Laura Carey took a 12-year break from her career as an HR professional, during which time she raised her kids, acted as her dad’s primary caregiver for a year, and volunteered extensively. After a great experience volunteering at a Northwell Health hospital, Laura found a returnship opportunity at Northwell Health that would be a great fit for her. She completed her returnship in talent acquisition, and now works there full-time as a Talent Acquisition Specialist. Laura talks about her returnship experience, learning how to recruit for different types of teams, and how talking to both her fellow returnees and her peers helped her development.
What did you do before you took a career break? What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I worked at Sony Pictures for about ten years. I started as an Intern, and I worked my way up to an Associate Business Partner. In that role, I was part of a small department, so I had to wear a lot of different hats. I was responsible for some recruiting, answering employee questions, and handling employee relations issues. I had one son at the time, and when I had my daughter, I took a career break to focus on raising my children. While focusing on caregiving, I stayed busy. My kids attended a nursery school that was a co-op, so parents were given different jobs to handle. One year I was the secretary, another year I was the treasurer. After my kids moved into the school system, I was on the Arts and Education Committee in my school district; I also worked with the PTA, and was a class parent for a number of years for each of my kids.
In 2017, I became my dad’s primary caregiver while he was recuperating from a medical situation. After his recovery, I started looking into volunteer opportunities at various hospitals. Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital had just started a caregiver program, which fit into my most recent experience at the time, helping my dad. At the time, they were putting together a separate space for families to go and relax, talk to social workers, and spend time together aside from the hospital floor and cafeteria. They also set up a rotating caregiver center, where we’d go into patient’s rooms and see if we could provide support to caregivers. I also volunteered with the stroke support group at the hospital. Once a week on Fridays, we would come together to provide support to those who had suffered a stroke. Some weeks we would plan parties, other weeks we’d bring in social workers, physical therapists, musicians, magicians and others to engage with stroke survivors. I learned so much from working with that group, and it really felt like Northwell Health cared about us as volunteers.
All those wonderful volunteer experiences made me want to look into further opportunities with Northwell. At that point, kids were in middle school, and things were going pretty smoothly for them.
I had signed up for the Path Forward newsletter, and attended a few of their Employer Roundtable webinars. One thing that so many alumni kept saying in the webinars was to just go for it and apply. Then, I saw that they were holding a webinar with recruiters from Northwell Health to talk about their returnship program. It sounded like the perfect opportunity for me, so I applied and started just a few months later.
What was your returnship experience at Northwell Health?
I was hired into a talent acquisition specialist returnship. I was set up with a mentor in the department, who was the department director at the time. We’d have check-ins every morning, to review the projects I was working on, and that really helped get me set up and established a good support system for me. I’m a super organized person, but when I first started, I was worried I would feel overwhelmed or wouldn’t be able to get up to speed in time. On a technical basis, I didn’t have too much experience with Microsoft Teams or Outlook, and there was a big learning curve. So I really appreciated the director setting aside time for me every day and helping me get back into the work world.
My team is a smaller group of about ten people within the larger talent acquisition department. I had a lot of different meetings with coworkers throughout talent acquisition and the Northwell health system at large, which gave me a good sense of how both the department and the larger organization functioned. I felt like my Northwell volunteering experience helped, because I was familiar with the culture of Northwell, and knew that it was very much an organization that promoted learning and growth. I’m now a full-time Talent Acquisition Specialist, and am very happy at Northwell and with my team.
What did you find most helpful about being part of the Path Forward program at Northwell Health?
Path Forward’s weekly workshops were amazing. I really looked forward to them. Just hearing other people’s stories, and having the chance to connect with people, was so helpful for me. Even if someone was sharing a returnship challenge that didn’t apply to me at the time, I would keep it in the back of my mind, and if something similar happened to me, I’d think back to the advice I got from the team, my cohort, or the program alumni.
Most of my friends did not take career breaks, even if they had kids, so I felt like an outlier for a long time. But in talking to so many people through the Path Forward workshops, and across Northwell Health, I realized that many people had to deal with impostor syndrome, whether they took a career break or not. And that really helped me feel less alone. I came to see that any problems I ran into were all just part of the journey.
What was your experience of returning to work remotely?
The remote aspect of the role has helped me tremendously because I can get online early, and then if I need to, for instance, greet my kids when they come home from school, I can step away and do that.
I’ve taken part in a few in-person events, as well. Northwell has recruitment events at places like Mets games and events at Jones Beach Theater. I’ve signed up to help out at a lot of those, which have given me the chance to meet some of my colleagues in person.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
Right around the time that my returnship was ending, a person on my team was leaving, and I ended up taking on most of her responsibilities. I had about a day and a half to transition with her, which wasn’t a lot of time in terms of recruiting. I handle recruitment for five different groups, including Marketing and Communications, Northwell Foundation, and Central Sterile Processing. They’re all very different from each other. It was a little overwhelming at first. But I took things piece by piece, and learned how different hiring managers best communicate, and how to find the best sources of candidates for all of these different types of roles. I’m proud of the fact that I now have a great relationship with all of these groups.
Do you have any advice for future returners?
Just try it and see what happens. It’s never going to be the exact right moment to return to work. If it doesn’t work out, then you’ve still learned something, and you can take that and move forward. Make sure to communicate as much as possible. Communicate what your expectations are. Let people know what you’re looking for, and what doesn’t sound right for you. If you have worries about returning to work, cross that bridge when you come to it, and try to be as flexible as possible. Know that some things might kind of fall by the wayside a while, or might need to be worked out in a different way than you’re used to.
When I was looking for work and attending Path Forward’s webinars, I’d keep my kids in the loop on what I was doing. Just to show them an example of perseverance. There are going to be difficulties, and some failures, but trying new things is how you move forward.