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iRelaunch: Help for Reentry After a Career Break

Written By: jeff

Posted On: March 10th, 2011

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Getting Back Into the Working World. Copyright iRelaunch.com

So, you’ve taken the career break, you’re feeling rested, relaxed and ready to get back into your career. And then, a bit of panic sets in. The economy’s down. Little good news is reported about job search prospects. And, the percentages of the unemployed and underemployed start to make your palms sweat.

With the growth in popularity of career breaks, new services are popping up to help people return to work.  iRelaunch opened up in 2007 to help career breakers find employment at progressive firms that value the experience you have and respect your decision to take some time out.  Who are these employers? How about top-tier firms like IBM, Accenture, Deutsche Bank, Sara Lee and Goldman Sachs?

iRelaunch was founded by Carol Cohen and Vivian Rabin. They offer both big marquee events like their upcoming Return to Work Conferences in major U.S. cities and in London. And, they offer lots of resources on their site including a blog, a list of career reentry resources, and a whole host of Success Stories.

Here’s our interview with Carol and Vivian about iRelaunch.

1. Why did you create iRelaunch?

While we were writing Back on the Career Track, we started getting asked to speak at employers and universities on the topic of career reentry. Then companies and universities asked us to assist them in creating career reentry programs.  After doing this informally for a while, we decided to establish iRelaunch. We created our own return to work conference, which is hosted by universities and sponsored by employers. Since then, our business has grown to encompass career reentry programming in all of its forms; conferences, coaching groups, webinars, courses, blogs, and more.

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The Book That Started It All. Copyright iRelaunch.com

2. Tell us a little bit more about the services you offer.

Our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference is our flagship product.  We have run it seven times over the last 2.5 years in major U.S. cities and in London, and over 1,000 people have attended. We now run the Conference four times annually and this year we will be in Atlanta, Boston, NYC and Washington, D.C.  We also have small group coaching workshops called Relaunch Coaching Circles, where up to eight participants meet in person or virtually with a coach, and focus on either Career Assessment or Networking and Marketing. We just started offering technical updating classes in PowerPoint and Outlook in partnership with relauncher-owned company Softeach, and plan to expand those offerings. We have a webinar on how to set up on LinkedIn and use it in your job search which is presented by a relauncher who ran a social media company similar to LinkedIn; it is not intimidating and we don’t use jargon! We speak nationally and internationally for women’s groups, professional organizations, employers, alumni associations, and are still engaged in creating customized return to work programs at employers and universities.  Our career reentry strategy book Back on the Career Track continues to be an excellent resource for relaunchers. We hear regularly from people who used it as their guide as they relaunched.  And we are dedicated to trumpeting return to work success stories in all different fields and work configurations.

3. Do you consider yourself a recruitment organization?

Not in the traditional sense. We don’t engage in executive search. But employers certainly attend our Conferences with recruiting goals in mind.

4.  Pardon the pun, but did the business take off right away?

We had an immediate success with our first conference and were able to build on this model right away.  Then we were able to expand by offering products in response to demand from our conference participants and from our employer and university clients.  We’ve been careful and deliberate about how we have chosen and developed our products to make sure we maintain the highest quality with excellent value for our customers and clients.

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Big Companies Attend the Conferences. Copyright iRelaunch.com

5. What is the business case you have to make to a company to get them to participate with iRelaunch?

Our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference is the only large scale gathering of educated, experienced people who are interested in returning to work after a career break. Participants are 90-95% women, 80% with graduate degrees and 70% interested in returning to conventional full time jobs. The Conference is not a job fair, but a content intensive, educationally focused day encouraging substantive conversation between employers and participants. We engage with a limited group of companies at each conference who have networking tables on the periphery of the general session room. When companies say they are interested in the pool of returning professionals, but don’t know where to find them, we tell them they can find them at our conference.

6. Who is your ¨typical¨ career breaker that you help? I see you have a lot of information specifically for moms. Is that the demographic you started with?

We started with moms because the subtitle of our book is “A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work”, which was a decision we made with our publisher. We interviewed over 100 moms who had made the home to work transition as part of our book research.  Plus Vivian and I are moms; Vivian has five children and I have four. However, as you know well, people take career breaks for a range of reasons.  We see our career reentry strategies as gender neutral and effective for people who have taken career breaks for any reason.  We have success stories on our site now of men who have returned from career breaks and of women who have taken career breaks for reasons other than childcare.  With that said, 90-95% of participants in our programs are female, and many are returning from career break for childcare reasons.

career break, re-entering the workforce, return to work, taking a year off, irelaunch

Not Just For Women Anymore. Copyright iRelaunch.com

7. How have you seen attitudes about career breaks change amongst employers since 2006?

We actually view 2004 as the watershed year.  That year, Deloitte began its Personal Pursuits program for accountants who wanted to take a multi-year leave and later return to the firm. Also, two studies were conducted in 2004 focusing on women on career break, one by the Center for Work Life Policy and one by CBRi (now Aquent).  Results from those studies were reported in 2005, which was the same year Lehman Brothers announced their Encore Program for ex-finance professionals returning from career break. In 2006, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Harvard Business School announced career reentry programs (note that Harvard Business School had been running a related program, Charting Your Course, since 2001).  Other corporate and university programs soon followed. To quantify the explosion of career reentry programming post-2004, refer to the iRelaunch Comprehensive List of Career Reentry Programs Worldwide.  We track career reentry programs that have run at least once at employers, universities, government agencies and foundations. Consider that prior to 2004, we could identify only nine programs and today we have 71 programs on the list.

Along with the dramatic increase in career reentry programs, has been more media coverage.  One of our missions is to get return to work success stories in the public domain. All of this is to say that yes, attitudes are shifting.  There is less of a stigma attached to people who choose to take a career break then there was prior to 2004.  It is still a tough process to return, and a solid framework and strategy are required.  But we find employers are much more interested in the merits of the relauncher demographic than in the past, and some are actively seeking to engage with the demographic, especially as a way to access more female experienced hires.

8. What advice do you give to people who are coming back from career break travel? Does it vary based on how long they’ve been on the road?

The strategy for a person returning after a career break for travel shouldn’t be that much different from a return to work strategy due to a career break for another reason. (See this Forbes slide presentation on our 7 Step strategy: http://www.forbes.com/2010/07/23/rejoin-workforce-longtime-unemployment-leadership-careers-jobs_slide.html).  Career breaks of less than a year are viewed differently than multi-year career breaks.  If your break is less than a year, then it could almost be viewed as an equivalent to a maternity leave – that is, short term.  Regardless, in an interview, those returning from travel career breaks should emphasize their broadened worldview as a result of the travel and indicate how this would inform their performance and decision making on the job. Also indicate how refreshed and renewed you are from the experience, and that you are ready to approach your work with excitement, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. But make sure the conversation is focused first and foremost on why you are such a perfect fit for the particular position and the company. As far as getting the interview in the first place, relaunchers consistently benefit from the personal recommendation. We discuss relauncher networking in detail in Back on the Career Track.

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Getting Direct Access to Career-Break-Friendly Employers. Copyright iRelaunch.com

9. What are the unique challenges and advantages that women and men have in getting that first job after a career break?

Challenges:

#1 Employers may view you as technologically obsolete.  We believe this is a temporary problem that can be remedied by taking a course, getting a tutor, or updating yourself, but once you go through this process, you are not technologically obsolete any more.  At iRelaunch, we are offering tech updating classes in PowerPoint and Outlook right now.

#2 Employers may think you do not know what you really want to do career-wise. We tell employers to ask relaunchers if they have done a career assessment and we tell relaunchers they should have a good answer for this question. Some people were on exactly the right career path to begin with before their career break and they can make a strong case for returning to the same type of work. Others realize that they were not on the right career path and want to relaunch in a related or entirely new direction. These relaunchers need to make a strong case that they took an in-depth approach to analyzing their strengths and interests, and took steps to get experience and academic updating to make them strong candidates for their new career directions. This topic is too involved to get into here, but we explore it in great detail in Back on the Career Track and our Relaunch Coaching Circles.

#3 Employers are uncertain about the ramp up rates of relaunchers, once employed.  We argue this is the case for any new hire, but in the case of the relauncher, we suggest the company do a review at 6 months and every 6 months for the first two years to re-calibrate responsibilities and compensation accordingly.  We also recommend employers consider a non-binding, paid internship as a vehicle for re-engaging with the relauncher. Then both parties get to test the working relationship before it becomes permanent.

Advantages:

Relaunchers are at a great life stage to return to work – it is more stable, and typically involves fewer maternity leaves and fewer re-locations.  Relaunchers are more mature and grounded. They are not trying to “find themselves” at an employer’s expense.  The relauncher has great work experience, and for advisory, consultative roles such as financial advisory roles, the relauncher is often the preferred candidate to the new graduate.  Finally, relaunchers are enthusiastic about and excited to return to work precisely because they have been away from work for a while. They are chomping at the bit to return to work.

10. What can people do before they leave that can really help them reenter the job market before they leave for their career break?

Strengthen work relationships with those senior to you, your peers, and also those junior to you. Remember when you are on career break, the junior people are moving up, and are sometimes in a position to open a door for you later on.  Leave when you are at the top of your game with your work performance reputation strong.  Don’t wait until outside circumstances compromise your work performance.  Observe your work environment; do you think you could cover a maternity leave, work on a consulting project, or take on overflow work while you are on career break?  Think about whether these options are realistic now, while you are still at the employer. Take on special work related opportunities that you can more easily access while still employed…let me explain with an example.  A doctor was contemplating leaving her clinical practice.  While she was still employed, she agreed to take on a volunteer adjunct professor role at a nearby medical school where she advised residents and took them on rounds.  When she went on career break she was able to continue in this role at the medical school. She was not sure they would have taken her on in the role if she had approached them while already on career break.  Of course this strategy only works for certain relaunchers and if you are traveling during part of your career break, it is not an option during that time.

11. What is the best way to present your career break to a prospective employer?

It depends why you took the career break and whether it is relevant to your relaunch. First of all make sure you account for it somewhere on your resume. Don’t leave a gap. If you were doing volunteer work that is relevant to your relaunch, you can include that in a section called “Experience” in chronological order, which can include paid and unpaid work.  If you did occasional consulting projects during your career break, you can include these under a heading such as “Carol Fishman Cohen Consulting” and then list them in bullet point format (be brief). But if you took a career break that was not at all relevant to what you want to do, then you may want to include it in the personal section, including dates.  If you took a career break for travel, you may very well want to include it on your resume because you will be able to speak to the way it now informs your outlook and decisions.  The best way to talk about it is briefly and unapologetically.  You want to acknowledge it and then move on to why you are the best person for the job and how excited you are about the prosect of working there.

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Employers Giving Their Advice on Reentry After a Career Break. Copyright iRelaunch.com

12. What are the common mistakes you see people make that they should avoid?

I’ll give you three.

#1 Not doing a career assessment. That was my big mistake. I thought that I should return to a finance career simply because I left a finance career. Once I was back in my finance position for about a year I realized I didn’t really want to do financial analysis anymore. I loved business writing and working with people so that’s why I transitioned to what I’m doing now. But I involved a very progressive employer who was willing to hire me after 11 years out of the full time workforce when I could have avoided the situation entirely if I had done a career assessment first.

#2 Getting completely professionally disconnected.  This was another big mistake I made.  I barely even read the newspaper for the six years I was home full time with my four little kids.  So I had to go through a self study program to get myself up to speed in the business world generally and then I did specific updating work on financial products, calculations, and analysis.

#3 Conducting your relaunch efforts in front of your computer.  Instead, you need to get out of the house and meet people in order to get job market intelligence that leads to real opportunities.  This means going to social events, professional conferences, and events put on by professional associations or your alma mater, including reunions!  This is hard work. Because if you put yourself out there, you need to prepare yourself to speak with people about what you want to do. This requires practice.  You need to speak with non-judgmental friends and family while you are practicing talking about yourself and what you want to do. Then you can move on to people you know less well. Essentially, you are doing interview rehearsals. The more of these conversations you have, the better you will sound when it counts, in the interview itself.

13. Tell me about your Return to Work Conferences. Why would I go and what can I expect from attending?

You should go if you are in any stage of your relaunch, from trying to figure out what it is you want to do, to already knowing what you want to do but seeking advice on how to get the word out.  You can expect to get practical strategies and advice, hear how successful relaunchers were able to return to work, hear from employers about their interest in returning professionals, attend workshops on career assessment or networking and marketing yourself, and have the opportunity for unstructured and structured networking with other conference participants and with employers.  Participants consistently report that one of the best parts of the conference was meeting the other attendees. Both employer and relauncher participants are there to learn, from each other and from the people presenting, in a non-intimidating, low pressure environment. That’s one of the reasons we always hold the conference at a university. Finally, you should go if you want to have direct conversations with employers who are interested in hiring you.  This is a great opportunity to be face to face with employers and make personal connections with hiring managers.

14. What are the attending companies looking to get out of the conference?

Companies want to meet relaunchers and to learn about their goals and their challenges.  They want to hear what kind of advice we are giving to relaunchers, and have the opportunity to give advice themselves. They want to hear success stories and learn how companies have successfully reintegrated relaunchers back into the workforce. Some companies want the opportunity to explain their businesses to relaunchers and underscore the challenging employment opportunities they offer. Ultimately, many of the companies participating want to hire relaunchers and are at the conference to meet potential candidates.

15. Any plans to head to the Mid-West or Western US to hold future conferences?

We’ve held the conference twice in Chicago (at Northwestern and the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management) and once in Southern California (at U.C. Irvine).  We hope to bring the event to Northern California in the next year or two.

career break, re-entering the workforce, return to work, taking a year off, irelaunch

iRelaunch Founder Carol and Vivian. Copyright iRelaunch.com

16. What is the best way to get started with your site?

Go to www.iRelaunch.com and review the four offerings at the top: the book, conference, coaching circles, and tech updating classes. Then take a look at the success stories.  Right now you have to randomly click on a photo to read the story behind it, but we are re-doing our website and will soon have the stories organized in a more accessible way.  Look at the “iRelaunch in the News” and “Relauncher Resources” blocks on the home page to read relevant articles on relaunching and to discover some great tools to use in your relaunch. Finally, sign up for iRelaunch (here’s the direct link: http://www.irelaunch.com/register.asp). It is free and you will get our monthly newsletter packed with tips, advice, news and events for relaunchers.  You do not have to fill in all of the fields to register.  You may also want to join our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter groups; click on the appropriate logo on our homepage. Atlanta and Boston area residents, consider attending our Return to Work Confereence! Finally, if you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@irelaunch.com

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One Response to “iRelaunch: Help for Reentry After a Career Break”

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