Sandy Goodwin took a 12 year break to spend more time with her children. When she was ready to return to work, Sandy completed a returnship at CDK Global, where she now works full-time as a Design Operations Lead. Sandy talks about her return to work experience, finding work-life balance in her post-break career, and how being a robotics coach for her kids helped boost her own technical skills.
What work did you do before you took a break? What prompted your break, and how were you out of the workforce?
Coming out of college, I started working for Crain Communications, a periodical company, where I did data processing and marketing research. I then wanted to switch careers. I first considered becoming a naturopath, but landed a job at World Vision, where I worked for twelve years as an information architect.
During that time, I lost my first husband. I had three young children; somehow we got through it together. In 2010, I remarried, and I realized that I really wanted to spend more time with my kids. Even though I loved my job, I made the huge decision to take a career break from the corporate world. During that time, I discovered that my mother had dementia, and became her primary caregiver. To complicate my situation further, my family lost a significant source of income, and now lived below the poverty line. Then, two years later, I had my fifth child.
Being at home gave me a lot of time to not only spend time with my kids, but the opportunity to grow with them. I’ve always had a technical background, and for the last six years of my break, I was a robotics coach at my kids’ school. It was a lot of work but so much fun. I think I learned twelve different types of STEM-focused applications in the course of a year! My kids were eager to learn – they just couldn’t get enough. That put me into this constant mode of learning new things alongside them, which helped prepare me to return to corporate America, because I was developing all kinds of technical and coding related skills in my hunger to gain knowledge.
Last year, however, I saw my husband deteriorating. He was just exhausted. He is a high school math teacher, and he has spent 35-plus years teaching. He was up by 4:00am., got to school by 6:00am to make sure everything was prepared for his students, then got home, most days, after 4:00pm. I told him, you can’t do this anymore. And he struggled with that, because he wanted to be the breadwinner. But he finally capitulated and agreed to take another teaching job with half the hours, and less pay.
That’s when I hit a brick wall. I was ready to return to work, and thought I would just be able to go back into corporate America with my skills and not have a problem. That was not the case. I would send out resume and submit job applications, but never heard back. I learned about returnships from a career coach. I jumped online, found the Path Forward site, and fell in love with the idea. I attended a few Path Forward webinars, and one of them included CDK Global. The recruiters and program managers seemed so genuine. I felt confident I could contribute there. Plus, CDK Global provides software applications to automotive dealerships, and I had some familiarity with the industry from reading and working on Automotive News at Crain Communications in Detroit.
What was the application process at CDK Global like?
It was great. My initial 15-minute conversation with the recruiter ended up taking over an hour! When I left corporate America, there was a strict division between your professional and personal life. I really struggled with that, especially when I was a single mom, but was prepared to return to work with that mindset. But talking to CDK recruiters and hiring managers, I realized how open they were to supporting working parents. At CDK, I can both work and be a mom. I’m still a workaholic, but I know that I can take breaks, or go deal with family issues, without being penalized.
What I appreciated was that they really took a deep look at my resume and thought about where I would excel. I have experience in market research, and the hiring manager realized that, with my skills, I would be a great fit for the UX research team.
Can you talk about your returnship experience at CDK Global?
The returnship started with training and onboarding, and everyone at CDK Global has been so welcoming. My team works on recruiting participants for different UX research projects.. The opportunity to work in this department has been wonderful, and I love the work; it is challenging and rewarding.
The CDK program team, especially Cat Pedersen, has been so vested in the program, and you could tell that a lot of effort was put into making us feel supported and valued. Every month, the cohort group got together to do an activity and talk about our experience, to get to know each other better and to grow as professionals. Cat’s door was always open. She made sure we were having a great experience. It’s been an incredible journey from the moment I signed up for my first Path Forward webinar to CDK offering me a full-time position. Every step of the way has been an incredible life-changing experience.
What did you find most helpful about being part of the Path Forward program at CDK Global?
Oh, there are so many ways Path Forward has helped, it’s hard to choose just one. First, the fact that Path Forward offers these opportunities, gave me a jump start back into the workforce. They recognize that taking a career break is like riding a bike – you don’t forget all of the skills and experience you gained from your previous jobs. And they value the skills you gained during your career break. Path Forward is doing the work of showing companies that returners are worthy of opportunities.
The Path Forward program team was tremendously helpful. When I was feeling overwhelmed, they helped me realize that my returnship was an opportunity to grow, and gave advice on how to better communicate and show my skills to my team.
What has been your experience working remotely at CDK Global?
It has been so helpful. I remember when I was working for a previous employer, I asked to work from home because my commute was 49 miles one way, and they said no, because they only allowed remote work to employees who lived a minimum of 50 miles away from the headquarter office! So being able to work from home has helped immensely. I love that I’m here when my kids get home from school. My kids know that I’m accessible, if they need me. My oldest son, who remembers my previous jobs, has even noticed that I seem happier and healthier than I did before.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I am most proud of taking the opportunity to make a difference at CDK Global. In a short amount of time, I was not only able to fulfill my role, but exceed their expectations and achieved goals, those previous in my role, had minimal success accomplishing. To give a sports analogy, my team passed the ball to me and I made a touchdown. And I’m proud of being able to blend with my teammates, who have so much experience and a mix of PhDs and Master’s Degrees. I admit I felt a little intimidated at first, but I told myself that I had enough secondary education and experience to equal a graduate STEM degree and an engineering role. It motivated me to work harder. And so I was able to carve out a niche for myself and it paid off for myself and the company. I had brought something to the table.
Do you have any advice for future returners?
Attend Path Forward’s webinars, apply for all the positions that interest you, even if you don’t fit every single requirement. Trust the hiring managers and the human resources specialists, who will take a good look at your resume, and will be able to really discern if it’s a good fit for you and the employer. Also, be patient. I know that’s hard to do. As I mentioned, my family and I were living below the poverty line. I have a pair of shoes I ran into the ground, because I wanted to make sure my kids were taken care of first. I have a picture of them to remind me I have grit. I did face rejections, but I rose up from that place. Wait for the opportunity that will exceed your expectations. You, your family and your future are so worth it.