Returnee Beth Frasco took a 16-year break from her wireless engineering career to support her growing family through several big moves. She talks about her returnship experience in the Act Two program at NBCUniversal, how she prepared for her return to work, and the steps she took to reconnect with her professional self.
Returnship role: Senior Business Analyst
Partner Company: NBCUniversal
What type of work did you do before taking a break?
I started off working in engineering for Motorola, where I sold, designed and built wireless networks in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. I then worked at a wireless operator in the US, which is now essentially part of T-Mobile. I was Director of Engineering of their radio planning division, which included figuring out where to place cell towers and antennas. After getting my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, I became a product manager at a small internet startup company. Altogether, I worked for about a decade before my break.
Tell me a bit about your career break. What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I was out of the workforce for about 16 years. I never really chose to take a break, it sort of just happened. The startup I was working for downsized, and I got laid off when I was pregnant with my first child. We then moved shortly after my child was born. I was adjusting to everything at once – having a baby for the first time while geographically away from my professional network. By the time I was situated and ready to return to work, I found out I was pregnant with twins! So I figured, well, that’s not happening. Then I had a fourth child and we moved out of the country for six years. I didn’t have a work permit or the primary language skills, and four kids under the age of five, plus my husband’s job was very demanding, so I continued my break. But my career was always something that I wanted to return to.
What prompted you to return to work?
I always had some remorse about losing the professional aspect of my life. Nothing ever fully prevented me from going back to work, but circumstances made it much more difficult. Eventually, we landed in Connecticut and made a decision to stay there for the long-term. My kids were entering the high school years, and we had already put them through so many moves that we didn’t want to uproot them further. My husband now had more flexibility in his career. When I wasn’t working, I still kept myself busy – I volunteered, did some part-time work, was part of the PTA – but I was ready for more. I also really wanted my kids to see me working. I thought it would be a good model for them to see Mom at home, and then Mom in the workforce, too.
How long were you actively looking for work prior to applying for a returnship?
I had a long preparation phase that included thinking about what I wanted to do, and what I could do. I spent two years attending conferences, doing career bootcamps, and a bit of reskilling. I attended a Path Forward Career Restart Seminar in 2018, and just tried to tap into all the resources I could find. After starting my actual job search, I got really lucky. Almost immediately after developing my LinkedIn profile, I was contacted by a headhunter about a position in my area. That really boosted my confidence and made my return to work seem more realistic. After that I got more serious and started applying to roles. My returnship was actually one of the very first positions I applied to, and it just worked out.
Did you take any classes or complete any training in preparation for your return to work?
The alumni office of the Kellogg School of Management, where I got my MBA, offered a career workshop that I found really useful. It was a combination of tactical, practical, pragmatic skills and tips. It offered a supportive environment, which was great for those of us who were still unsure about going back to work.
I considered going back to product management but didn’t want a role that involved a lot of travel. One of the women from my career workshop told me about Job Hackers, a non-profit group run by an agile coach that offers free online classes to get you certified as a scrum master. I took the class, but got the product owner certification, which involved a bit of additional self-study. It was helpful for me to develop some new mental structures around work, and re-acquaint myself with the software development world.
What was your returnship role?
My returnship was as a Senior Business Analyst at NBC Sports. It was a business engagement role, which involved technology service delivery between the corporate side at NBCUniversal, and the NBC Sports business unit. Basically, my job was to facilitate the delivery of services and infrastructure run by corporate IT and make sure my business division received what they needed in a timely fashion, and were satisfied.
What role are you in now?
I’m now a full-time Senior Business Analyst at NBC Sports. The hiring manager for my returnship was very upfront and made it clear that he was looking to fill this position permanently, so from the first day onwards, I never viewed it as a temporary role – I was playing for keeps.
Are there any skills from your pre-break career that you use in your new role?
Before my break, I worked with wireless networks, which are somewhat similar to the IT networks I work with now. The general engineering processes that I learned in my previous career definitely apply to my current role, including working with tech infrastructure, and figuring out the critical components of the technology I’m dealing with. My experience as a Product Manager has come in handy as well, because a part of my role is trying to figure out what my client needs and how I can help, which has definite parallels to product management.
What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program?
The biggest benefit is just the fact that the program exists in the first place! I found that the coaching and support Path Forward provides managers was actually quite beneficial to me, as well. I could see that my managers had a good sense of how to deal with returnees. I had regular weekly touch-bases with my managers, and I felt comfortable asking them any questions I had – no matter how basic. My supervisor also spent a lot of time with me in the first couple of days, introducing me to everyone on the team, and, most importantly, sitting down with me and the client I’d be supporting to ensure I had a good project to work on. That piece is so key to a good returnship, because if you don’t have a good project to work on, you can’t demonstrate your experience and value.
The returnee workshops were critical, as well. It was great to start along with others in a cohort, because you had a community of people to talk to, gain support from, and connect with. There was another returnee at NBCU who worked in another office in the New York metro area. We made sure to set aside time to connect, and continue to keep in touch and check-in. The workshops were extremely helpful not only in helping me get to know my fellow returnees, but in the advice we received from Path Forward about adjusting and dealing with any issues that might come up.
What was the experience of returning to work at NBCU?
My role has unique challenges because I’m not working within a dedicated team. I work for enterprise technologies, but am based in the NBC Sports office, so I’m working with colleagues across many different businesses and offices. I think being a mature worker is an asset in this respect. When I was younger, communication with my peers was really important to me, but I’m now more comfortable working on my own. I did have to work harder to reach out to people. When I first started, I set up around 75 one-on-ones with people in the office to introduce myself and find out what their roles were.
Did anything surprise you about your return to work?
What surprised me was how quickly I slipped back into working. I actually like to think of it as a career pause, rather than a break. I felt like once I pressed that button, and returned to work, I was back to doing what I had always done.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I was very proud to deliver a project quickly – within eight weeks – which really impressed my client. I’m also incredibly proud to have been hired full-time, to be honest.
Do you have any advice for future returnees?
When I started telling friends and family members that I was ready to go back to work, I found that half were positive, and the other half responded with, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” There’s a real bias out there against returning to work after a long break. You should ignore the negative reactions, because it has nothing to do with you. It’s just thinking that’s embedded in our culture. Focus on the positive and supportive reactions instead.
It’s important to reconnect with your professional self. In our culture, our identities are so tied up with what we do. When you’re working you describe yourself as, “I’m an accountant, I’m a lawyer,” and when you aren’t working, you have to describe yourself in a different way. Re-training helped me start recognizing myself in a professional context, but what really helped me was connecting with former colleagues. Just talking with old coworkers and people in your network helps you reconnect to that version of your life and a sense of identity around your career. It will help you interview well, be more confident, and project a professional, capable image.
Thanks for sharing your story, Beth! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. Learn more about Beth on her LinkedIn page.