- Melissa Janvier paused her career as a lawyer to care for her children after moving to the UK.
- It took her 5 years to find a new role, a return internship with the Bank of England.
- ‘Returnship’ programs offer training and mentoring, with a view to landing a permanent role.
Looking back, Melissa Janvier said it’s obvious she was taking a career break. Even if she didn’t think so at the time.
In 2014, the successful attorney moved to the UK from New York after her husband secured a new role, and wanted to take a brief pause in order to help their three children settle into a new country. She was keen to continue her 16 year career, and planned to do so as soon as her youngest child started school.
“I was just gonna jump right back into the marketplace, kind of pick up where I left off — that’s the sort of ideal that I had in my mind,” Janvier, 45, told Insider. But what was supposed to be a pause, ended up as a five-year career break.
Although the pandemic may have started to change perceptions among recruiters, many take the view that career gaps are a risk, which means that it can be hard for returnees to get back into opportunities.
For working mothers in particular – many of whom left the workforce in droves during the pandemic and who still take on a greater burden of caring responsibilities – the break can be devastating.
“In the back of my mind I knew that the longer that career break went on it was going to be harder to get back into work,” Janvier said.
During the first three years, Janvier stayed busy by helping out at her son’s soccer club and as part of the parent’s association of her children’s school. She also enrolled on a course to enable foreign qualified lawyers to convert to UK law.
When she resumed her search in 2017, she was looking for a role as an international lawyer but struggled to get much response, despite her years working for JP Morgan and running her own practice.
“You go through this period [where] you don’t really know why you’re not getting any bites on your résumé. It’s humbling because you were a professional at the top of your game at one point, and then you can’t seem to be attractive to any employers.”
It all changed when she met a friend for coffee, who told her about return internships.
‘Returnships’ are professionals typically three to six-month programs aimed at helping mid-career who’ve been out of work for more than a year reenter the workforce at the level they left.
“It’s a bit of a softer landing than going directly into the permanent role in the open market,” Julianne Miles, the founder of Women Returners, a networking organization that consults people enrolling on returnship programs, told Insider.
Typically applicants receive training and mentoring, with a view to landing a permanent role at the end. Miles said that currently between 80-90% of her clients are hired full time.
While the majority of people using the schemes are women who have left to care for children or relatives, they’re also used by people who’ve left the labor market after relocating or for health reasons for example, Miles said.
The concept first emerged in 2008, at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, but it’s being used by firms across many industries, including Johnson & Johnson and Amazon, which in 2021, announced plans to recruit 1,000 returners in the US over the next ” several years”.
The push for greater diversity and the social benefit of doing so is a real added benefit for organizations, alongside the opportunity to bring in great talent, Miles said.
“Very quickly, organizations find out that it doesn’t take returners very long to get back up to speed,” Miles said.
Janvier applied for a six month returnship with the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, working as a legal counsel. She accepted a full time role at the bank in March 2020.
Ultimately, while it’s “hard to say” whether she would have been unable to return to work without it, she believes that it definitely shortened her search and enabled her to return at a higher level than she may have been forced to settle for.
She’s recently accepted a new opportunity, but is glad she was able to take up a returnship with the Bank of England.
“It helped me at a time when I never thought I was going to land that role, ” she said. “I feel enthusiastic about the future, I’ve got my career back on track and it’s full steam ahead.”