What Is a Returnship and How to Find One

Three business woman in an office hovering over another professional during her returnship and showing her how to complete a task on her laptop

It’s not easy to return to the workforce after you’ve taken time off. You’re probably wondering if your skills are still relevant or whether employers will feel confident hiring someone who’s been out of the game for a while. 

These are valid concerns, but the recent talent shortage is on your side. Many employers are more than happy to welcome returning candidates back to the workforce, and one way they’re doing it is through returnships. 

We’ll explain how a returnship might be the perfect option to help you break back into your career while brushing up on your skills, building beneficial relationships, and more. 

What Is a Returnship?

A returnship is a formal, paid program hosted by an employer to help adults who have taken time away from their careers return to the workforce. It’s a play on the word internship, but unlike an internship, which is geared toward recent grads, a returnship is targeted specifically toward people who have already been in the workforce at some point. 

Returnships are growing in popularity, especially in the wake of the tight labor market of the last few years. Companies are doing whatever they can to attract great workers, and that includes using returnships as a strategy to bring back qualified candidates who’ve taken a career break and even lure older employees out of retirement. They’re a great way for employers to cast a wider net and reach more diverse audiences. 

Benefits of a Returnship

Reenter the workforce with a structure

Reentering the workforce can be a daunting undertaking. Participating in a returnship gives you a mapped-out path to make your comeback. 

Since it’s designed specifically for people rejoining the workforce, you don’t need to worry as much about whether you’re out of the loop on important technology advances or changes to office norms. A structured program will help you get back into the swing of things while filling in any gaps that have developed during your time away. This can be a welcome alternative to diving straight into applying for full-time jobs.

Leverage your niche skills

Many returnships are geared specifically to career returners with a particular skill set, like IT or finance. Such programs are a good way to capitalize on your most marketable qualities while simultaneously getting up to speed on what has changed while you were away. 

Plus, being around like-minded individuals in your field gives you a chance to develop new relationships and seek out a mentor, which can be an invaluable asset when you’re relaunching your career. 

Reignite your passion

When you’ve been away from your career for a while, those warm fuzzy feelings you used to have about it may have faded. It’s possible your ambitions have taken a backseat to family commitments or other concerns. A returnship can help light the spark anew. 

You’ll have the opportunity to compare notes with other returners in the same boat as you and connect with program leaders who can help breathe new life into your professional network. 

Access new opportunities

Not every returnship requires participants to have previous experience in the field. Some are set up as an option for those who are changing careers. This can give you a leg up in overcoming barriers to entering a new field, like if you have some DIY coding skills but don’t have any formal developer jobs to list on your resume. 

Returnships are also viable for non-traditional candidates, like people without a high-school diploma or retirees breaking into the workforce. 

Obtain a full-time position

While there are no guarantees, you’ll walk away from a returnship with a job offer, many times, that’s exactly what happens. Companies are obviously looking for the upside of hosting such programs, and if they can gain a qualified new hire out of it, it’s a win-win. 

Even if you don’t get a full-time job with the company right away, you’ll have made valuable internal connections and gotten a crash course in their way of doing things, which makes you a stronger candidate for future positions. It’s a viable way of making inroads at some of the most well-known employers, like Amazon and LinkedIn (both of which have returnship programs).

How to Find a Returnship

Research online

There’s no single database cataloging every company that offers returnships, so Google is going to be your best friend in finding one that’s a good fit. 

Many of the most prominent returnship programs have been written about by news outlets, and companies also typically put out a press release when they launch a returnship program. So, be sure to check the Google News tab in search results to discover relevant programs. 

If you’re just getting started and want to get an idea of what’s available, iRelaunch is a great resource. They have an excellent list of companies that offer return-to-work programs, including The Home Depot, Visa, PepsiCo, and NBC Universal, just to name a few. 

Search social media

Social media is another great place to learn about returnship opportunities. 

For example, a quick search on LinkedIn for the word ‘returnship’ produced a list of available returnship positions, a selection of posts from executives promoting their returnship programs, and a list of LinkedIn members with job titles like Returnship Director. This gives you plenty of avenues to go about pursuing different return-to-work programs. 

Work with a recruiter

If you’ve never worked with a recruiter (which is someone who specializes in helping candidates find jobs), now might be the perfect time to start. Look specifically for recruiters with experience with candidates reentering the workforce or those with connections at the companies you’re most interested in. 

Related: How to Connect With a Recruiter on LinkedIn

Brush up your application materials

Being out of the workforce for longer than a few months means your resume probably needs a refresh. Update it to reflect any valuable skills or experience you obtained during your time off.

Next, create a cover letter that briefly explains your career break and why you’d make a strong candidate for the returnship. Focus on your enthusiasm for getting back into the workforce and why you’re specifically interested in this program. Both your resume and your return to the workforce cover letter should be customized for every individual program you’re applying to.

Related: The Best Resume Guide to Help You Stand Out

Prepare for the admission process

This is no internship; it’s a full-time, paid position, so be prepared for a thorough selection process. You’ll likely go through at least one interview, so brush up on your question-and-answer technique. 

The questions in a returnship interview will be similar to those you’d face in a regular job interview but expect a heavier focus on why you’re getting back into the workforce and what your ambitions are for your career.

Also, if you’re not well-versed in the video interviewing tools that have become ubiquitous in the last five years, like Zoom, do a trial run ahead of time to help things go smoothly. 

Securing a returnship takes a little legwork, but it’s an excellent step in the right direction when you’re ready to resume or redirect your career.

Related: Tips for Restarting Your Career After a Break

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn