Stephanie Vidales took a two and a half year break from her HR career to care for her family. When she was ready to return to work, Stephanie decided to try pivoting into IT support. She completed a returnship at Akin Gump, and now works there full-time as an IT Support Specialist. Stephanie talks about her return-to-work experience, how Akin Gump’s robust support and training helped her career transition, and why it’s important to take risks if you want a career change.
Could you tell us about your career break?
Before taking my break, I worked at Amazon for about 10 years and spent about seven years of that on the corporate side. My last position was as a talent acquisition sourcer for all the warehouses in Southern California. I took a career break because of COVID and the stress of trying to keep everyone healthy after family members started getting sick.
I felt like I needed a change and decided to take a break to be my mom’s and my grandmother’s caregiver. After two and a half years, I decided that it was time to go back to the workforce. I’m a very independent person and was always used to having my own income. Plus I knew I wasn’t ready to retire just yet and wanted to do something to stimulate my mind and to get back into a routine.
How did you prepare for your return to work?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I was looking and applying to jobs in recruiting, but was debating whether I wanted to try something different. I earned some Google certifications on Coursera because I wanted to learn something new and see if I liked it. So I was studying and learning this new field when I came across Path Forward and saw a returnship opportunity in IT Support at Akin Gump that aligned with my new certifications. I was totally new to the field and had no experience in it, but I applied anyway and they took a chance on me.
How did you decide to take the leap and pivot into a new field?
It’s a little intimidating and scary because I’d been in recruiting and HR for most of my career. I thought, how am I going to do this?
It’s always disappointing to be job searching and see a position that you know you can do because you’re a great worker and fast learner, but it asks for specific experience that you don’t have. Any new job, even one you have experience in, takes training and time to learn the ropes.
So I saw Path Forward as a really good stepping stone to helping me transition into a new position, with a company willing to work with me.
What was your returnship experience like at Akin Gump?
There was a lot of training and support involved. I wasn’t just given an orientation packet and left to figure things out for myself.
I learned how a law firm operates and how the office runs. At the beginning, my manager had a really comprehensive checklist of what the IT Support team does on a daily basis, what they’re confronted with, and their processes for handling tasks. For the first month or so, I’d use that list as a guide for my tasks, which really helped me transition into my role.
In general, everyone was super welcoming and helpful. I didn’t feel like I was thrown into the deep end with the expectation that I should know everything. I could come to my manager with any questions I had and he was always happy to help. My whole team showed that they wanted me to succeed, and my coworkers were constantly checking in with me and asking if I needed help with anything.
I’ve worked with a lot of different teams throughout my career and not everyone is so willing to reach out and lend a hand. So the level of support I got really caught me by surprise, and it was great.
What did you find most helpful about the Path Forward returnship program?
The weekly meetings that Path Forward offered were really helpful. I appreciated that the topics discussed weren’t specific to any role, but gave more broad advice that was useful to all of us – like how to find your voice or how to become a better leader. It was nice to meet other returners and to know that other people were in the same boat as me.
In general, I’m so grateful to Path Forward because before I found my returnship. I was applying everywhere, to multiple locations, multiple job positions. And I would get interviews, but would always fall short of getting the job. When I first read about Path Forward, it fit my situation so well that it seemed almost too good to be true. I really hope more companies begin to offer returnships and open more opportunities for returners like me.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I’m proud that I was able to transition from one field into a completely new one. Despite my lack of experience, I was able to use my skills as well as learn, grow, and be a valuable part of a new team. The experience made me realize that we can truly do anything that we set our mind to. Transitioning from working in one field for ten years and thinking that I was always going to be a recruiter, to now saying that I’m an IT support specialist, has been really amazing. Even people without career breaks have trouble pivoting, so the fact that I was able to do so with a career break to boot is something I’m really proud of.
I’m also proud of being given the opportunity to convert into a full-time position. I came to Akin Gump thinking that it was just temporary. That helped take some of the pressure off of starting the returnship. I thought, let me come in fresh, learn what I can, and just try things out. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But if it does, that’s great.
Do you have any advice for future returners?
Don’t be scared to take risks because then you end up thinking “What if?” and you get stuck. So, if you want to return to work and make a change in your career, or want to grow, don’t be afraid to be adventurous. Ask for help, network, and you’ll realize that you’re not alone. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you set your mind to it.