Updated: September 09, 2023

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

A returnship program is a special work opportunity for folks who took a long career break, like stay-at-home parents or caregivers. These programs help workers get back into their chosen job fields. Returnships usually last a few months and pay participants for their work. During this time, participants can update their skills, gain new experience, and make professional contacts. Workers often get mentors or coaches to guide them. Returnship programs also offer training and networking events to help participants feel more confident and competitive in the job market.

Returnship programs are great because they let employers hire skilled professionals who may have been away from work for a while. These initiatives are a win-win, as individuals get a chance to restart their careers, and companies get talented employees. These programs also promote diversity by attracting folks from different backgrounds and experiences. In simple terms, returnships help individuals get back to work and offer companies a way to find capable and motivated employees.

How a returnship program works

A returnship program is like a helping hand for those who have taken a break from work. First, these programs pick individuals based on their skills and what they want to do. Once chosen, workers get offered temporary jobs with pay in a company.

During this time, participants get to do real tasks and jobs. Participants are working on skills that help them get better at what they want to do. Plus, workers get to meet other individuals who work in the same field and learn from them. Sometimes, employees even have a mentor helping them figure out the job.

These programs often have classes or workshops to teach new skills, and they set up chances for workers to meet and talk with others in the industry. When the program is done, if participants do a good job and the company has a spot open, they might get offered a full-time job. In this case, workers get to start their careers again, and companies find skilled and excited employees.

The importance of returnship programs

A returnship program has several advantages for any organization interested in implementing it, including:

1. Fulfillment of skill gaps

Returnship programs help companies fill gaps in their workforce’s skill set. Imagine a company needs certain abilities or knowledge but cannot find the right workers. With returnships, the company can create special training and work experiences to give participants those needed skills. As the attendees go through the program, they become better at these skills. These techniques benefit the company and boost participants’ confidence and career prospects. Ultimately, returnship programs ensure the company has a skilled team ready to tackle its challenges and achieve its goals.

2. Access to experienced talent

Returnship programs offer a unique chance for companies to hire individuals with valuable work experience. Participants in these programs have worked in various jobs before, and they bring their expertise to the company. These backgrounds are especially helpful for companies that need skilled employees who can quickly adapt to their roles. By providing returnship opportunities, companies can tap into the wisdom and knowledge of these professionals. These workers can lead to fresh ideas, innovation, and a more competitive edge in the market.

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3. Community engagement

A returnship program lets a company connect with and support its local community. A company may decide to help folks from the area who have taken career breaks due to personal reasons. This assistance shows that the company cares about the community’s well-being and wants to help its residents return to the workforce. Such engagement fosters a positive image of the company, creating goodwill within the community. This positive reputation can result in stronger bonds with local customers and increased loyalty. Additionally, this engagement may also lead to potential collaborations or partnerships that benefit both the company and the community.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

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 careers 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. 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.

3. 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: 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Project assignments

In a returnship program, project assignments are the tasks participants work on. These tasks help participants gain experience in their field and also benefit the company. For example, an individual in a marketing returnship might create a marketing campaign or do market research. These tasks help participants learn and make them more employable while helping the company with its work.

11. Transition to permanent roles

The transition to permanent roles is a big part of a returnship program. This process happens when participants who did well in the program may get offered full-time jobs. The company looks to see if they have suitable permanent positions and, if they do, they offer these jobs to the participants. This part of the process is a big step for both the participants and the company, as it can lead to keeping good employees and meeting the company’s long-term needs. Having a clear process for this transition is important to make it fair and understandable for all parties involved and to make the program successful.

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.

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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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