Updated: June 17, 2022

Returnship Programs: Ultimate Guide

This is a guide to returnship programs.

A returnship program is an internship for people who have taken a break from employment. For example, men and women with career experience who have taken a break to raise children, take care of loved ones, complete military service, or retire. The returnship program is beneficial because it makes integration into the workforce seamless and efficient.

these programs have some similarities with return-to-work programs.

This article covers:

  • returnship program definition
  • the importance of returnship programs
  • how to design returnship programs
  • returnship program interview questions
  • examples of companies with returnship programs
  • remote returnship programs

Here are the basics.

Returnship program definition

Returnship programs are special initiatives for those who have taken a break from their previous professions, or are changing careers. Employers trying to fill skilled roles benefit from returnships, and these programs help employees break into high-paying, high-growth industries.

Sadly, many employers tend to undervalue individuals with gaps in their work history. The company may have such guidelines for recruiters or integrate these candidates into their recruitment system or ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Therefore, organizations are losing out on a wealth of talented employees. In addition, since returners comprise a higher percentage of women than men, most of the overlooked talent is female.

In a typical Returnship, companies hire returning workers in roles with salaries commensurate with their professional expertise. Due to the gap in their work experience, the conventional recruitment procedure often undervalues their talents and places them in jobs beneath their skill level. In many cases, such team members struggle to rise through the ranks to management, director, vice president, or executive positions. This program allows a career return without starting from scratch.

In addition, returnships provide further training, nurturing, and mentoring. The system helps returners reconnect with the profession and improve skills to perform on the job. Companies design returnship programs to fill the skills gap in the workforce.

How a returnship program works

Returnship programs focus on professionals who have been out of a job for up to two years and have at least five years of professional experience. Companies encourage applicants to apply for returnship programs, interview, and complete a background verification procedure.

The returnship program typically lasts between two and three months, with some returnships lasting as long as six months. Participants receive a list of objectives, accomplishments, and skills plans to achieve during the course of the program. Assigned tasks become progressively more challenging. Returning professionals reinforce their skills and learn new ones while the organization gets a better sense of the employee’s qualities and abilities.

Returnship participants often compare these programs to boot camp. The program exposes participants to various communication tools such as chat platforms and teaches new methods of using collaborative software. The program is also a chance to learn about new processes, integrate with the work culture, and build relationships with coworkers. Many returnships also give participants coaching and mentorship to help them adjust to working life again.

After the program, certain firms will recruit individuals who have participated in a returnship program. As a result, both employers and returnees benefit from this arrangement since it fosters the employee’s professional development and gives organizations an opportunity to trial talent.

The importance of returnship programs

A Returnship Program has several advantages for any organization interested in implementing it, including:

1. Broad talent options

A returnship program gives organizations access to an untapped pool of talent. Many recruiting systems ignore or penalize resumes with job history gaps. In the end, many experienced workers fail to receive recognition or opportunities. A company’s recruitment technology or hiring process may be to blame for this oversight. Regardless of the method, the outcome is the same. Without a returnship, great skill often  remains unrecognized.

2. More diversity

In today’s corporate climate, the rationale for a diverse workforce is becoming clearer. Studies have proven that diversity leads to increased profitability, more innovative solutions to business challenges, more resilient employees, and more successful businesses. There is little doubt that a racially, ethnically, gender, and age-diverse workforce is more productive. Hiring highly qualified, experienced women who have taken a career hiatus through returnship increases the diversity of the workforce.

Check out this collection of books on inclusion and this list of virtual diversity-building activities.

3. Diverse perspectives lead to better results

Homogeneous teams tend to decide or resolve matters faster than diverse teams. In other words, since homogeneous teams often have aligned thoughts, members will probably agree on a solution to a problem quickly. However, this response is not always appropriate. However, although a more diverse team will need to work more to agree on an answer, they are more likely to develop a superior solution. Backing up this claim is 2009 research from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Professionals who have taken a professional break often have a very different life story than employees with conventional career paths. This unique insight means their companies will benefit from the varied solutions and new ideas.

4. A talent pool of women

According to Hewlett-Packard research, women do not apply for jobs unless they are almost a perfect fit for the position. Follow-up research from LinkedIn found this phenomenon to be true. This conclusion has nothing to do with whether or not the women believe in their qualifications for the position but rather reflects the reality that they do not believe recruiters will consider them. Add a gap in their job history, and women are much less inclined to submit an application. Using returnships as a recruiting tool shows that a firm supports women returning to work and believes in the unique skills and insight women provide to the workforce.

5. Better employee engagement and loyalty

When companies devote resources to diversity and inclusion initiatives, their workers get a show of appreciation. Therefore, workers are loyal and proud to work for the company, leading to a more satisfied workforce. Studies have shown that returnships are among the most popular employer initiatives for workers.

Here are suggestions for more unique employee engagement ideas.

6. Better company reputation

Companies need distinct and proactive initiatives to stand out from the competition as a fantastic place to work. These efforts might include implementing returnships. According to Deloitte research, two-thirds of all job searchers feel that a diverse and inclusive workplace is crucial when looking for a new position. For millennials, the percentage rises to 83 percent. A large part of the solution to this problem is to implement very prominent returnship programs.

7. Mutual assessment of compatibility

The employment process always has the possibility of failure. However, a returnship of 16, 20, or 24 weeks greatly reduces these risks. Like an internship, a returnship allows both the participant and the employer to see whether or not they are a good match before committing to a long-term relationship.

8. High hire rate

Companies can get a considerable number of high-quality employees via a well-executed returnship program. Returnships have a hire rate of up to 85 percent. The reason for these numbers is that returning employees are usually among the most devoted and hardworking individuals an organization can hire.

9. Highly driven workers

A returnship is a lifeline for job seekers who have lost hope in the traditional employment market. These job seekers generally experience a sense of neglect and undervalue. Therefore, you get a team with an unrivaled sense of purpose and work ethic. Many companies love women’s energy and work ethic returning to the workforce. These women are grateful for the chance and eager to put their intellects to work in a stimulating and demanding professional environment once again.

For more tips, check out this list of books on motivation.

10. Highly impactful

Returnships provide a social benefit in addition to their commercial advantages. The program affects people’s lives and families. After a hiatus in their employment history, women who return to work are less likely to get a job that matches their skill set. Even if these candidates could find employment, it was typically in a position substantially below the previous role. Returnships are a means of redressing this imbalance.

11. Less employee turnover

The existence of active returnship programs serves as a signal to the workforce that, in the event of a career interruption, employees may return. Current employees are more likely to stay in such organizations, meaning less turnover. As a bonus, this program might help professionals who have to pick between their career and caring for a family member. Allowing new parents and other workers to reintegrate into the workplace seamlessly can help your organization recruit and retain the best talent.

Check out this guide to employee turnover.

How to design returnship programs

The first step to launching these initiatives is to determine whether the firm has a need and desire for a returnship program. The program is possible with the right mentality and support from a few key departments, including Managed Service Provider (MSP), Talent Acquisition, the head of the participating departments, and recruiting managers. Human Resources and other contingent leaders may also need to participate. Your recruiting managers need to support the returners and the unique viewpoint they bring, else the program will not succeed. Below are steps to create a returnship program:

1. The guidelines

Although returnships exist primarily for workers who have been out of work for a minimum of one year, you can still set the rules, like the minimum number of years out of the workforce. You also need to decide the length of the program, the participants’ roles, and the budget. Furthermore, decide if you want to pay participants the same amount or different pay based on their experience, expertise, and job role.

2. Recruiting abilities

Returners are a valuable resource and need a special hiring procedure. You should assess if your company has the resources to find, screen, and recruit returners. A successful program requires the correct strategy and processes.

3. The program’s length

Most returnships last between 12 and 16 weeks. However, the number of participants, the nature of positions, and the firm’s available resources determine the length of the program. Several factors can increase the duration of the returnship term, including larger cohorts, more complicated tasks, and limited resources like formal training. Firms will need to determine how long it will take to give returners a fighting chance.

4. Training

Returnship success depends on the quality of training. Various possible training options nclude:

Job training: Companies should first decide how to teach the new employees the precise responsibilities of their position. The training can include career development and could be a team-based effort.

Workplace best practices: This training includes an overview of workplace standards and acceptable conduct, including verbal communication, business outfit and grooming, time management and telephone skills.

Soft skills: According to research from the Carnegie Mellon Foundation and the Stanford Research Institute International, 75 percent of long-term work performance hinges on soft skills. Soft skills training includes working leadership, communication skills, critical thinking, listening, punctuality, adaptability, teamwork, and organizational abilities.

Here is a list of books on employee training and development.

5. Type of returnship

Cohort-style returnships and rolling returnships are the two major forms of returnships. The cohort style is when a corporation recruits a group of returners to start work at the same time. Cohorts often complete the 12- to 16-week returnship program together. When the program ends, the employer and the returners can decide if full-time work is in their best interest. As roles become vacant, the organization employs returning employees one-by-one after conducting an interview, screening, and background check.

6. The job description

Be sure to find out which departments are interested in participating in the program. First, identify what your department heads are looking for and the person in charge of the recruiting process. It is the authorized hiring manager’s responsibility to draft a clear job description outlining the position’s responsibilities, duties, and requirements.

Since these are all distinct positions, you may publish each one individually. It would help if you kept a few factors in mind while writing an introductory paragraph for your organization. Professionals searching for a “returnship program” or a “return-to-work program” are more likely to locate your business if you include these phrases in your description.

7. Publicity for the returnship program

After sorting the logistics and job descriptions, it is time to spread the word. Best practice is to post the job descriptions on high-traffic job boards and on your company website’s “careers” page. In addition, it is a good idea to set up a separate page for the returnship program. Potential candidates may find out more by visiting this page. When job applicants search for “returnship programs,” they are likely to come on this website even if they have no prior knowledge of the program or the firm.

Employee referral bonuses are a great way to motivate your staff to spread the word about the program. Feel free to reach out to previous workers who may have left the company to raise children, care for a loved one, or just take a vacation.

8. Candidate evaluation

Screening resumes and cover letters can help you pick which candidates to interview. When assessing resumes, remember to emphasize the applicant’s talents and potential rather than their previous job titles. Some of your finest applicants may be folks who wish to change careers after taking time off for personal reasons. You should consider the abilities these applicants developed due to their life experiences. It is safe to assume that someone who has dedicated time and effort to raising or caring for a family member has qualities like compassion, diligence, and organization.

Your team can discover more about the applicants by asking specific returnship program interview questions such as:

  • Why do you think you would be a good fit for this position, given your prior career and personal experience?
  • Why are you interested in working for us and in this position?
  • What do you hope to achieve by participating in the program?

Discover more helpful interview questions.

9. Launch Your Returnship

Once you have chosen applicants and sent offer letters, you are ready to begin hiring. In addition to a thorough induction and a wide range of networking opportunities, the best returnship programs also provide adequate training in both hard and soft skills.

10. Orientation

Instead of having to keep rerunning the program, have everyone begin orientation on the same day to meet one another. You can introduce yourself and provide a tour of the workplace. Be sure to talk about your company’s past and present and its vision and core principles. If you can, then go over critical rules and procedures and provide a summary of the program, so the employees know what to expect.

11. Networking events

You can present opportunities for participants, their departments, and the firm to mingle at networking events. After taking a long break from working, it is important to reconnect with old colleagues and make new connections in the hopes of meeting potential mentors and sponsors. A structured mentoring program may also be in order.

Here is a list of books on mentoring.

Examples of companies with returnship programs

The good news is that if you are thinking of going back to work after a break, you may find plenty of returnship options. Many private-sector companies provide compensated return-to-work jobs, such as:

  • Dell Technologies
  • Spectrum
  • Boeing
  • Credit Suisse
  • LinkedIn
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Accenture
  • Deloitte
  • Goldman Sachs

The programs they offer vary, including remote returnship programs, and you will get the chance to improve your skills, boost your resume, join the workforce and build your professional network.


Re-entering the workforce after a time off might be a daunting endeavor. It is normal to have doubts about your abilities, regardless of how long you have been away. Returnships are reshaping the way businesses find and recruit diverse workers. The program’s influence extends beyond the company’s recruitment efforts to the rest of the business and the broader community.

FAQ: Returnship programs

Here are answers to common questions about returnship programs.

What are returnship programs?

Returnship programs are forms of internships for experienced workers looking to reintegrate into the workforce. The program can last from a few months to a year.

Why are returnship programs important?

Returnship programs are important for boosting employee loyalty, increasing diversity in the workforce, and reducing employee turnover.

How do you make a returnship program successful?

You can make a returnship program successful by ensuring recruiting supervisors commit themselves to it, providing adequate soft and hard skills training, and setting proper guidelines.

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People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at TeamBuilding. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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