After time away from the workplace, whether it be for personal growth, to look after young families or care for loved ones, it can be difficult to step back into a career.
In recent years returnships have emerged, which help senior professionals refresh their skills after a career break. At NatWest Markets, we launched the Comeback Programme: a 12 week paid returnship aimed at people who were previously in senior manager roles within financial services and have been out of the workplace for at least two years.
It’s a chance for them to bring their skills up to date through a mix of project-work, coaching and mentoring. But it’s also a chance for us to benefit from their experience and unique perspective.
We asked 5 colleagues from NatWest Markets who’ve recently been on the programme to share their thoughts and experiences.
Careers and career breaks
Kate Philips (Managing Director):
I had 11 years away from the City, having left in 2005 when I had three children and my youngest was about a year old. I was a Derivatives Trader in investment banking and it had got to the stage where there just weren’t enough hours in the day. I’d be on the 6.12am train, do a day’s work, come home, put the children to bed and then do it all again. My husband and I decided that this wasn’t the way we wanted our family life to be. At the time, it was either full time or nothing, so I took time out.
Hwee Ching Neo (Business Manager):
I took 14 years out, and prior to that I worked for an American bank, running their product management for Global Transaction Services products. My son was born early and spent the first 10 weeks of his life in neonatal ICU with various medical complications. Given our son’s condition, there was no way I could go back to work. Flexible working wasn’t an option back then, so I came off the career track.
My son was starting secondary school last September, so I started to look for opportunities to return to banking and came upon the concept of returnships.
What’s the Comeback Programme like?
Barbara Oldani (Director)
It was a perfect opportunity to assess whether I was ready to come back to my career – it allowed me to gradually find the confidence to reintegrate in the business and explore possible career choices. Through the programme I’ve met a group of extremely talented and interesting women – we have regular catch ups and support each other greatly.
Jennifer Bagg (Managing Director):
A hugely positive experience. From the beginning, I met with a variety of senior managers. I was impressed by everyone I met and their commitment to the programme and flexible working. I was lucky to have a choice of projects and opted to work in Trading on a real, but pretty self-contained project. It was the perfect stepping stone into my current role.
Kate: I was surprised by how quickly you become credible in a work environment after a long time away. Once you have a role and responsibilities, you just get back into it and it’s as if you’ve never been away. I was lucky to have a very supportive line manager and an exceptionally good mentor who helped me through the transition. Towards the end of the programme, we had conversations about a permanent role, and we were fortunate to have several options to consider.
Catriona White (Finance Projects Leader)
Coming back into the workplace with the support of a coach and mentor, along with the others on the Programme, made the transition a lot less daunting. And because of the profile of the Programme you can build a great network in only a short period of time.
Why is the programme so important?
Kate: It enabled us to fill a gap in our CVs. If you tried to get back to work in a similar role to the one you had 11 years before, that gap could be something you’d struggle to overcome. But the Comeback Programme embraces that, and recognises the things you’ve done while you’ve been away, your experience and your skills. It helps you carry on where you left off.
Catrina: The Comeback Programme gives the bank access to an enormous pool of diverse talent that’s looking to return to work. That diversity of thought and perspective is crucial to the future of our business.
Jennifer: Without this programme NatWest Markets wouldn’t have reached me as a candidate and I wouldn’t have considered returning to a Front Office role, which I’m really enjoying! The mutual support of others on the comeback programme is also really valuable.
I was happily surprised to see how much flexible working has moved on in my time away. For a lot of people returning to work after children, it’s a big concern, and it’s great to see our business is openly committed to this.
Advice for anyone thinking of applying or returning to work
Hwee Ching: For many people who haven’t yet returned to work after a career break, I think it’s due to a lack of the right opportunities. The Comeback Programme provides that opportunity.
Competition for places in the programme is stiff, so be prepared to give it your best shot. At the same time, be confident about your ability to grow and learn quickly. People have taken career breaks for a variety of reasons, but they’ve not lost their skills. For an experienced talent pool, it only takes a week or two of focused effort to get back up to speed.
Catrina: Think about your skillset and where you could use them, but be open to other suggestions; the workplace has changed and an employer may know where they could use your skills better than you! Also, don’t be afraid of asking for any flexibility you need to manage your transition back to work.
Kate: In a way there’s a shortage of role models in this space, certainly in investment banking – senior women who have taken a career break and come back to the same level. I’m pleased to be able to say that we’re all living proof that this is possible. We’ve done it, so can you!
Thinking of returning to work, why not apply for this year’s Comeback Programme: