Returnships – are a rich pot of a high calibre candidates being overlooked?

Could Scottish businesses be missing a trick?  As a coach I work with leaders of all ages and backgrounds. But more and more I’m approached by people who for one reason or another, perhaps childcare breaks, extended maternity or paternity leave, time abroad or illness, are looking to return to work and forge new careers or pick up on previous ones.


In 2008 Goldman Sachs coined the phrase “Returnships” and Harvard Business Review in November last year reported on the case of Kathy Bayert, who holds an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School and a career at IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 2003 took a 5-year career break to stay home with her two children. Looking to return to work at age 42, she found that the gap on her CV was the least of her problems – the economy was plummeting into recession. She then discovered Sara Lee was advertising a “returnship.” It turned out that the opening was a short-term paid position designed for a professional who’d been out of the workforce for several years—basically, an internship for an experienced worker whose time off might scare recruiters away. Bayert applied, was accepted, and signed on. After her initial six-month assignment, she was hired as a senior manager of organizational effectiveness. The program, she says, was “critical as a springboard back into the workforce.”

Scottish businesses challenged with the costs of bringing in experienced and committed staff could benefit enormously from this recruitment model.  The chance to have an highly qualified, committed and experienced returner who just needs to brush up on latest working practices can come straight in after an internship to hit the ground running.

Candidates are looking for the opportunity to ease their way back into their career and are willing to give their time, ideally paid, to a business for a fixed period proving their skillset to an employer and rebuilding confidence for them too. It’s a great opportunity for the candidate to brush up on skills and for the business to trial a potential new addition to the team.

I mentioned this to a few of my clients some of whom have had their children, supported their partners in their career path and are now ready to fulfill their own career aspirations.  Unanimously they feel it’s an ideal way to get back on track. These are people who compared to a graduate are usually settled in their personal lives, fully committed and focused on their career with life experience as their differentiator, usually better communicators, used to team work and juggling all manner of challenges.

People are what makes a business tick and can often be the differentiator for success in a highly competitive landscape especially in recessionary periods.

Anne McLister

Anne McLister, an experienced programme and change manager with a background in management consultancy and project delivery, has spent the last five years in the United States as an “accompanying spouse and homemaker for her young family”. She believes that the concept of the ‘returnship’ is advantageous to both the individual and to businesses as a way of recruiting quality candidates, for what is essentially a kind of probationary period. “Having settled back in Scotland I am now ready to restart my career and I would welcome a “returnship”-style opportunity. This ‘trial’ engagement would enable me to get back to my previous level of business performance and demonstrate value; and provides the employer with a period to assess my fit within the organisation.”

With the need to work later into what was traditionally retirement, we are experiencing a high standard of skills and expertise across all sectors from exceptional 40+ individuals offering at least another 20 years of service, but they are often unappreciated and disregarded. It seems to me that the opportunities for Scottish businesses of following Goldman Sachs example and creating “Returnships” makes a lot of sense, for Anne, and for many other highly experienced workers across the UK.


This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the IoD Scotland magazine.