and have my family together. It's a huge financial sacrifice but not a white person problem.

  • Alexander Maxhall says:

    3,5 years ago I was incapacitated due to a life crisis… I felt miserable and ashamed, as if I had failed in life… Guilt….
    I left work without saying a word to anyone… Stopped going to facebook.. Isolated myself at home, locked my door and turned off my phone… This lasted for basically 3 months…
    Before I got picked up by…. pffft… Family protection agency… And from there I have spent the past 3 years working with myself internally to somehow find happiness and passion towards life again… To be honest… I am really struggling… I recently turned 28…. And I feel as if I have blown my chances and that the train has left the station a long time ago….

  • White people can EASILY do this
    but anyone else of color?
    A month long break would look criminal for blacks and minorities


  • Chris Fullerton says:

    Please stop using these horrible cancer commercials. My mother died of cancer. I do not need to be reminded about it and it does no good what soever to open a talk to hear someone asking me if I think about cancer! Not normally!! Not until I hear this annoying man insist that I be reminded about it!

  • Srishti Mistry says:

    Big companies in the developing nations should consider this as well, break from career could be due to various reasons and if the person is returning to work, it only means that he/she has come out as a stronger individual with better EQ & IQ and against all odds. I enjoyed watching every bit of this talk. Thank you.

  • My career break starts by moving from NYC to London and then starting my family. Being home while my kids were young, was important to me, I wanted to be there for them when they needed one of us most. We were able to travel and participate in so many activities that we couldn't have if I was working FT. After a few years off I tried looking to go back to work, the recession hit at that time and it seemed a mountain to climb to get a proper job. After a divorce and moving back to America, I then found I had breast cancer… so that delayed my re-entry even further.

    A masters certifications and several other classes still didn't seem to up my employability much – it wasn't for the pilot 'Returnship" at SapientNitro, I would probably still be sending out dozens of resumes a day. They took me on for a 12-week paid internship and then sent me to General Assembly for User Experience Design training. I am now a FT employee at the company and find everyone so completely on board and supportive of the program. The company has since taken on two more returnees and are hoping to spread the program further thought the Ad industry, which tends to be more youth focused and staffed.

    This program is invaluable for women (and men) who have had to take time away from their careers due to unforeseen circumstances. And as an employee I am more focused and extremely loyal to my firm for taking a chance on me. It shows they live up to their ethos of valuing diversity and multiple perspectives.

    I encourage companies in any industry to give this program a try, it is not much to risk, and you get to try out an employee before hiring them on!

    #SapientNitro #3percentconference #returnship

  • liquididentity101 says:

    A change in career path meant a 5 year absence from full time work. Ive earned a second degree in a field far removed from my original education… and while I look forward to a 3 month placement, I'm not looking forward to the corporate wall I hit trying to get back in. Old, traditional, conservative managers and executive are still breathing and choking the life from the new face of the work force. So… I hope more companies see this and learn from it.

  • Yurriaan Van Duyn says:

    A "career break", a perfectly good reason for any earnings gap out there, as we all know now that wage gaps are a myth.

  • Rebecca Sarah Latimer says:

    As someone who is hesitant to return to work after taking some time off I really needed to hear this. thank you!!

  • I'm on a career break of 4 years… after high school I didn't got into medical school (although I did get into dental school but I had my head high in sky so I didn't take it and I decided to take a year off and then another year and then another) I regret taking too many breaks 'cause it's getting boring for me to do the same thing again and again. I could've graduated today but 'cause of my over ambitious mentality I'm behind my peers;

  • I've personally been on a 3 year hiatus from the workforce. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues that hindered me from doing anything with a clear head. I actually JUST got back into it as a intern in fact. Interesting to see this video at this time in my life. Stay up yall. Nothing is permanent.

  • Ummmmmmm what about the impending crisis of capitalism? This talk is for privileged people…that isn't how it is for many others. It's just a giant impasse.

  • Vaidas Šukaukas says:

    A bit of disconnect. She says the benefit of relaunchers are that they have settled, that they know what they want. And then go on to contradict it by saying it's the relaunchers responsibility to figure out if they still have the passion for particular position or skill. Seems like employers are not unfounded in their worries, according to her.

    Also, title is misleading. It's not how to get back after break, it's more like a history of and what employers are currently doing to attract relaunchers.

  • I have connected with people I want to connect with. It would be weird to talk to strangers about finding a job, isn't it? Imagine hearing this at a party on Friday night "I'm still looking for a job. How's your week?"

  • wow the number of people in the comments who don't know that the word career is a distinct one with a specific meaning different from work, or job, or earning a living somehow in whatever way…

    guess that's by design in a system where still most aren't well prepared to understand options and how to leverage the different approaches to economic existence… but fyi for the uninformed: a career is something you plan out and pursue by intent and your own going out there and finding and/or founding of opportunities, in an often harder and/or less obvious way

    having a break from such, or never having done such at all, doesn't mean you haven't worked, or don't earn some kind of living, or aren't looking for or holding down just regular "jobs" in the generic sense of something that just pays you money to do something, regardless of whether it's actually a bigger-picture and longer-term valuable thing for you to be doing, valuable to you, to society, or both

    career is about something more than just a job, or earning to get by (or even earning to get rich in something you hate or serves no purpose for anyone else), and something more (or at least different) from all kinds of other work we do for no pay, aka the informal economy, whether household or family raising or community or volunteer or etc etc etc (though the family raising kind I would actually call just a different kind of career, in a sense of it being full fledged work of a longterm sort, that takes planning and aiming of your course along the path etc., at least if done well and not just phoning in or absentee parenting or partnering)

    anyway, fyi to all the confused up in here…career actually means something specific, different from what you apparently think it does

  • gumdrop •w• says:

    I came home from work.
    Was tired. Sat down on the sofa. Put my feet up.

    Wife brought me a glass of water. Son gave me a sheet of paper ?

    English. 17 /100
    BM. 35/100
    Maths. 40 /100
    Physics 37/100
    Chemistry 42/100

    I lost my temper

    "What is this?
    All the time on phone and TV.
    How dare you show me such marks?"

    Wife said: "Be patient. Listen…."

    I told her:
    "Shut up. It's your love and pampering that has spoilt him. He is no good."

    Wife said: "Oh. Really?"

    I said:
    "No one in our family has performed so badly ever."

    Son said:
    "Dad. I was cleaning the old cupboard and I found this."
    "This is your old school report card."


  • This is an excellent talk with some valuable insight.  One – expect to have a lot of conversations that go nowhere.  And two – eliminate the perceived risk employers will place on you by proving yourself.  This brings back memories when I was desperately trying to land my first job after my MBA back in 2006.  I was busy with school, so my only option was to apply for jobs online.  But I received no responses.  With every rejection I grew more and more depressed and desperate.  That's when I decided to change my strategy.  And in 3 months two companies were competing for me!   The biggest difference for me was I stopped selling my credentials and started connecting with employers.  I networked, but with the objective of learning more about their industry, challenges, aspirations, and not with the objective of landing a job.  I am now on a mission to teach others how to do the same so that they can control their careers.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in your talent.  Rejections do not de-value you.  Find a better way for employers to discover your value IF job applications aren't doing it.

  • I wish to rejoin my former company after a break of 6 years, however they are offering me a lower designation(Executive)than I had with them previously(Senior Executive). Should I accept it? How do I negotiate for the same designation and salary ?

  • I am 44. I bid on a new job and was put into training right away. After 2 weeks I was told I was not a fit for the job and that doing inspections I missed a lot. I was only in training for 2 weeks and the class is 8 plus 6 months on the job. I am so confused. I have never failed at anything I have done in my life. Now I have to go back to my old department and the guy who took my job looses his spot. Sucks…

  • Why can't I find any information about people who need to return to the workforce without having had a highly focused and successful career beforehand? I have been at home raising my kids for nearly 9 years and the jobs I had before were minimum wage and part time so that I could also finish my degree. I have never had a job in what I got my degree in and the jobs I had while finishing school were ones any high school kid could get and frankly ones I'd never want to return to. Every YouTube video and article I find about "relaunchers" refer to highly focused career professionals, like social workers, Wall Street people and freaking rocket scientists. Many of us are not in that category– not even close. I was in my 20s when I married and made the decision to have and raise children at home before tackling a career. Where can I find information and guidance for people like me? I'm not a lawyer, account, neuroscientist etc., etc.– I worked at the YMCA while I completed a degree in English and I've taken care of my family for almost a decade. I return to the workforce in 5 months. I am fully prepared for entry level employment but it would be great to find resources reaching out to my specific demographic. There are a lot of us out there.

  • Its really good to hear this. With being almost 2 years out of work, I had pretty much given up hope, and haven't even bothered attempting for any postition in my field (tech). I mean, the "fear of risk" stigma shouldn't be there in the first place (because that is all it is, especially in corporate environments). Employees today are constantly learning, while managers constantly do the same thing. So I say, the real risk is those managers. And its good to see that Companies are taking action with re-entry programs vs what those "managers" are suggesting. Its a breath of fresh air.

  • But how do I start a career after a long break when I didn’t get a career started before? I have no recent references, old degrees, and old minimal job experiences that is unrelated to what I’m applying for?

    Is my only option to go back to school?

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