4 min. read

How to Set Up a Returnship Programme

Xena’s Guide on attracting and retaining senior women in tech after absence


Returnships are high-level versions of internships designed to help experienced professionals return to work after a career break.

Returnships are professionally paid and generally last somewhere between 3 and 6 months, depending on the role and length of time off.

Returnships are a tangible and positive solution to stopping career breaks from being a career hindrance and a potential bridge toward attracting and retaining senior women in tech.

Through supportive mentoring, they enable people who have had a break to catch up, ready to return to the level they were at previously. Regardless of their benefits, recent pulse survey statistics suggest 41% of global companies are yet to evaluate the effectiveness of a Returnship programme for their hiring strategy.

Benefits of Returnship Programmes

Consider it a test run for both parties

Returnships, similar to internships, allow the returnship participant and the company to evaluate fit for the role and culture before making a decision on long-term employment.

85% Hire Rate for Returnships

A properly planned out and implemented Returnship can result in a significant number of quality hires. In fact, research shows that Returnships on average have an 85% hire rate at the end of the program. The reason for this is that returners are often one of the most dedicated and hard-working groups of professionals available to employers.

Most returners have grown frustrated with their job search before landing an opportunity through a Returnship. They feel overlooked and unappreciated. The result is a highly motivated and hardworking group that has unmatched drive and work ethic

Signals to Other Employees

Active Returnship programs signal to your existing company employees that there is a way back should they ever need to take a career break. This is another way to increase employee loyalty and potentially ease the stress of workers who may feel the need to choose between their job and caring for a loved one or raising a child. Allowing new parents and other employees to transition smoothly back into office life will massively support your organisation attract top talent.

Convinced? Great. Let’s move on to where to start…

1. Confirm the appetite of Decision Makers 

Consider how your decision-makers, board or stakeholders would respond to launching a Returnship Program and which questions or blockers they may have. For instance, do you have the resources and capacity to invest? If not, how can you draft a plan of action around making these resources available in the future? Perhaps you assign project champions or get the support of an internal group that can help you steer the initiative. Not quite there yet? Read our 4 step guide to addressing DEI with stakeholders.

2. Convince with Data & Research

Do your homework ahead of stakeholder conversations to ensure you understand the impact. Which metrics would be important for your team to consider? Reduce their perceived risk by preparing some success stories of organisations that have done this successfully and data-driven results to craft your narrative. 

What is your retention rate as women progress through the mid to senior level? Can you identify the reasons they are leaving? Is there a lack of women in executive roles?

A few examples to kickstart your research:

Criteo Returnship
Amazon’s Returnship Program
Hubspot Return to Work
Pepsico’s Ready to Return
SLB’s Tech Returnship Program

3. Decide on Employment Type and Department

Once you have your leadership team on board, the next step is to define which departments could benefit from the initiative. Define practicalities like the duration of the returnship, what happens at the end of a successful program and who would be responsible for training modules and mentorship. Other options could include Executive sponsorship which also supports the progression and success of the program and participants.

4. Benefits package for returners

Consider benefits that will make your program attractive to returners: 

– Flexibility: on-site vs remote or hybrid

– L&D Budget you can make available for Returnships 

– Health insurance or virtual care 

– Childcare options or support

– Networking & Executive Sponsorship 

– Job sharing or part-time work

5. Name, Brand and promote your Programme 

Now’s the time to get creative. Connect and collaborate with your Employer branding, Talent and Communications teams to define what your best options would be to create visibility of your program. Ensure you have a dedicated landing page to describe the details of your program and create a strategic recruitment process. 

6. Write the job description 

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 emphasise 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. Examples of support you can offer as part of your Returnship:  

– Induction days/weeks 

– Mentorship, buddying & Coaching sessions 

– Regular feedback & Review sessions 

– Role specific training (Internal & External) 

– Networking with senior leaders 

– Familiarisation days (pre-interview) 

– Ask me anything sessions 

If you’re new to inclusive language, check out our guide on writing inclusive job descriptions

7. Develop the Training Program 

It’s time to agree on what success looks like. Work with the hiring managers of your chosen department to look at what their onboarding would entail. If your program has a 3-month duration, consider which pivotal milestones need to be reached monthly for the participants to become permanent employees. Developing a training schedule will allow all stakeholders to articulate their ideal candidate and which requirements candidates have to tick to be considered for your program.

8. Launch, Track, Improve, Repeat

You’ve got your content, job description, training schedule and candidate requirements. Happy days. These wins essentially mean little without the backing of recruitment success metrics. Be sure to have goals in place that you can actively track against your progress and DEI goals. Check out our helpful guide on How to Create a DEI Scorecard.

If time to hire is an important metric for your stakeholders, ensure you’re clear on what your organisation’s average is at the senior level within the department of your returnship. Once you’ve had your first cohort, gather feedback from your participants and managers and be sure to improve or adjust your process where needed.

Last but not least, don’t shy away from celebrating your wins. Schedule your quarterly reporting reviews to share success stories. See your participants as active ambassadors of your program to refer more talent and promote you as an employer.

Better, together. 

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