Success Story: Cathy Kawamoto

Company: Volta
Role: Director of Tax

Cathy Kawamoto took a 13 year break from her tax management career to raise her kids. When they were in high school, she decided that it was time to return to a career in finance. During Cathy’s returnship at Volta, her extensive tax knowledge led to her managing the company’s tax department, and she now works there full-time as a Director of Tax. She talks about her returnship experience, keeping her skills updated, and how she transitioned back to work after a lengthy break.

Tell me a bit about your career break. What type of work did you do before taking a break? What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I have my CPA license and was a Senior Tax Manager working in both public accounting firms and private industry. My most recent pre-break career was at Autodesk, a large software company. My break coincided with an overseas move, and I figured that since my kids were young, this was the perfect time to take a break and spend more time with them at an age when they would need me more. I didn’t expect to take a long break, but it ended up lasting 13 years, which is a pretty long time.

What prompted you to return to work?
After 13 years out, my kids were in high school and nearly going into college. I really enjoyed spending time with my kids and helping them grow up, but there’s something about working and having your own sense of self and independence.  

How long were you actively looking for work prior to applying for a returnship?
I had been looking – but not actively – for about five years, and two years before my returnship I really tried to start putting my resume out there. Since I had taken such a long break, I started asking myself, “What do I want to do? Do I want to go back to what I was doing before? Do I want to do something different?” It kind of evolved that way, and then I saw the returnship at Volta and got excited because I was really behind the company mission. I had always worked at big companies, so I wasn’t sure how being in a start-up environment would be for me, but it’s been great. 

Did you take any classes or complete any training in preparation for your return to work?
I wanted to maintain my CPA license, which requires taking 80 hours of continuing education every two years. So I did keep up some technical knowledge in my area through that. I also kept up my excel skills through personal use and practice. There are a lot of free and online classes out there to take, so I’d probably encourage those who have the time to upgrade their technical skills.

What was that initial transition back to work like for you and your family?
In the beginning, you really have to think about logistics and plan out what your schedule is going to be like. It does take a bit of mental preparation in order to make everything move smoothly. I had to talk to my kids to prepare them, though they’re already older and pretty independent. Honestly, I thought going back to work would be a bigger deal, but it was a surprisingly easy transition. I’m now amazed at how much I can get accomplished in a day, when I initially wondered how I could work full-time and manage a family. You do find that it all comes together and works out.

What was your returnship role at Volta?
Interestingly enough, the position that was open at Volta was for a Financial Analyst. However, the CFO, saw that I had a lot of tax background, and wanted me to handle all of the tax items at Volta to take advantage of my expertise. So as it turns out, I was mostly working on taxes during my returnship, and it was great because it gave me the opportunity to take charge, see what needed to be done, work in different areas, and put some processes in place. During my returnship I was effectively able to manage taxes for the company. 

The returnship structure is really perfect from both an employer and employee standpoint, because you have the opportunity to prove yourself on the job, and you have time to get back into working, dust off some of those cobwebs. At the beginning I felt like I was a little slower at everything, but got up to speed pretty quickly. There’s also the understanding from your employer that you’re returning to work, which definitely helps and makes for a great experience. 

What role are you in now?
The position I got hired into full-time was Director of Taxes at Volta. It really worked out well for both sides, because the company needed someone managing all aspects of taxes, and I’ve been able to use my background in tax work in a new career. 

What was your experience returning to work at Volta?
Volta is a small start-up company, which is great because you get to know and talk to everybody. I really enjoy that culture of openness. Everyone was nice and helpful, particularly in the finance department. They made me feel like I was part of the team from the beginning. It was a really good experience, and I’m fortunate that I was able to get the returnship and get hired full-time. 

Are there any skills from your pre-break career that you use in your new role? What about skills you gained during your career break?
Aside from my experience working on taxes, I would say the soft skills of knowing how to work with and collaborate with people. Those kinds of soft skills are always going to be useful no matter where you go and will carry on to your next job, even if you’ve taken a break. As for my career break, raising kids requires a lot of patience. I also took a number of volunteer positions during my break – I was the treasurer and communication manager for my son’s varsity tennis team, for instance. Those kinds of activities help because when you’re going back to work, you feel like you’ve had some recent experience and aren’t going in completely dark. 

What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program at Volta?
I would say all of the workshops were extremely helpful and I really commend Path Forward on the timing of the workshops and the topics covered – because they’re really relevant to what you’re dealing with at different points in the returnship. The Path Forward alumni network was also extremely valuable. At Volta I met two previous returnees, including Steffie MacDonald, who had been through the program and been converted full-time, and it was great to talk to them about their experience. Meeting other returnees at the workshops who were going through the same thing as me was also really helpful and gave me that sense of camaraderie and support. 

What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work?
I would say just being able to use my mind. Thinking and analyzing is a big part of who I am and being able to apply that to something very structured at work gives me a sense of accomplishment. And just having social interaction with people of all different age groups and backgrounds is really enjoyable. So there are a lot of great things about going back to work that make it very fulfilling, other than a paycheck – which also doesn’t hurt! 

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I would say I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to take charge when I was given a pretty open-ended task of tax management. I’ve always been a fairly independent worker, so being given a task that I could take over and manage successfully felt really good. 

Do you have any advice for future returnees?
I would tell future returnees that I know it can be a little scary, but it is extremely gratifying to be back at work. I can’t say enough about Path Forward. I’ve been telling others who are on breaks and a little hesitant to get back to their careers to look into the Path Forward program because it’s a great way to jump back into work. I would also recommend networking and talking to as many people as you can. The more people you talk to, the more insights you’ll get. I initially didn’t have a lot of confidence about putting myself back into the professional world, but after showing my resume to a few people, I was really boosted by their encouragement. You can even start out small. Any steps you take to return to work will help you. You don’t need to think of the first job you take after a break as your final job, especially if you’ve been out for a while. For me it worked out well, and I’m very happy with where I ended up, but any experience you gain will help you in the long term. It’s daunting to return to work, and it helps if you frame everything as a learning opportunity.

Thanks for sharing your story, Cathy! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. You can learn more about Cathy on her LinkedIn page.

– The Path Forward Team