Defining Success in Your Returnship

I love visiting art museums, especially modern art museums. I’m not particularly knowledgeable, but I enjoy my time and generally find ideas that inspire me (I’ve written, here and here, about how two MoMA exhibits inspired me). And as a mom I love sharing this experience with my kids who are now 8 and 6.

Of course visiting a museum with an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old can be … Let’s go with “frustrating.” And I used to let myself get frustrated. But then I realized that I was just doing it wrong. If my definition of success was seeing every piece, reading all the material, and lingering over the pieces I liked the best, well I was never going to be successful. If, instead, I defined success as allowing my kids to take the lead, gravitate to the pieces they like, talk about them for a few minutes and then leave on a high note – well, then I could be successful almost every time.

When I talk to women in return to work internship programs I sometimes hear a lot of anxiety about whether or not the program will be successful for her. This anxiety seems to be centered on what may be a narrow definition of success – will this company offer me a job at the end? While we certainly see that as successful, it isn’t the only way to be successful in a program like those sponsored by Path Forward. And it’s a very limiting measure of success because it puts the control in the hands of the company. I prefer finding ways to measure success that I control.

Here are some ways I encourage women to measure their success in a return to work internship program, all of which are in your control:

You accomplished something of value that is useful and relevant to employers: This may be the key benefit of a return to work program – the chance to get updated experience. Don’t overlook this benefit and don’t assume it will happen without your active engagement in the process. Yes, the company and the manager you are working with should facilitate your assignment but you need to bring yourself to the assignment to make it something that will become resume-worthy.

You met new colleagues who can help you in ways both big and small: This is probably the second biggest benefit of a return to work program. Take every opportunity you can to interact with people throughout the company. Whenever possible work across groups and teams. Volunteer to help out on projects that interest you. The more people you meet the more opportunities will be open to you at the close of the program – both inside and beyond the company. Make it a habit of connecting with everyone you meet on LinkedIn. But more than just meeting them, find ways to do work with as many people as you can. This can be as simple as asking some of your new coworkers for feedback on something you’ve worked on. These interactions can turn into references down the line.

You learned something important about yourself: One thing I hear a lot from people who’ve been away from their career for a few years (or more!) is that they aren’t always sure they will still like what they did before. Or if what they did before is still like what they remember. A return to work program is a great chance to try out a job before you totally commit to it. The program can also allow you to try out new skills, or the same skills but applied to a new environment. And return to work programs are also a chance for you to test the culture fit of a new company. You may discover that you love the work but you want to be at a company that is bigger or smaller or different in some other way. Knowing what makes you happy – and what doesn’t – will help you home in on a better fit somewhere else.

All three of these benefits will help you find a job that you love – either at the company where you intern or another one. And they are all benefits that are in your power to reap.

If you’ve done a return to work or similar type of program how did you define success? Did you achieve it? We’d love to hear your stories – post in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Defining Success in Your Returnship

  1. This was a good read on how to define success. Thank you!
    “And it’s a very limiting measure of success because it puts the control in the hands of the company. I prefer finding ways to measure success that I control.”

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