An Untapped Resource: Mid-career Professionals Ready to Reenter the Workforce After Career Break

Carol Fishman Cohen is the co-founder and CEO of iRelaunch, a pioneering company dedicated to elevating the profile and championing the success of professionals returning to the workforce after a career break. Carol wrote the Harvard Business Review article “The 40-Year-Old Intern” about mid-career corporate internships, and her TED talk on career re-launching has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.

Gatti: Why should companies seriously consider hiring mid-career professionals returning to the workforce after a hiatus?

Fishman Cohen: Mid-career professionals who have taken time out of the paid workforce—often to raise children or care for sick or aging family members—are typically highly educated with great work, and often volunteer, experience. They have a mature perspective, are at a stable stage of life, and bring an energy and enthusiasm to the workplace because they are determined and eager to restart their career.

Gatti: How can companies best attract this demographic?

Fishman Cohen: To the extent that an employer attaches risk to hiring people after multi-year career breaks, a mid-career paid internship is an excellent vehicle to engage with the return-to-work population. It offers a win-win situation. The internship allows both the employer and the employee to have a testing period. The employer does not need to make the hiring decision until the internship is over and they are able to evaluate the potential employee on the basis of actual work instead of just a series of interviews. The professional is able to gauge cultural and job fit as well.

For companies interested in hiring a large pool of re-launchers, the most successful strategy is to develop a bespoke paid “returnship” program – just as many companies do for entry-level internship programs. Large companies often bring “re-launchers” in as a cohort, all starting around the same time. A dedicated orientation and continuing professional development sessions occur during the course of the returnship. Cohort coaching at the midpoint and the end of the internship period is extremely effective.

Once returnship programs gain traction and managers see the caliber of the participants, then more and more managers will want to participate, and the programs typically expand across business lines, domestically, and in some cases, internationally, as well.

Gatti: Which industries have had made a concerted effort to hire re-launchers?

Fishman Cohen: Financial services firms are returnship pioneers. Law firms, management consultants and STEM sector companies are also committed to hiring mid-career professionals re-launching their careers. Often it is the companies that are looking to build the ranks of women in management as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy.