What is a Returnship Program?

A Return-to-Work program is an opportunity for individuals who have stepped out of the workforce to jump back in. These individuals take time off for a number of reasons: raising a family, caring for a loved one, moving to a new country, or caring for their own health and well-being.

Life happens, and taking a career break is becoming more common:

  • As a result of the “Pandemic Exodus,” 1.79 million women and 1.75 million men left the labor force*.*National Women’s Law Center June 2021 Report
  • 57% of male and 74% of female Millennials anticipate taking a career break for childcare, eldercare, or to support a partner in a job—a much higher rate than was true for prior generations. Research by ManpowerGroup
  • Women in mid-level roles are leaving. For every one woman director getting promoted to the next level, two women directors are leaving their current jobs. McKinsey Women at Work

When Returners are ready to come back to work, they often face one obstacle after another. Oftentimes, they are finding that their application isn’t going beyond the initial stages, mainly because they don’t have current/recent work experience and if they do, they’re usually only considered for positions below their skill level.

Instead of simply discarding résumés due to a career gap, Return-to-Work programs focus purely on identifying those with a break, and the results prove that by doing so, organizations are able to uncover mid-to-senior level, highly diverse talent.

reacHIRE’s programs have routinely delivered exceptional talent that is diverse


Identified as Women of Color


of Returners hired are women


have an advanced degree and an average of 11 years prior work experience

What makes reacHIRE programs unique?

Our signature Return-to-Work programs embed training, coaching, and mentorship to ensure Returners make a smooth transition into your company and are set up for long-term success.

  • 100% of candidates that worked with a reacHIRE recruiter would recommend others to conduct their job search through reacHIRE 
  • 98% of Returners value our customized training and onboarding program
  • 97% of Returners value the coaching from their Program Manager
  • 84% of Returners successfully convert to full-time or extend in contract positions at the client company post-program
  • 92% of employees that convert to full-time roles are still with the client 2+ years later

Creating Your Return-to-Work Program

Developing and running a Return-to-Work program is a significant project and like anything else, takes upfront planning, commitment to helping build and support the onramp, and investment into providing the resources to deliver a strong and impactful program. It’s not difficult, if you know the core components and questions to ask…but it does take time, resources and a partner who is an expert.

If you are considering creating a Return-to-Work program, these are some questions you should consider.

Do you have buy-in from key players in your organization?

Key players are your Talent Acquisition associates, leaders that oversee your contingent workforce, Human Resource Business Partners, Procurement (if you outsource to experts like us), the Heads of participating business units and the specific hiring managers selected to manage individual Returners.

This program will require open-mindedness, especially when it comes to the recruitment process. If your leaders and hiring managers approach this program with the same expectations as your traditional hiring, it is unlikely that the program will be successful. 

Senior-level support is critical to stand up a Return-to-Work program, but hiring managers are the lynchpin to the Returners’ success. When soliciting participation from hiring managers, consider individuals who have a depth of people management experience and are connected to the program’s mission. Think of your managers who are active in your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or mentorship programs, or perhaps those who have taken a break themselves or supported a loved one through their own career break.

“To women especially, having a manager who cares about their well-being really matters—it’s one of the top three factors they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company. When managers invest in people management and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), women are happier and less burned out. They are also less likely to think about leaving their jobs and more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work—which translates to higher retention and better recruiting.” 

When working with reacHIRE we help you set your program up for success. We’ve been doing this for a decade and have built a playbook for standing up programs that leverage our expertise. We will get in the weeds with your Talent Acquisition partners and Human Resource Business Partners to think through the entire strategy – everything from the timing of your program to the identification of an executive sponsor. We also do internal roadshows to help you gain commitment for the program from everyone involved. Running a successful program truly takes a village!

Do your hiring needs align with the Returner talent pool?

You may have lots of open requisitions, but not all are going to be a fit for your Return-to-Work program. When considering what roles may be a fit, ask these questions…

Does this role allow time for upskilling?

A role that requires a new hire to hit the ground running on day one may not be a fit for a Returner. While they have a depth of experience, Returners may need extra time compared to a traditional hire to settle into their new workplace culture, learn new technologies, and overall team dynamics. Just like riding a bicycle, Returners haven’t forgotten their skills, but they just need time to pick back up and accelerate to full speed.

Once given time to upskill, our Returners are highly productive and successful

  • 88% of reacHIRE Returners that participated in our 2021 programs stayed on with the client company post-program.

Does this role require new tools and technologies or a niche set of skills?

By definition, Returners have a career break, so this means that they have not practiced their skills in a professional setting in at least 2 years. Many Returners are lifelong learners and have earned professional certifications or taken training courses during their break, but they haven’t had the opportunity to apply them in a corporate environment. When selecting roles for your program, consider that Returners may be most comfortable and familiar with technologies used 5-10 years ago, but are eager and ready to learn the latest and greatest.

If you plan to provide in-depth training during your program and “manufacture” talent in areas where your company is short-staffed (e.g. cloud technologies), that is a great approach, but build in time for the Returners to upskill. 

reacHIRE’s signature Return-to-Work program starts with a full week of training to ensure each Returner’s transition is smooth and they have the foundational tools they need to start working on your team. 98% of Returners are satisfied with reacHIRE’s training program. 

Is this role a one-off need or evergreen role?

It takes a minimum of 3 months to stand-up a Return-to-Work program. From recruitment to onboarding, you will need to assess your hiring needs now for 3-6 months down the road. Returnships are best used as workforce planning strategies to hire into evergreen roles where more diverse talent is needed. Hiring multiples of evergreen roles is a great way to build your cohort.

At reacHIRE we recommend a minimum cohort size of eight to pilot your program, and we’ve run programs with up to 50 Returners. 

If you do have one-off or immediate hiring needs, consider our direct placement service. This is a great way to engage candidates with a shorter career break who are ready to hit the ground running. Learn more here.

Does this role allow for location or work flexibility?

When thinking about where your Returners will work, consider the following statistics…

  1. US remote-job postings on LinkedIn reached an all-time high in February 2022, at 20% of all US jobs — yet they attracted over 50% of all applications. By September, remote-job posts fell to 14% of all posts, but got 52% of all US applications. https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/global-talent
  2. Our research shows that many women list remote and hybrid-work options as top reasons for staying at or joining a company, and only one in ten women wants to work on-site. But these options aren’t just about flexibility. Women experience fewer microaggressions and feel more psychological safety when working remotely. HBR Women at Work


Does this role meet Returners’ salary expectations?

On average, reacHIRE Returners have 11 years of prior work experience in related fields. This means when considering roles, you should be mindful of selecting positions whose compensation will be commensurate with their prior experience. We recommend selecting roles that will be compensated a minimum of $80k upon conversion to a full-time position. Remember – these are not interns or new college hires, these are skilled professionals who just need a bit of a refresh!

Our historical applicant flow shows available Returner talent in the following job categories:

  • Project Management
  • Business Analysis
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Human Resources
  • Data/Systems Analysis
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Quality Assurance
Do your recruitment teams have the expertise to source, screen, and hire Returners?

Hiring a Returner requires a different mindset and approach, not only of your Hiring Managers, but of your recruitment teams.

We’ve been recruiting Returners for 10+ years and our recruitment team specializes in sourcing passive talent with non-traditional profiles and highly transferable skills. You can leverage our recruitment experts and end-to-end nuanced processes to ensure you are getting the best talent for your organization.

Are your job descriptions inclusive?

    • Returners may be intimidated by a laundry list of exhaustive qualifications and tools. We recommend prioritizing what’s a must-have to get started in this role on day one. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. HP Study
    • At reacHIRE, we’ve done the hard work for you and created a job description template that will ensure you get the candidates that usually opt out of applying.
    • So while a job description can’t completely fix this issue, the right format for Returnship opportunities can go a long way towards increasing the number of applicants to your program. The key for the job descriptions for a Returnship is to emphasize that a resume gap is welcome, limit the required skills to 3 or 4 at most, and to mention any additional support that will be provided to the Returners.

Do your recruiters know how to effectively screen and assess Returners?

Interviewing a Returner will require a unique approach. You will not be able to assess their skillset in the way you would a traditional hire. You will need to think about transferable skills and be prepared to assess how their non-corporate experience, (e.g. volunteering, community leadership, self-employment) can translate into the professional setting.

  • reacHIRE recruiters have an average of 15 years of experience and specialize in sourcing this alternate talent pool – Returners.
  • Our team reviews all resumes and handles the initial candidate interviews, spending 45 minutes with each person to assess both their hard skills and their transferable skills as it relates to your hiring managers’ must-haves. 
  • We look to provide our clients with at least two qualified candidates to consider per requisition and send pre-qualified candidates to you in real time as we screen them and determine if there is a fit. We are all about quality over quantity and pride ourselves on finding high-quality talent that meet every client’s unique needs. Once candidates get selected by us, 85% go on to additional interviews so that they are seriously considered by client companies.  

Do your existing interview processes align with our best practices for interviewing Returners?

We recommend a structured interview process with hiring managers to eliminate the potential for bias. Bias is not intentional, it is unconscious, so the more structured we are in our approach, the more objective we can be at assessing returning candidates and giving actionable and relevant feedback during the recruitment phase.

We recommend one round of client interviews. These can be panel-style interviews to make sure all decision-makers have an opportunity to meet and assess the candidate if desired. In any case, it is critical that this process be succinct so as not to overwhelm Returners who may not have interviewed in several years or more. 

Working with reacHIRE isn’t just a matter of hiring candidates, it’s an educational process to help your hiring managers and teams think differently about talent. When working with reacHIRE, we’ll make sure your hiring managers and anyone else involved in the interview process are aware of the nuances of interviewing a Returner. We remind hiring teams to keep an open mind, focus on transferable skills, and see the potential in candidates.  

“This is the best set of candidates that I have interviewed. If I had three positions, I would have taken them all. All had great project management skills and one went above and researched my FinOps area, as well as me!”  – Fidelity Hiring Manager

Do you have the channels to reach Returners?

Returners may not be actively looking to come back to work; they may just have the thought in their mind and you need to go the extra mile to find them. Returners can be hesitant to start their journey back to work.

reacHIRE has its own proprietary database of thousands and thousands of Returners that we have built over the past 10 years from which we source our candidates. We have a powerful network of alumni that we bring together through various monthly events. Additionally, reacHIRE partners with local and national organizations to meet Returners where they are. Whether it’s Moms of Westlake, Girl Develop It, We Are Pistachio, or the Boston Women’s Workforce Council – we are plugged in. 

Do you want to test drive Returners on contract through reacHIRE or hire them directly as full-time employees?

There is no one size fits all, so we work with clients on a number of different models.

You can choose to let reacHIRE hire the Returners to work on contract at your organization. We take on the heavy lifting of payroll, onboarding etc. This approach allows you to evaluate the Returner over the 6-month program to ensure it is a fit for both parties. At the end of the program, some Returners will stay on at your company either on a contract or permanent basis. Note: if hired on contract through reacHIRE, Returners will still be eligible for our benefits 90 days after the start of the 6-month program.

  • 88% of Returners that participated in our 2021 programs stayed on with the client company post-program
  • 91% of Returners that participated in our 2021 programs found employment after their Return-to-Work Program

Another option is to hire Returners directly into your organization on a fee for placement basis. With this approach, you demonstrate your commitment to the program and investment in the Returner. If you hire Returners directly into your organization, they will be eligible for your full-time employee benefits. This is an attractive offer in a competitive candidate market that can help differentiate your Return-to-Work opportunity.

Do you want to hire Returners as a cohort or one-off?

We understand the appeal of hiring people one-off as needed, but the power of community cannot be underestimated. 

“Community is an essential part of wellbeing…feeling like you belong can lend itself to a better mood, more creativity and collaboration, and higher psychological safety. In one study, belonging was linked to 56% increase in job performance, 50% decrease in turnover risk, and 75% reduction in sick days.” 

  • Harvard Business Review – the value of belonging at work, December 16 2019

At reacHIRE, all of our programs are cohort-based, allowing Returners the opportunity to learn from one another and connect with other new Returners across the organization. This creates a sense of belonging from day one at your organization and they know they are not alone on their journey.

  • 98% of Returners felt that being a part of the cohort had a positive impact on their Return-to-Work experience
  • “I really feel the cohort model provided a strong support environment, and made me feel comfortable with my challenges to return to work.”- 2021 Returner
  • “The cohort aspect has been wonderful to have others to lean on during the return to work journey. Even virtually we were able to build a connection.” – 2022 reacHIRE Returner