Debbie's Story - Part 4 - On-boarding Returners


Welcome back to Part 4, the final segment of my interview with Brenda James, former Managing Director at Clayton Services. Here’s a recap of what we have discussed so far in case you missed it:

Part 1: We learned about Debbie, Brenda’s star return-to-work hire, and what transferrable skills Debbie brought from her experience as a stay at home mom to her work as a recruiter. If you missed that, then you can check it out here.

Part 2: Brenda shared some of the challenges that Debbie faced when she was returning to work. Check it out here.

Part 3: Last week, I shared some of the benefits that Brenda experienced in hiring a stay at home mom. Check it out here.

Part 4: In this article, we will discuss how employers can start to think about on boarding return to work candidates.

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Anna: You've talked a lot about the return to work program that you set up for Debbie and other stay at home moms, dads, and caregivers similar to her. What kind of hiring arrangement was it with her in the beginning? You mentioned that it was a temporary arrangement. How long did that last and was she working full time part time?

Brenda: I was considering opening a remote recruiting office in the Woodlands which would allow us to add to our talent pool from that area. Debbie was the perfect fit for that role because it allowed her to gain knowledge, experience and confidence, while easing into the job and a new routine.  Starting in an executive suite allowed her some flexibility in her hours since she did not have client responsibility. It helped her and her family to adjust to their new normal and test back-up plans. She was hired on a Temp-to-Hire program which gave us both the opportunity to test the waters and allowed me some flexibility to adjust the requirements for this newly created position.  Fortunately, Debbie didn’t need much time to adjust. She was such a strong communicator and organizer that she never really needed a back-up plan. Debbie was so successful in this role that after 6 months I was able to make her an offer with the company that gave her a salary, commission and benefits. I moved her to the corporate office where she took on the dual role of recruiter/staff coordinator. In her initial role, she proved my theory about a remote recruiting office helping us to add a hundred plus extra candidates a month to our database. She also trained her replacement in the role.

The flexible arrangement up front was a good way for her to re-enter. We did a lot of focused training on the candidate side in the beginning which allowed her to really harness her recruiting skills and become so successful. I really dedicated myself to making sure that she understood what she needed to know in hopes of being able to promote her which I did. Debbie was able to get up to speed pretty quickly, she had more to offer, and I needed that. She started asking, to come into the corporate office more. She eventually became my operations manager and was my right hand training the sales people.

We were a small company and we had a great corporate culture. Yes, we needed people to be in the office because I ran with a fairly lean staff, but we learned how people could work remotely. I'm talking pre- cloud days, but obviously now that is more common. People can very easily work from home. 

It's just so crazy when I would talk to clients and they would say “Flexible work won’t work for us.” I would say “Why not?” They wouldn’t have a great answer. It seemed daunting to them, so they didn't always want to take the time to face that challenge, break it down, talk about what it would look like and also be willing to go through some trial and error. In my experience, a flexible work arrangement worked well. Employees could still be productive from home. Part of that was having a plan on the employer side: setting expectations, establishing trust, and saying this is what flexibility looks like at our company. A lot of it is about communication. And this is not just for return to work employees. This could work for others as well. If we look at 3% unemployment and less workers being born from that baby boomer generation, then we need to approach work with a whole different mindset. Companies and people have to start getting on the same page as to what that looks like and how it works.

Anna: I truly believe that too. There have been studies that show that employees are more productive when they are allowed to work from home at least one day a week. Communication and setting up expectations really go a long way towards making a successful flexible work arrangement.

What advice would you have for an employer looking to hire a stay at home parent returning to work?

Brenda: Really look at your assumptions and your unconscious biases. You are an employer, but at the same time you are a human being. Biases are there when you are hiring a return to work candidate or any other candidate. You statistically are likely to be a mother or father or to have had one.  Look at things from a different perspective. Don’t automatically assume that people that have taken a break in employment to raise their children are less concerned about their career. Because, it's simply not true.

Be open minded. Look the skill set that you need, whether it's education, certifications, software knowledge, or a certain skill. I understand there are some roles that a huge break in time might not work. But look at the bigger picture. If it's a role that doesn’t require a certification and the candidate has good experience that can translate to this role, then be open minded about that.

Look at your team. Where can this return to work candidate add value through some of those important soft skills and intangibles? What personalities do you need on this team? What's trainable? How much time can you spend training? You can get the right person up to speed if that person is coachable and willing to learn. 

Look at companies like Chevron who have phenomenal return to work programs that I venture to say are extremely successful because the mindset is there. In all my years of staffing, everyone always says it's hard but it's not impossible to hire good talent. The employer could be their own worst enemy if their expectations were not realistic or there were a lot of unconscious biases. They might say, “She hasn't worked in five years while she was staying at home with her kids so she's not for us.”

With that thinking, you just wiped out a huge pool of capital for your company.

Anna: Yes. These women are truly talented. All the women that I've worked with have been so highly motivated, well-educated and very talented. A lot of them have proven success in the corporate world prior to staying at home. And it seems like companies somehow step over that fact.

Brenda: It's so crazy when you think about it because education, work experience, and practical skills don’t just disappear if you stay home for a few years. As we spoke about earlier, in today's world, a lot of those women and men are keeping their skill sets up. They have certifications to maintain because they know they're going to come back to the workplace. They are continuing to network, staying up with the new trends, thought leaders, and skill sets that are shaping their industry.

Anna: Yes, exactly. That’s a great thought on the employer looking at their own assumptions and biases. Just like the stay at home moms and dads need to review their mindset when heading back to work. Employers may need to take a look at their own ways of thinking. You also mentioned earlier about companies really looking at their job descriptions and seeing whether it is really a list of must haves or just a wish list.

Brenda: When I dig into those with employers, I will talk about each item and particularly the ones that don't seem to fit the particular position. Let’s take something as simple as computer skills. They will list a need for proficiency in PowerPoint. I'll look at the job description and think to myself where in the world are they ever going to use that in this position. When I ask the client, they usually say “I don’t know”, or “I just feel like we need someone who's strong everything in the Microsoft suite”. I ask them to tell me what the employee is going to do on PowerPoint. Sometimes they will say, “Well honestly, I'm not sure that they aren't going to use it” or “that was the way that the job description was written last time we looked for someone to fill this position”. Maybe there was a time that this was used and now it's not because that part of the job has been redirected somewhere else. Re-evaluate your must haves for a job description.

The next thing I do is take them through “a day in the life” with the person who currently holds the position or a coworker if available. Oftentimes, the hiring authority doesn't know what a day in the life looks like for that employee in that position. I get the employee’s input on what percentage of time that they spend on this and what does that look like. So really trying to get the important tasks defined if the hiring managers themselves don't really know.

Anna: Well, thank you so much Brenda! There's a lot of great information here and I know this article is going to be so helpful to parents returning to work and employers who would like to hire them.

This concludes our 4 part series with Brenda James. Are you a stay at home parent who wants to return to work? Reach out to us to help you return to your career with strength and clarity. Are you a stay at home parent who has returned to work recently? We would love to hear your story. Reach out to us. Are you an employer interested in hiring a return to work candidate? We have a talented pool of stay at home moms and dads looking to return to work. Reach out to us to find your next hire.

If you missed our previous discussions with Brenda they you can go back and read them here

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Wishing you all the best!


Parents Pivot is a coaching and staffing company that works with parents returning to work to help them reconnect to their careers with strength and clarity. We offer coaching and support throughout the job search process whether it is figuring out what you want to do when you return to work, helping you with your resume and interviews, and coaching you through the on boarding process in your new career. We also help connect employers with highly talented stay at home moms and dads returning to work. Reach out to learn more about how we can serve you.