Back to Work Wisdom: New Directions

Businesswoman using smart phoneBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

As the definition for work-life balance continues to evolve, more and more people are choosing to take a “career break” to concentrate on family and personal priorities. This trend has created a new area of focus for employers: how do companies address the gap in experience and the inherent challenges faced by candidates returning to the workforce? The Goldman Sachs New Directions program aims to provide on-rampers with guidance on how to successfully get back in the game and secure a position.

“The biggest question we are asked is: what skill set do returners need to sharpen prior to on-ramping?” said Monica Marquez, Diversity Practitioner at Goldman Sachs.

The question and answer panel of Goldman Sachs’ New Directions program is one of the most popular segments of the half-day back to work program. Developed in 2006, the New Directions half-day conference helps individuals transition back into the workforce after a voluntary career break.

“We often hear from returners that they have maintained their core skills but are rusty on new technical developments such as a new version of Microsoft Office or how to use a Blackberry,” Marquez said, “It may seem simple but can pose a real challenge if not addressed early on”

Dusting Off the Resume: How to Explain the Gap

Marquez said, “The program originally started based on the Center for Work Life Policy‘s [CWLP] report The Hidden Brain Drain. Our most recent [June 1] program covered data in the follow-up, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited.”

She continued, “How much has changed [in the report]? The numbers are slight. …There are fewer women on-ramping because of the economic environment but the need is still there. The push and pull factors are still there, they still exist.”

She said, “The CWLP’s research shows that 37% of women are off-ramping, and a large percentage – 93% – want to return, but very few actually successfully do it.”

Tips for getting back to the workforce include simply “networking – inform friends and former colleagues that you are looking to re-enter the workforce” and “be proactive – have your elevator pitch ready.”

Marquez continued, “Often, returners just want to know how to start dusting off their resume. Should it be one or two pages? How much experience to show?” And, “How to explain the gap?”

The answer? “Often, people try to mask the gap. We believe that it is best to be honest. We know that you have been out of the workplace and want to know how you have spent your time away. Have you been engaged in community service or volunteer work? Did you spend time managing the PTA treasury? Your experiences outside of the corporate world may have provided an opportunity to build and practice skills that are both transferable and highly valuable to a potential employer,” she explained.

The program also provides participants with a “high level understanding of trends and changes in our industry”

Interestingly, there are a rising number of men participating in the program. “In 2008 we had 2 men participate, and this year we had 35-40 men,” said Marquez.

Success Stories: The Returnship

Another popular segment, she said, is a panel of people who have successfully on-ramped. “They like to hear success stories, as well as the challenges early on and how they got through them – and the constant challenges, like how to balance work and life. To hear success stories is really important – they provide tangible tips to the participants.”

In 2008, as The Glass Hammer reported, New Directions initiated a new program – the Goldman Sachs Returnship Program. As Marquez explained, “It’s an internship program, ten weeks long, designed to help seasoned women prepare themselves for the next step in their career.”

She continued, “We only guarantee the ten weeks… but we have had a pretty successful conversion. We’ve been able to place over half of women in full time roles. It’s a stepping stone.”

This fall’s Returnship Program begins September 13th and runs through November 19th, and applications are being accepted now. To apply, click here.

0 Response

  1. I love the idea of the Returnship Program. In my experience, starting again was more of a challenge than first starting out. It is good to see some corporate support.

  2. Manpreet

    Very thoughtful article. For a fresh take on building strong careers and families, check out Getting to 50/50 — on how men and women share roles with all sorts of good results — including a healthier sex life. The book also debunks some common myths that cause many moms to back away from their jobs. Authors Sharon Meers (a Goldman MD now in tech) and Joanna Strober (a private equity exec) share their often funny tales of combining work and family. Definitely a book worth checking out.