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Episode 216: An HR Professional’s Nonlinear Job Search Leads to Her Dream Job, with Renee Rudczynski

Renee Rudczynski headshot

Episode Description

Renee Rudczynski is a human resources professional who has worked in HR consulting and led HR teams within a variety of environments, including higher ed, finance, and startups. After a seven-year career break, she recently began an organizational development role. Renee discusses her non-linear job search and how networking helped her land her dream job at a tech startup. She also shares how her experiences at the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference and as a member of the iRelaunch Return to Work Facebook Forum helped with her relaunch and how she is now giving back.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today we welcome Renee Rudczynski. Renee is a human resources professional who has worked in HR consulting and led HR teams within a variety of environments, including higher ed, finance and startups. 


After a seven year career break, Renee recently began an organizational development role. In this episode, Renee is going to speak with us about her non-linear job search and how networking helped her land her dream job, Renee, welcome to 3, 2, 1. iRelaunch. 


Renee Rudczynski: I'm so happy to be here. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we're very excited to have this conversation. 


And I want to know if you could start by telling us about your career path that led up to your career break and then why you ended up taking a career break. 


Renee Rudczynski: Sure, definitely. but first I do want to acknowledge that, I have immense privilege to number one, be able to take time off of work and number two to thoughtfully returned to a wonderful job and company that fits my life as it is now. This is not the case for so many people but onto my career path, so you've mentioned my non-linear job search, my career path was also highly non-linear. I began, I began thinking that I wanted to do something in academia.

I even thought about doing a PhD program. My first job was at a social science research center and I, focused mainly on, survey research, during my three years at the center, my responsibility increased quite a bit. And I soon found myself managing a large group of people at a pretty young age. 


So as you can imagine, I became extremely friendly with the university's HR department. That's how I accidentally moved into HR. They the HR department had an opening. they were willing to take a chance on me. I had absolutely zero background.

My degree is in urban studies. I was not an HR person. 


But, I, it was, it turned out to be just a job I absolutely loved. And I think a lot of that comes down to, my boss and what he taught me and how he mentored me. Tom Johnson. And if you've ever heard this podcast, I'm speaking to you. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. I love it. 


Renee Rudczynski: So after a few years with Temple's HR department, I did feel that I hit a ceiling in terms of career growth. And I think in an environment like a university, that's pretty typical. So I decided to see what was out there. I leveraged some of my connections and I was able to move over to an absolutely amazing HR consulting firm. It's called Mercer. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh yeah. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah, and it's again, not accidentally, but it is just being in the right place at the right time. They were looking for someone who had not just HR experience, but also survey research experience. So there's not a lot of people out there like that. They, they knew of me. And I also knew enough consultants at the firm who were happy to recommend me. So that worked out just again, right place, right time timing was amazing. 


So I was at Mercer. My work, there was really data heavy. It included, like I said, survey, design, data analysis, some writing, a lot of client facing time. And again, I completely lucked out with managers. Beth Lynn and Marie Hart. Thank you. You were wonderful women and again, it makes all the difference in the world. 


I, managers are what makes people stay or makes people leave. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Totally agree with that. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah. So about three years into my job at Mercer. I just kept feeling myself, being drawn back to that, wanting that internal in-house HR type of experience that I had before. And again, I had connected with a really wonderful mentor and advocate, and he encouraged me to apply to some of Mercer's sisters companies to HR openings within them, internal roles. 


So I did that. One came up, it was again, a good mix for my background. It was, half project management, which had been all three of my jobs prior to that, and also an HR business partner. I was there that job. I was only there for a year because I got, I started to get really excited about tech and startup. 


I had a few friends, probably like five good friends, make the move from like a corporate job, like mine over into the startup community. There's challenges and risks to any. A new company, but there's also such immense potential for growth. And I think at that time in my career, that's what I was looking for. 


And, I was lucky enough to be offered a position with a company called Shutterstock and I just, I couldn't turn it down to them. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: I've heard of them. 


Renee Rudczynski: They have, photo content there. Yeah, they're wonderful. And again, yeah, I can't thank them enough for the experience they gave me. yeah. So that's my career path up until my break Shutterstock was my last job. 


I was there. If I already said this apologies for repeating, I was there for about a year. What I'm about to say next might be a little triggering for some of those of us who've experienced pregnancy loss. I just want to put a warning out there if you want to skip over the next minute or two, feel free. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah. So the reason I left Shutterstock, I had a pretty traumatizing pregnancy loss. I had a few miscarriages in the past, but this specific loss really hit me hard along with it came postpartum depression, which is actually really common. We don't talk enough about it, but we should, for me, it felt just this double whammy. I, I had all these emotions, I had this postpartum, but I had no baby. And it was just hard understatement, hard. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. 


Renee Rudczynski: My husband. Yeah. So at that point, my husband and I just thought, it's time for me to take a break, whatever that looks like. However that may pan out. I wasn't in a good spot mentally from that trauma. And I quit my job and, and that, in the months following very shortly actually after, I became pregnant again, and this time it was successful and I had a baby girl. Yeah. And then we had a, exactly a year later we had baby boys. So it all happened rather fast. 


So I, I, it, that time off and just starting my family, I can't be thankful enough for my, for my husband's too. He supported me through it. He, emotionally, financially, again, it was just amazing. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you for sharing that. really appreciate your generosity in sharing something so personal. And I know that this is meaningful to so many people in our audience, so thank you for that. Renee, I wanted to know, let's skip to the part where, you're in the middle of your career break, you're home with your two children. Can you talk about that period, how long you were home with them and at what point you were starting to think about going back to work, because I remember, in a separate conversation, you said that you had a number of false starts when you ready to return to the, to the workforce and then ultimately decided you are not ready. And I want to know what that felt like. 


And how did you figure out when you were really ready to release? 


Renee Rudczynski: I love this question. I, and I think I hear everyone say it is. I, you go into a career break for whatever reason. And you think you might take six months a year, maybe two years. I don't think a lot of people plan to take closer to a decade like I did. That was certainly not my plan, but life it works out. It works out. Let me think. Let me think back to… okay. False starts. So when my kids were two and three and, I felt like we were getting to a slightly easier place in terms of childcare. 


and they were almost preschool age. It was okay, now's the time to really probably begin my search. So that was probably around like early 2018 I'm going to say, and then as I was gearing up and pairing my resume, reconnecting with my network, my husband got a job offer in Boston. 


So we decided to relocate, as a family, we thought it was a nice move. It was a great job opportunity. so that could shut down. We were in the New York area, so that put a, put a stop to my, searching. But I didn't, I didn't want to give it up completely. So I applied for some positions once we got to Boston. 


I will tell you during that time, it was my absolute worst interview ever in my life. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Please tell us about that. 


Renee Rudczynski: Oh my goodness. Okay. So I'm in Boston. I had a lot of life adjustments in general. I had moved, I was trying to get my kids into daycare and preschools if possible. And, this was before I took your conference. So I just want to point that out too. I didn't have a lot of, I hadn't really gone out there seeking a lot of advice about interviewing tips and the importance of being prepared. I was not, I, no here was me. I hadn't been in on an interview in over four years, but I, in the past I've had my fair share of tough ones. 


So I thought, I thought I could do this. I researched the company and the role and I, I asked during the telephone interview what their pain points were. And I really think I tried to do what I normally would have done pre break. I was just relying on what skills worked for me before I had a long period of unemployment. 


And again, I did not practice before I had this in-person interview and that is completely what sunk me. So just, I'm going to put a piece of advice out there. Practice and practice some more, even if you're just talking to yourself and recording it and playing it back, it would have helped me a lot. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: So I hope everyone's listening. Practice out loud. So say it out loud. Even if you're saying it's yourself, that is such an important part of the process. You'll be more confident and you'll do better. 


Renee Rudczynski: You will. And I, I think video yourself, video, voice memo, whatever you need to do, wherever it strikes, you just try practice. 


But anyway, so I go in, I had, I think I was interviewing with about four or five people, which for jobs I've had in the past is not uncommon. So I was like, okay, I can do this. The first interview and I think this was maybe eight thirty in the morning. My first interviewer comes in and throws a business case study at me. 


I don't know if anyone's familiar with the case yeah. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Case interviews, right? Let me just say for the audience, that's when you're presented with a dilemma that a person's facing or a company's facing and they want you to, they're really trying to figure out how you think and they want you to present what you, what your process would be. 


And in some cases, what you think the answer would be, does that sound right. 


Renee Rudczynski: Right on.. And I've done these before and I've done them, live, I prefer to do them as like a homework assignment, but this is what it was. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Like when, not when it's being timed and someone's like sitting there. 


Renee Rudczynski: Exactly. It's just, and not only was it a case study, it was a case study completely unrelated to what I was interviewing for. I was interviewing to, I think transition. It's boring something about their benefits department. We'll just say that, I, yeah, they throw they throw this question at me and it's something along the lines of like how I would increase internet conversion rates. 


So what that means is I go to a website to buy something, do I actually buy it? So again…


Carol Fishman Cohen: Totally unrelated for sure . 


Renee Rudczynski: Hollywood increase revenue. They had me interpreting different like charts from their finance team. It was so overwhelming. And that was my first interview out of four or five. And I just was like a nervous wreck. I blew it every interview. After that, I was literally shaking. I couldn't hold it together. 


I didn't make any sense. I was just flubbing my way. I feel like I, they must have, I don't know what they thought of me, but it couldn't have been good. I got home. I cried. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: You can talk about this now, but at the time it was probably pretty, it felt pretty bad. 


Renee Rudczynski: It felt terrible because again, this was the first in-person interview I had since taking my break. 


And I was like, this is how it is. There's no way I can't do this. I just cannot. And I was so embarrassed. I [00:14:00] wrote an email to each person I interviewed with explaining what I would actually say if I had not been so shaken. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Actually, I just want to say, that's not such a bad strategy, but it's good that you did that. 


Renee Rudczynski: I actually would recommend that. It could be cause I, I heard back from everyone and they were thankful, putting that out there. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: I had, I, and this was, I actually got, this was for my Relaunchers job that I did get, and I did case I had to do some cases, interviews and one of them, I knew I was blowing it as I was saying the wrong thing. 


And all I could think about when I was driving home was how I messed up that answer. And then all of a sudden, after the fact, I thought, oh, I know what I should've said. And I did actually email that particular interviewer and say, I've been thinking about our interview all the way home. This is why I think I should have... what I think the answer should have been. 


And I think he changed his view, his answer on me from, or his vote on me from a no to a yes, because of that. 


Sometimes, that could work for you. 


Renee Rudczynski: No, it did not work for me. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Depends on... it can't hurt. The thing is there's no downside. The worst thing that happens is what would happen if you're going to go get rejected and you're still going to get rejected, even if you wrote it, no change there, but potentially if there could be some sort of a switch and someone's vote for you, you have the possibility of it. 


So always air on the side of doing it when you're in that situation. 


Renee Rudczynski: Exactly. And I feel just personally, emotionally, it brought me some closure in it. And I think just that, that fact alone is reason enough to do that. When you feel like you've had an interview go awry and we all have it's in your thank you, follow up email, you should, it's good to address what you think you probably got wrong if because when it goes badly. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Another situation to do that is if you think you gave an incomplete answer, they're asking about some experience. Have you had any relevant experience and you think of maybe one thing and later you think, oh my gosh, I had the perfect example. 


I didn't share it. That's another example. When you might want to include that in the follow-up. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah, no, that's exactly. That's yeah. That's great. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: You have this horrible interview, you wrote to them and now you're moving on. but so did that, was that like a giant step back for you and you thought I'm not ready and I'm not going to be ready for a year or like what happened after that? 


Renee Rudczynski: It was a huge step back. I was just, I lost all my confidence and I know now I can look it at it with a much more positive perspective. Like I don't, I, as an HR person, I would never put someone through an interview in that order where I give them, I start them off with something that's just the hardest piece of the interview process. 


So anyway, I've definitely forgiven myself and moved on from that. But, but no, I stopped searching. I really did. And so that was 2018. And then some life events happen. We ended up moving back to New York, and settling in that was in early, mid 2019. And I, this whole time I had not been searching. 


I had just been thrown off, let's say. But I went to your conference in October of 2019 and yeah, it was. I can't say enough good things. It was a confidence booster. I remembered that I could like actually talk to strangers and not sound, I just, speaking in a foreign language after being home with kids in that bad interview experience, I it reminded me, okay, okay. I can do this. And. And everyone there, the speakers, the employer representatives, so supportive. I, the, just the detail that you put into organizing those conferences is so impressive. And it was so helpful for me. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you for saying that. You walk in, or now it's a virtual, you virtually walk in and you feel like you're among.... You realize you're not alone. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yes! 


Carol Fishman Cohen: And also, in a judgment, free environment, as far as your career break is concerned, everyone knows that you took one and that's just part of the conversation. 


Renee Rudczynski: Exactly. Exactly. You don't have to explain it and explain it as you do in every job interview ever. So it's very, yeah, it's just a safe space to just, even if the returnships don't work out and I've said this to a few people it's so worth it, just to build your confidence and feel good. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: . Thank you for talking about that. And I also know that you've been very involved in our private Facebook group. 


The iRelaunch return to work forum. You've been really active in it, and I want to first thank you for doing that, but it's just so people know. About 8,000 people within our community are involved in it. And it's probably the most vibrant, interactive segment of our larger relauncher community. 


Renee Rudczynski: Wow. I didn't realize it was that large. That's amazing. Yeah. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Growing fast, it's always growing. 


Renee Rudczynski: Oh my gosh. It's I love it. I think it, it's just, it's part support group. It's part advice. It's part, resume tips. There's just so much information on that page. and the nice thing about it, it's Facebook, so it's searchable and you can find things if you're a little too nervous to start posting. There still so much there. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: And also there are people who have are who were in the group for a long time when they were looking to relaunch have, now Relaunchers have stayed in the group. Like you Renee and were giving advice back to people who are earlier in the process. So that's just a fabulous part of what goes on there. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah. And I love if that sort of organically happened because it's just. Yeah, I can't say enough about that. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great. Let's come back to your job search because I want to, I want to know, how did you know when you were finally ready? When you were really ready and then, if you still experienced rejection and there was a process, how did you keep your spirits up and keep forging ahead? 


Renee Rudczynski: Honestly, my job searching experience when I really got into it. Complete emotional roller coaster, because you're, you're dealing with rejections. They can hit hard, sometimes. I think when you're unemployed, they definitely hit a lot harder than when you have a job. And you can always say to yourself, that didn't work out, but I'm still working, onto the next thing. 


It's a lot harder to do that when you're not working. What I found is that sometimes I needed to just recharge, take a break, take, I sometimes would take a week or a few weeks off from the job search just to regroup and understand that, it's just one piece of my life. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: The perspective. Yeah. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah. and I guess I'd say to anyone out there right now, who is just on the hunt. Be kind to yourself. It's so much easier said than done, but take those breaks when you feel like the rejections are just bogging you down and getting you to a low confidence level that is not helpful. And, give yourself a break. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you. that's such good advice. And I remember now you mentioned that you had originally connected with your current employers, chief human resources officer through a job posting, but then there was a long delay during COVID. But did you stay in touch and then how did that ultimately turn into a job opportunity for you? 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah, that's pretty much what happened. So actually there, the company I'm with now, it's a startup called Cedar. They're fabulous. And we are hiring. I'm just going to give them a plug because I love them so much. And we're obviously we're open to. It's a very diverse company. We're open to people like me, who haven't worked in a while of resume gaps are accepted. 


So yeah, just again, I, on, on the forum, you can find me, reach out to me on LinkedIn, wherever you want to. Originally, probably in like late 2019, shortly after the conference that I attended, early 2020, but right before the pandemic, their chief people officer Liz posted a returnship because she wanted, she's fabulous. 


She's just, one of the best CHROs I've ever worked with. But, she wanted someone who had a mix of corporate startup background, to just bring in a little more structure to the company, I think at the time. But that all changed. Actually, my interview, my first interview with her was when, when we just, the news was just blaring COVID and, I'm trying to think back. It's been a while, but I think we did start to set me up with interviews across the company and everything just got canceled. They put that position on hold others. I don't know if they had a hiring freeze, but everything was just, no one knew what was happening. Yeah. I was bummed about that, but, I really liked the, just the culture of the company and the way it was explained to me. 


So it was it's, it just stayed on my radar. I checked in with, with Liz every couple months. It was, again, startup life things are just all over the place at all times. They had, I think at one point they had a large acquisition, so that changed the nature of what they thought the people team might be built into. 


So just like lots of change. So it was just, it seemed like it was never the right time. And then, this year I decided, when the school year started with my kids, I decided here, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do like the ultimate job search I'm going to, I am just going to put my resume out there to anyone to any like application system that is willing to take it. 


Anyone at all, I'll email people I'll reach out to connections. I was doing like, I would say five to ten applications a day for two straight weeks. 'Because it's I've been married for 11 years, but I don't know for sure, but I feel like it's a little like dating. The more you put yourself out there, the more chance you have of something working out. 


So I, yeah, so that was my, that was just my, I can do this. That was my kind of go get 'em attitude. I got so, so many rejections because I put so many applications out there. But I actually got a lot of interviews and even a couple of offers too, but the interviews were key because that gave me practice. Real life practice. Even if, a couple of the jobs were just, I knew I wasn't the right fit just from either the company or how they had described the job, but I still went forward with the interview process. Just, it doesn't hurt. Always interview. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: You ended up interviewing for one job and then all of a sudden, another one appears and you end up with that. 


Renee Rudczynski: And that's, so that's a little bit what happened. So I, I had some offers on my plate. I had been doing this and I was like, you know what? I really like Cedar, I really would want to, it just seems like a wonderful company to work for. Let me just reach out one last time and, I think it was the day they posted that they were looking for an organizational development person, not necessarily someone who had been in that field of HR, but someone who had maybe consulting experience, strategy experience, you know what I have, I just sent a quick note into Liz. I'm like, what about this? I didn't tell her, that I had other things on my plate. Cause I don't, I didn't want it a decision made from pressure, but she was like, yeah, I think, yeah, this is it. This will be the fifth. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: That's so great. 


Renee Rudczynski: So that's how it happened. Yeah, 


Carol Fishman Cohen: That's terrific. And it's so realistic too just the stops and starts, the knowing when you were ready, the putting out so many applications, getting so many rejections and then suddenly, getting some traction and that one last outreach you'd already had multiple outreaches back to, to Liz and you just went one more time. 


So many messages there and in everything that you did, so Renee, I wanted to just get a sense of what you do in organizational development and we're coming to the end of our time. So then we're going to skip right to the end for your advice. But first, can you just tell us a little bit more about your role? 


Renee Rudczynski: Oh, sure. Frankly, I'm learning it too, because in my past HR life, I was more of an HR business partner. I'm more on kind of the, consulting side as well. But essentially organizational development is, we're making sure that we have the right culture, an inclusive culture. Specifically some of the things I'm taking over, employee, when we hire new employees, how do we onboard them and make them feel like they're part of the team? 


So that's something that I'm focusing on. And hopefully in the next few months, we can actually start to do that in person. And, that's a big undertaking, but it's, I think I can't wait till we're at that point again. Plenty more will come onto my plate. I don't know what, I'm actually, this is my fourth week, so it's still... 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh wow, you're still early on and also it is the nature of a startup or even a startup that's a little further along changes the norm. So you are, you're going to. Who knows what's going to be thrown your way and that's part of the interesting challenge of the job I'm guessing. 


Renee Rudczynski: Yeah. Yeah. It's what I love. Yeah. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great. Thank you. That's really helpful to understand that a little more. So Renee, I want to ask you the question that we ask all of our podcasts, guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relaunch, your audience? 


Even if it's something we've already talked about today, 


Renee Rudczynski: I guess I could just say that every relaunch or every return to work story is different. No two of us have the same backgrounds or life experiences. I would also say that it is hard. There's no, you, there's no denying how hard it is. And I'm again saying that from a very privileged perspective. It was incredibly hard. But I would also say don't give up, even if that means taking breaks. For a week here, a year here, if you need to just keep it in your sights. It will happen. It might take awhile, but it will definitely happen. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Very good. Renee, thank you so much for joining us. 


Renee Rudczynski: Thank you for having me, Carol. This was wonderful. 


Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Wonderful for me too. And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO, and co-founder of I relaunch and your host for more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, just sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources go to iRelaunch.com. And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, instagram, and other social media.

Thanks for joining us.


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