Steffie MacDonald was a seasoned operations strategist and professional analyst before she left the workforce 17 years ago to care for her family. As her children grew older, she made steps to re-start her career. Despite staying active in her community and growing her network of professional contacts, she felt employers wouldn’t take a chance on her because of her career gap. Path Forward’s program gave her the professional experience she needed to land a full-time position as director of operations at Volta. Here’s her story.
Before you left the workforce, you were a director of operating strategy. What type of work did that involve? It was corporate project management and often involved multiple departments and different budgets. In my current role at Volta, I continue to use the same financial analysis, project management, and business analytical skills that I learned back then.
How long were you actively looking for work before applying to Path Forward’s return-to-work program? I was looking for about two years, but not really actively. I sent out a fair number of resumes, but with a big gap, they didn’t get picked up. I met with old contacts and had a few interviews, but it was never the right match.
Did you do anything to keep your skills up to date while you were on a break? I kept my skills up along the way with a lot of volunteer activities. I did project management as a Girl Scout leader and soccer team manager. It may seem different from corporate work, but it used the same skills, like budgeting, scheduling, and communicating with different types of people.
Did you find volunteering useful in terms of helping you re-enter the workforce? With such a large gap on my resume, not exactly. I developed a large network of contacts, and the colleagues I volunteered with would tell me about opportunities at their companies. They thought I’d be great at them. But I was always asked “Do you have something recent that I could show my boss?” I didn’t have anything recent. That was a stumbling block I kept hitting. Everyone told me, “You would be great, but it’s been a long time since you’ve used your skills in a professional work environment.”
You re-entered the workforce through a Path Forward returnship at Volta. How was that? The whole experience was very inclusive from day one. Volta came from a viewpoint of knowing Path Forward participants were experienced workers who could hit the ground running, not millenials they needed to teach how to work.
How did Path Forward’s involvement help your transition back into the workforce? Path Forward’s offsites were very helpful in terms of learning how to be strategic about your internship and figuring out what skills we wanted to enhance during our short time as returnees. During the offsites, I got to meet other people in the cohort who were just like me. That camaraderie was useful. People would reach out to each other with questions or ask to connect on LinkedIn and extend our networks.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience? While I was a returnee, one of the big projects I worked on required upgrading a whole network of electric vehicle charging stations in southern California. I led a multi-department taskforce and got the project done in under six weeks. It was a whirlwind project that involved lots of people, but I was able to accomplish it during the internship. That was really rewarding and showed the company my project management skills.
After your 16-week returnship, you were offered a full-time position as Director of Operations at Volta. What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work? I think a lot of moms can relate to this: It’s interacting with people every day, being part of a group, and getting recognition when your mission is accomplished. A stay-at-home mom job is a lot of work, but you don’t get a lot of recognition for it, and you’re often isolated.
What has been one of the more challenging parts of returning to work? Getting dinner on the table every night.
Did anything surprise you about your return to work experience? There were a few surprises after a 17-year gap. There’s an app for everything. Everything is automated on computers, very few people carry paper into meetings, they bring laptops. It’s a different way of doing work. Everyone seems a lot younger.
What advice would you give future returnees? It’s really important to set goals and try to achieve a few accomplishments during the 16-week period. It goes faster than you think.
What kind of preparation would you suggest potential returnees do before applying for a return to work internship? Make sure you’re ready to go back to work, and that you have the backup systems in place for childcare. Get your resume and LinkedIn up to date. Try to figure out the job functions you enjoy (and would like to continue) and what new areas or skills would you like to develop. Even if you don’t know the exact answers, pursuing this line of thought will help you make the most of your returnship. It will put you in the mindset of learning and growing.
Would you recommend a return to work internship to others who are looking to restart their careers? Oh absolutely. I’m so thankful to the Path Forward program. They got my resume in the hands of people who were not afraid to look at a resume with a giant gap. That was the first major hurdle, but they also provided so much support along the way.
What direction are you hoping to take your career in the years to come? One of the great things about working for a small, rapidly-growing company is I can’t even imagine what the options are going to be in 5-10 years from now. That’s exciting. There’s so much room for growth. I want to stay in operations, but who knows. With a small company, you end up dabbling with every group in the organization, and that gives you great exposure to possible career options.
Thanks for sharing your story, Steffie! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. – The Path Forward Team