Partner Spotlight: Carol DeSantie, Northwell Health

Carol DeSantie, a director in Talent Acquisition, helped start the Northwell Health returnship company in partnership with Path Forward. She talks to us about the program, and the robust support that returners receive at Northwell Health.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been at Northwell Health? What is your position and how long have you been managing a staff?
I’m Carol DeSantie, I am currently one of the directors in Talent Acquisition. I’ve been in talent acquisition for a little over two years, and I’ve been with Northwell for close to seven years. In my seven years with Northwell, I’ve had the opportunity to both build up a division, including everything from hiring to creating policies to creating employee engagement, and have also worked on unwinding a business, including creating an offboarding process that helped people land. One of the amazings things about Northwell is we focus on the whole lifecycle of employment and always want to help people have continuous employment.

How did you get involved in the returnship program at Northwell and what made you choose to participate?
I’m pretty passionate about this. I was asked to join an initial call about the program nearly two years ago. After the call, my manager said “Wow, you’re super passionate about that.” And I am. I’ve always been a working mom and I’m passionate about supporting working moms and caregivers. I also happen to know a lot of dads who took on the primary role of caregivers. 

My son is now 15, but even when he was in kindergarten, other moms would say “Oh, you’re going to work now?”  And they would tell me their stories, that they used to be a lawyer and now they’re a stay-at-home-mom. And they’d say things like, “it’s been so long and nobody wants me.” And I would always tell them, that is absolutely not true. It’s just a matter of positioning who you are and telling your story. I’ve always been an advocate, even in those years, because this is a very talented pool of potential candidates for employers. I’m a natural connector. I like to help support people in  achieving their personal and professional goals. 

Did you have any preconceived ideas about what returners would be like before you started interviewing them?
Yes. Based on my own sphere of influence, my preconceived notion was that they would be smart, motivated, good people. I had so many contacts, other stay-at-home moms and dads from my child’s school, and they all said the same thing. “I had a big career but who would want me now?” Because of their gap, they feel shame – and disconnected. And my words of encouragement to each of them is to tell the real story of why they have a gap in employment.  It’s authentic, and it helps employers understand them on a personal level. 

This returnship program is an excellent opportunity for people looking to refresh their skills. Come in and do an amazing job, and whether it’s in the role they imagined or something else, they will have the opportunity to build confidence in themselves, their skills and understand that they are valued for their knowledge, skills and abilities and get the chance to be part of a team. 

What do you think running this program says about Northwell Health and their priorities? And has it made you think differently about your organization because they’re running this program?
I’m going to start with the last question first, and I would say that it doesn’t make me think differently. It just reinforces my pride in the organization that I work for. I know from my experience winding down a business unit that Northwell doesn’t want to see people negatively impacted. That’s the essence of who we are at Northwell. From our leadership on down, we value our team members, patients and  the community that we live in, and returners are part of that community.

We want to involve the people in our community in the work that we do. So if there’s someone at home who’s thinking, I really want to work in healthcare, I really want them to work in healthcare. And for some people, it might start out as just a job, but it turns into a career. 

Let me share an interesting story. I had a young woman interview yesterday. She’s a current employee of Northwell. She’s been with us for many years and has a Master’s degree. She was looking for her next step in her career. I was reading through her resume and I noticed an inconsistency. She had told me she started working at Northwell one year, but her resume said another. I asked her about the gap and she paused. She finally said, “I worked in food service for those other years.” And I was like, “Well, why isn’t that on your resume?” And I know she didn’t want to tell me because she was embarrassed.  She finally said “I just didn’t think it was important.” And I said, “Wait, stop. It’s hugely important. It tells your story. It tells your Northwell story. You started out working in food service, and today you’re a program manager. And now we’re looking at other opportunities for the next step in your career trajectory.” I told her she needed to redo her resume and send it back to me. I advised her not to tell a whole big story about the food service role, but to leave it in. It’s her story. And it occurred to me that the situation is kind of the reverse for the returners. So you worked on Wall Street, and you had this robust career, and then you stopped for ten years to take care of your children. Don’t forget to tell us about the ten years that you stayed home and cared for your children. That’s huge. That’s your story. It’s who you are. It’s the essence of who you are, not what you did or you didn’t do. 

Northwell is now recruiting for a second cohort of returners. What would you say to someone who is wondering if Northwell and this program is right for them, and is on the fence about applying?
Take that step and just hit the apply button. You will be amazed at what could happen. I can’t tell you the amount of times that people say something like, “Well, I saw this job. It really interests me, and I think I fit the qualifications.” And then I ask, “Well, did you apply to it?” and the answer is often no. Unless you apply, we don’t know who you are or if this is the right position for you. 

Take that leap of faith. Even if the answer is “no” for this program,  it doesn’t mean no, never. It just maybe means no, not right now. We are the largest non-governmental employer in NY, with approximately 77,000 team members, and we’re constantly growing.  So I encourage potential returners to continue to check our careers page to see if a role opens that aligns with  their experience and career interests.  But unless you start to apply and you get comfortable with that, we can’t really help you. We can only help when we know who you are.

Can you talk a little bit about the support that returners will get at Northwell?
We have a series of really robust opportunities for the returners. One major thing is they’re going to get to experience our new employee orientation called “Beginnings”. It starts off with our CEO welcoming each and every person, every Monday, as he has been doing for 21 years. For the last two years or more, I have been part of the “Beginnings” leadership team, and: I learn something new every single time. The returners get this amazing kickoff experience, just like every new hire that comes into Northwell. I look forward to it every single Monday. 

Returners are also provided additional support in their transition by being assigned a buddy on their team to help with their assimilation into Northwell and a mentor from our Caregiver Business Employee Resource Group to provide career support and help ease the transition into Northwell.  Northwell is  large and complex and we feel these additional resources will help our returners navigate the organization.

We also have additional learning and development opportunities through  our program learning series, conversations with leaders throughout the organization, peer group mentoring and opportunities for bonding. We’re also providing  opportunities for skills refresher courses and development opportunities during the returnship. 

And then, of course, the returners have full exposure to the teams that they’re working on. For example, in talent acquisition, we’ve created our own rotational experience so that the Returner can have opportunities to learn about the different verticals and pillars within talent acquisition. It’s a great opportunity for exposure and see the entire process from offer to the very first day. The mentors, buddies and leaders also help set expectations and provide  opportunities for returners to meet with the different leaders within their organization. We want returners to be able to understand all of the different aspects of their role and team.

How did Path Forward help you get into the right mindset to engage in this program?
I’ve found the Path Forward team to be incredibly engaging, passionate, and authentic. While I think the mission of what you’re doing is amazing, I think that I learned about the essence of who all of you are during all of the interactions that I’ve had with you, which really makes it even more of a special initiative.The true passion behind what you do is remarkable.  It is evident in each and every one of our encounters and engagements, and I feel like it’s contagious.