Returnships: A New Concept In Internships

There was a guy at my gym early last year who would show up every morning with an iPad, a fanny pack and a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. No later than 6:30 am, he would show up and sit in the same seating area outside the pool. As the one panting and sweating to death between classes and cardio, it seemed a little strange to me. Why would you come to the gym to have a sandwich and catch up on your Netflix?

After a few weeks, I made a joke of it to my class instructor. I said something along the lines of “I think he has a lot more fun here than I do.” Then, she said something that has stuck with me ever since.

“You don’t know his story.”

The joke wasn’t so funny anymore. I was judging with my bias. I assumed that this man was just trying to get away from a nagging partner or the morning routine. He wasn’t. He is homeless. My gym, where I can choose to go, is his shower. His living room. His kitchen. His home.

Months later, I’ll admit that phrase still rings in my ear. It bothers me that I did that. I judged and didn’t consider there’s so much more to someone’s life than the moment when I notice or their looks. I’ve really tried to be more considerate since that day. I know it’s important to slow down and consider that there’s always more of a story than the one I see or in most cases, assuming.

Unfortunately, bias like this happens a lot. Even “good people” do it.

We take it everywhere with us. Bias is how our brains make decisions – for the good and bad. But when we take it to work, it becomes dangerous. It cheats great people out of opportunities. If we have to make some “business case” for bias, it’s as simple as this: it will cheat your company and every person who works for you out of great hires, connections, and bottom line profits.

That’s why I was so excited to read this article about returnships. Basically, a returnship is an internship program for people coming back to work after a prolonged break. For example, these are moms who took years off to spend with infant children or adult children who were full-time caregivers for their dying parents. The paid programs provide skills training to bridge any technical gaps that have come up in the previous years and develop these people from interns to FTEs in a matter of weeks.


Returnships can create your next candidate pipeline.

I love the idea, and here’s why.

  1. Women want to go back to work, not necessarily because they need the money but because they want to create value just like everyone else. This facilitates that.
  2. I have been in that room where someone looks at a resume and goes, “well why didn’t they work for x years?” Then the look. What I wish I had said now is simply, “who gives a shit?” I didn’t, but I wish I had. It’s BS biased crap but here’s the bottom line. There is nothing wrong with taking time off to care for your family. In fact, according to most of your EVPs – caring is one of your core values. This is precisely where you should be looking for caring people.
  3. You know when the hiring manager is all “I want 5+ years of experience,” and you can usually find people with 3ish or 10+? The people with the 5+ years are waiting to come back and have been pushed to the side by traditional companies because of “resume gaps.”
  4. It primarily attracts female candidates, so it has already is helping tech companies trying to shift the gender balance at their company. Note: Bringing in a bunch of women won’t address your “bro” culture alone. You’ll need to do culture work to make this, well, work.
  5. It helps the economy. “Raising female participation in the workforce by 5 percentage points to 75 percent could boost the UK economy by about 9 percent of GDP.” Read more.  In short, that’s a lot. I’d love to see data for the US.

The catch with returnships (there’s always a catch these days).

If you want to build a returnship program, remember this. Most of these people took time off because they wanted flexibility and they couldn’t get it at work (or at least they didn’t believe they could.) You have to address culture and flex work options before this program will be effective in hiring people who will actually stay longer than 16 weeks.

Candidate Generation and Nurturing recruiting Recruitment Marketing Advice Workplace Trends

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. K, thoughts on how we overcome the bias with technical roles? I hear a lot of “well, her skills will be outdated or stale” – would love ideas to overcome!

    • In my head, they should be willing to refresh skills. Give them a test or something – I bet they pass!

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