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How returnship programs are a win/win for employers and professionals

July 26, 2022 - 11 min read


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What are returnship programs?

How do returnships work?

Benefits of a returnship program

Tips for applying to a returnship program

Companies that offer returnship programs

In March 2022, LinkedIn did something unprecedented. They added the option to feature career breaks on your experience profile

This whole-person approach to career development did two major things. First, it acknowledged that people who step away from their careers often learn skills that enhance their contribution when they return. Secondly, it took the pressure — and shame — off of the job seeker. Embracing a person’s unique career path — whether by offering development opportunities, a sabbatical, or more recently, returnship programs — eases the path for talented people to return to the workforce.

For generations, the career break has been the “elephant in the room” — the shameful secret that job seekers were cautioned to “avoid at all costs.” When I was in school, my mentors, parents, and teachers told us that a gap was possibly the worst thing you could have on your resume. It made you look flaky, unhireable, and inconsistent. And if you did, by chance, have a career gap, you’d better have a really good explanation for it.

Real life turned out to be a bit less cut-and-dried. Professionals, hiring managers, and leaders understand that each person’s career path is different. In fact, even before the pandemic changed people’s relationships to work, three out of five job seekers had a resume gap. There are many reasons why a person may step away from their full-time job, and it doesn’t compromise their value as employees — or as people.

In an ongoing battle for talent, employers are realizing that many capable, ambitious people have been sidelined by outdated views on what a career looks like. Normalizing career breaks as a valuable, understandable part of your work experience has opened the way for prodigal talent to return. In turn, employers are welcoming them back with returnship programs.

What are returnship programs?

If returnship sounds a bit like “internship,” that’s intentional. In many ways, a returnship is similar to an internship program — but geared toward a different group of professionals.

Many times, these programs are geared towards experienced professionals who have taken a career break to care for their families or pursue other interests. A returnship offers the opportunity to put your skills back into practice — and potentially advance your career in the process.

Jobseekers can ask questions, receiving support and training as they “catch up” on everything that happened while they were out of office. Companies benefit from a widening pool of experienced talent, helping to boost innovation, belonging, and retention.

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How do returnships work?

Typically, there are certain qualifications to join a returnship program. These might include a certain amount of work experience, a minimum career gap, or certain foundational skills. Because of the disproportionate impact that caregiving responsibilities have on women’s careers, many returnships are geared towards the re-entry of women who've been out of the labor force for at least six months.

Once accepted, these programs typically provide participants with work experience, training, and coaching to help them transition into a full-time role. Returnships are typically 4-12 weeks long, and you’re paid for your time. Some may include coverage under the company’s employee benefits program.

Similar to an internship, many companies offer the opportunity to apply for permanent jobs at that company — although there is no guarantee of employment. Even if you don’t stay on at that company, though, returnships are a great way to boost your network, refresh your skills, and get back in the swing of things after a career break.

Benefits of a returnship program

For employees

  • Develop valuable skills to continue career growth or launch a new path 
  • May lead to full-time employment
  • Often paid and may include benefits
  • Opportunities to network with other professionals
  • Usually designed to be flexible, remote, or even part-time as you transition

For employers

  • Get to know new talent through an extended working interview
  • Expands the available talent pool in a competitive market
  • Builds employee job satisfaction through professional development opportunities
  • Can often be conducted virtually
  • Provides better ROI on hiring efforts

Tips for applying to a returnship program

If you’re considering applying to a return-to-work program, you should prepare in much the same way as you would for any other job search. Keep the following in mind as you look for the right opportunity for you:

1. Do your research

Not all returnship programs are created equal. Make sure you find one that's a good fit for your skillset and career goals. If possible, look for a program geared toward professionals with your background.

2. Check the program requirements

Some programs may require you to have a certain amount of experience or education. Others may be designed for caregivers or those who have been away from work for at least two years. Look at the requirements carefully before you start the interview process.

3. Start early

While returnship programs are gaining traction, Deloitte’s inaugural cohort only had nine participants. The number of positions available may still be relatively small, and the opportunity may be competitive. The sooner you start researching and applying to programs, the better your chances of getting accepted into one. 

4. Get help from a program manager

If you know someone who works in the same field as you, ask them if they know of any good returnship programs to apply to. If they don’t have one at their company, they may be able to refer you to other opportunities. If they do have a program, you’ll be able to ask questions and find out if it’s a good fit for you.

5. Tailor your application materials

Take the time to customize your resume and cover letter for each program you apply to. Emphasize why you’re interested in that program, the company, and the new skills you hope to develop as a returnship participant.


Companies that offer returnship programs

Return-to-work programs are usually offered by larger companies.  While they’re not exactly commonplace yet, here are several programs that are setting the pace for returnships across many industries:


While not a returnship program, iRelaunch is a jobs board that compiles return-to-work opportunities. If you’re looking to apply to a program (or for advice on how to start one at your company), this is a great place to start.

Path Forward

Path Forward partners with employers and human resources teams that want to offer their own return-to-work programs.  Some of their current partners include Hewlett Packard and Cloudflare.

Other returnship offerings at different companies include:

Returnships are whole-person recruiting in action. They embrace the diversity of people’s career paths and professional experiences. What job seekers want in a role has changed, and returnships seem to be the answer to that shift. They provide flexible, high-quality opportunities for people to return to work after an extended period of time. But, more importantly, they provide a chance for employers to show that they truly care about employee experience.

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Published July 26, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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