Barbara Miller took a four year break from her long career in marketing to care for her parents. When she was ready to return to work, Barbara completed a returnship at Trimble, where she now works full-time as a Global Marketing Communications Leader. Barbara talks about what she accomplished during her returnship experience, the support she received from Trimble and Path Forward, and what advice she has for future returners.
What type of work did you do before you took your break? What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I started a 20-year career at Sony Electronics on the east coast and relocated to San Diego, capitalizing on the opportunities in the marketing department as the company moved its headquarters west. After twelve years, I returned to New York, and moved into the Sony corporate umbrella of the company as a VP of marketing. I then lived close to my parents, and found myself spending my days commuting to the city, then coming home to take care of my parents and accompanying them on doctor’s visits. I was trying to juggle my career in a new office, with new responsibilities, while managing expectations for my parents. I didn’t really have any quality of life, and it was starting to affect my own health. When I was impacted by layoffs, I saw it as an opportunity to spend more time with my parents and focus on caring for them. Overall I was out of the workforce for a little over four years.
How long were you actively looking for work prior to applying for a returnship?
I was looking for almost two years. I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn, creating my profile and looking at the different streams of communication within LinkedIn. It was on LinkedIn that I first learned about Path Forward. What initially drew me in was seeing all the partner companies Path Forward had, because many were companies I was interested in seeking employment with.
What was your returnship role at Trimble like?
I started at Trimble in a marketing communications returnship. This was Trimble’s first time doing a returnship program. They had done college internships before, and with the returnship program, they were focused on building more diversity in the company, with a push to bring in more women and people of color. With my experience in marketing leadership, I knew there was a good opportunity, should things work out, for me to roll into a full-time position on the team. The projects that I got to run during my returnship included the marketing communications component of the building construction business. I now work in that division as a Global Marketing Communications Leader.
About two months into my returnship, the individual that I reported to had to take a leave of absence. So I really got to prove myself in terms of my ability to work independently, and really dove into my projects. That included product launches, writing product communications, press release work, and building out assets for an ad campaign. I got to just jump into the day-to-day, trying to understand the business and the industry, while working on a variety of projects.
What kind of support did Trimble provide during your return to work journey?
I think Trimble did an excellent job as far as onboarding. I would say that I’ve never been at a company that had the focus that Trimble put into onboarding us as a cohort. We had weekly meetings with the HR program leaders, where we learned all we needed to know about the company and the business. We already had tools and tips identified and laid out on a schedule for us to learn on our own time, through their internal learning portal. That was extremely helpful. The program’s executive sponsor team also came in to spend time with our cohort, and additional executives were brought in to meet with us virtually and to have a dialogue with us. It really felt like Trimble had committed to making us feel like we were employees from day one. During the program, I never felt like I was an outsider.
What did you find most helpful in being part of the Path Forward program?
I think Path Forward is not just a program – it’s a network. Our weekly meetings were very helpful. In addition to meeting with the larger Path Forward cohort, we were able to, as a Trimble cohort, take the conversations we had and discuss them as part of our Trimble experience. There are a lot of learning blocks that are passed on to us during the returnship. I definitely felt like Path Forward was very supportive throughout the returnship.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
First, we had a dealer meeting, where leadership from the reseller channel that markets and sells Trimble’s building construction portfolio came into the office to discuss strategy and product roadmaps. As part of an effort to increase communication with this vital sales channel, we committed to starting a dealer newsletter that informed them of key activities and business updates. I was actually able to execute this sooner versus the actual date that we promised. So we got our first one out before the end of last year, and we have been going strong with that communication bi-weekly. It was something that the division had never done before, and has gotten a lot of great feedback and participation. Secondly, I’m proud of being able to launch a product within the division before the end of my first year at the company. Understanding the components that go into this particular product category, and how they launch within the Trimble environment, has been fantastic.
Do you have any advice for future returners?
My advice is that you have to be confident in the skills that you bring, as well as an understanding that there is always a learning curve, regardless of the job. When you’ve been out of the workforce and you go back in, you feel like you’re behind and you have to play catch up. But you have to keep in mind that there’s a learning curve to every job. Even if you were consistently employed and then moved to another company, there would still be an onboarding period. So you have to go in with the confidence that you have the skill sets necessary to be successful. I think a lot of returners get stressed because they think that they have to hit the ground running from day one.
Systems change all the time. Software changes all the time. But your ability to manage your time, manage your team, manage a project, that stays with you regardless of the job that you’re in. If you continue to tap into your knowledge base, and be confident, you’ll be just fine.