I’m Mindy Berkower, Chief Business Development and University Relations Officer at iRelaunch. That’s a long title, I know! I work with iRelaunch’s employer, professional association and university partners to help them create career reentry opportunities for relaunchers.
As I’m writing this, our 21st iRelaunch Return-to-Work Conference is quickly approaching, and we are on track to once again sell out Columbia University’s vast event space. This time of year is especially meaningful to me because five years ago I registered to attend the 2012 iRelaunch Return-to-Work Conference as a wide-eyed, nervous relauncher. I was eager to return to the paid workforce after taking an 18-year career break to be at home with my two children. I was in search of advice about how a 51-year-old corporate and securities lawyer who had practiced in large New York City firms for 10 years and whose last day of paid work was December 30, 1994 (!!!) should chart her professional course forward. I also wanted to know what to wear to this thing (“business casual,” advised a helpful pre-Conference iRelaunch email)!
The 2012 Conference exceeded my expectations and was a real game changer for me.
First, I realized that I wasn’t alone. I marveled at the hundreds of fellow relaunchers in the room and at the tremendous professional backgrounds of those at my table and the many others that I met.
Second, I found the content presented to be practical and actionable. Happily, I learned that the demanding and skin-thickening PTA leadership roles that I’d recently completed were resume-worthy “strategic volunteering” roles that I should prominently feature on my resume and LinkedIn profile and discuss with potential employers. I considered which PTA anecdotes would be the best to share to highlight my “transferable skills.” I revisited the accomplishments of my legal practice days. I also learned that I should get back in touch with lawyers from my old firms because they’d remember me, in iRelaunch’s words, as “frozen in time”: as the reliable, hard-working colleague I was and not the chief chauffeur and grocery shopper I thought I had become. (Reconnecting with former colleagues proved to be a delightful confidence booster.)
Finally, I learned that I should own my career break, not apologize for it and be confident in my credentials, skills and ability to learn and contribute to a new organization.
Despite the long, information-packed day, I left the Conference invigorated and motivated.
After the Conference, I told everyone I knew how great it was and I got to work implementing the strategies I’d learned. A few months later, I saw that iRelaunch was looking to hire an Executive in Residence on a paid internship basis: someone to help promote the next Conference, someone who was on career break, who had attended at least one Conference, who could communicate well, who had enthusiasm…wait, that person was ME! I applied for the returning professional internship role, was interviewed and hired, and quickly became immersed in conducting university outreach for the 2013 Conference, then held at NYU. My efforts contributed to an unusually early sell-out, allowing iRelaunch to present its first simulcast in order to accommodate those relaunchers who were on the wait list. It was deeply rewarding to be part of that success. An opening on the small iRelaunch staff led to my being hired at the conclusion of my internship.
My role has grown over the years into an executive team position encompassing business development and strategic planning. I’m continually grateful to be part of this wonderful company that advocates and innovates for my fellow relaunchers.