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EP 243: Relaunching at Lockheed Martin after a 20 year Career Break, with Jennifer Tufillaro

Jennifer Tufillaro

Episode Description

Jennifer Tufillaro is a Control Account Manager for the Radar Systems Engineering Group at Lockheed Martin. She initially joined Lockheed Martin after receiving her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University, and subsequently took a 20-year career break for childcare reasons. Jennifer returned to Lockheed Martin when she relaunched her career through Lockheed’s Chapter Next program, which she found through iRelaunch, and now works in a part-time engineering role. In this episode, we get the details on how Jennifer successfully returned to a technical role after a very long career break.

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 Jennifer Tufillaro. Jennifer is a control account Manager for the Radar Systems Engineering group at Lockheed Martin.

She joined Lockheed Martin after receiving her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University before taking a 20 year career break for childcare reasons. Jennifer relaunched her career at Lockheed Martin through their Chapter Next program, and now works in a part-time engineering role at Lockheed Martin.

In this episode, we're going to speak with Jennifer about her career relaunch and her experience returning to work at Lockheed Martin. Jennifer, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm so excited to speak with you. And I want to know if we can start by talking about your career path that led up to your career break, and then, ultimately why you stepped away noting that you have been on career break for 20 years.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Fantastic. Yes. Out of college, I was hired by Lockheed Martin in a different division than I am currently. Was very excited to start in this job where it was a well known company, and my first job was as a systems engineer. I quickly learned that my position was going to be writing code for some simulators.

Now that was not going to be my career of choice for life, because it was way too much just the computer and I, eight hours a day. needed more interaction with different people. So thanks to Lockheed's tuition reimbursement program, I went back to school to get my master's degree in communications.

I did some research, found that there were positions called business analysts that were the go betweens between the non-technical business and customers and the very technical engineers. So I was able to move into a position where it was so much better where I could actually talk to people and be that go between.

So it was a nice blend of the communication skills as well as my technical skills. And I did that for a few years, actually went to another company where I was also in the same position where I was the go between and loved it. So I was able to graduate in August, but then found that I was pregnant with my first son in October.

My husband and I had always decided that I would stay home and raise our children. And it was the most wonderful thing. After my first son came two more in the next three years. So I had three little boys under four, and raising them truly was the greatest joy of my life would not change it for anything. That's what made me step back from my career, as much as I had worked so hard to get the degree, I was more than happy to just frame it on the wall and be able to rub it in my husband's face that I had more degrees than he did, even if I wasn't using technically use them.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So this is interesting. You're immersed in childcare. You're loving it. Obviously you were doing this for an extended period of time. And, was there a certain point at which you thought your children are starting to be more independent or you start to even think about going back to work? Or was it really very close to the 20 year mark where you thought it's time for me to do something professionally again?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I actually had an opportunity when the boys were more middle school aged. One of my friends from Lockheed was at a different company and had said, Hey, we're, we're looking to hire. And I thought, oh, because she knows me. She knows that I'm a good worker, that I can do anything.

I thought, all right, maybe this is my chance. Cause I really wasn't thinking anybody was gonna give me a chance being out of the workforce for so long. So I thought, all right, here's my opportunity. So as many plans as I had, life threw me its own plans. That was the same year where my father needed, I'm an only child, my father needed open heart surgery. I needed to go help 'cause my mother wasn't in the best of health. She was diagnosed with stage four cancer. So my husband at the same time was traveling internationally, quite extensively. So I thought, all right, clearly not the time. Yeah. And then it was like six weeks later, my mom passed away and then I wound up with a cancer diagnosis.

So I'm going, okay. Life really does not want me working right now. Which you know was fine. And I wouldn't, again, wouldn't change it. There are some things I would change, but clearly. But, it was one of those things I thought, all right, just not now. It just wasn't the right time.

And it was actually fast forward a few years till COVID and pandemic where my oldest was a sophomore Princeton, my second was heading off to Penn State in the fall. And I thought, let me, I did a little soul searching and I decided, what next, what comes next? What's the next chapter of my life gonna look like now that the boys don't need me as much?

And that's where I was like, okay, maybe, I really did enjoy being an engineer and would like to try and get back to it. I wasn't sure how that was gonna happen, but I thought, all right, let me see what I can do to make that happen.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. And then, that has occurred to you. You're thinking, I'm gonna try to make this happen somehow.

What was your first step or how did you, like what, how did it go from a thought in your head to action?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I thought it was a question, how, how am I gonna make this happen? So like any other question I have in life, I turned to Google. So I literally Googled "how to get a job after 20 years," that was my Google search, and it actually led me to the iRelaunch site.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Jennifer Tufillaro: And when I looked on that and I saw that Lockheed had a Chapter Next program and a returnship program, It really made me think about and go, wow, I loved working at Lockheed. If I'm gonna go back and redo this, try this again, I want it to be somewhere where I had enjoyed, where I thought it was a great culture that I thought, all right, maybe let's give this a shot. So yeah, it was literally a Google search.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. And it's so great, you are an alum of the company and you've come full circle and what a great, I'm just thinking what a great story for Lockheed Martin, as well as your personal story, and for Chapter Next and for the idea that promising professionals who have been working for the company at any time before could use Chapter Next as a way to launch their careers back right back at Lockheed. So that's terrific. Okay, so you did that Google search, you found iRelaunch, you went to, you saw Lockheed had a program, you then applied for it. And what happened after that?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I was lucky enough to get a few interviews because they do have several positions. They have a cohort every few months, and I had received, talked to Jamie, my recruiter. And she had set me off with a set me up with a couple of different interviews.

So this was the summer of 2020. So it was right at the beginning of the pandemic. So everything was virtual which was odd, cuz I first off, I hadn't interviewed in a very long time and I'd never done zoom interviews. It was all online, all phone calls, which was a little bit easy, cause then at least I was in the comfort of my own home, and it wasn't completely foreign, but it was really easy. That was the nice thing is that it was just conversations between the recruiter and the different hiring managers all online.

Carol Fishman Cohen: What kinds of roles jumped out at you, or were you having conversations about, and were they directly related to what you had done in the past, or was the fact that you had this MBA degree now putting you in some different category? Like, how did that part get sorted out?

Jennifer Tufillaro: Honestly, all the different positions were for things that I had absolutely no knowledge of. So that was both exciting and a little scary too, that it was all things that I had never worked before. But I think that's the beauty of these returnships is that it gives you the chance to not have to start hitting the ground running. That they are ready there to help you get up to speed. So even though it wasn't anything that I knew anything about, they knew that I was willing to learn and I was going to work hard at making this succeed.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And also it says something about the recruiting philosophy that they were really recruiting you for potential, because obviously you had that work experience, but it was a long time ago.

Yes. And it sounded like, you know, you had all these different conversations, so, a lot has to be said for you and your background and what you were representing to them in terms of your potential. Was there anything that you had done during your 20 years when you were on career break that became part of the conversation for relevant experience to what you ended up doing or at least what you were interviewing for?

Jennifer Tufillaro: Oh, abs, absolutely. That was one of the things that when I, before interviewing, I was thinking, all right, what have I done, and how can I tie this into showing that even though I wasn't getting paid to do some of the tasks I was doing, it still is transferable to an engineering job. I spoke about, I was elected homeschool president, and I correlated that to being a project manager. I said I had 20 different subcommittees that I was overseeing. I had a budget that I had to balance and stay within. I certainly had conflict management that I needed to help and work out. I tried to point out the various successes that I had, all our fundraisers always went over what we thought.

So I was trying to point out all those things that I was able to do. All multitasking with everything else that I had, was volunteering and helping with, so to show that I can multitask and that I can lead and lead successfully. So I think that helped to show that in non-paid positions, you're still learning, you're still growing, you can still be working on those softer skills. That the technical skills, clearly I never worked with radar systems before, so I had zero technical skills. But at least I had, I was bringing to the table, the softer skills.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay, that was gonna be my next question. You're in the radar systems engineering group, you are a control account manager. Was that the role also that you were in, in your returnship? Was there a technical piece there that, did you have some intensive training at the beginning? Or how did you get your arms around the technical demands of the role?

Jennifer Tufillaro: That was the same position that I was in, in the returnship that I transitioned to employee. Luckily Chapter Next has comprehensive training built into it. There are some preassigned, pre-chosen technical skills. And those are more the Outlook, PowerPoint, those kinds of technical skills that we have, but they also allow for time for the technical skills needed for your job.

So I was able to work with my manager to say, okay, what kind of radar specific classes should I take, and that was the beauty of, and what I loved about this program is that I got paid to learn, and I wasn't expected to come with that radar knowledge that I wouldn't have known. So it's wonderful that the classes they have set up for you and ones that you could choose to help you succeed.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And did you, were you nervous or did you, were you feeling like, how am I going to learn the technical piece? Or like, how did you approach that, just from a mental, emotional standpoint?

Jennifer Tufillaro: Yes, a little bit, but I guess on the other hand, I figured, give it a shot. I've got nothing to lose at this point. I'll, I'll do my best and I'll try, and fingers crossed, even though when I went to go interview for Lockheed, my boys and being as only teenagers can, said to me, they're like, can you still do that?

And I'm like, yes. So there was also that motivation to go, look like, maybe it's been a while, but I still, yes, I still can figure out how to be an engineer.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, I'm just thinking about the example you are providing for them that they probably don't even recognize in full yet. And they're gonna look back on this and say, my mom did this, and at the time I wasn't appreciating everything that was involved, but now I see how significant it was. That role modeling, I think it becomes more and more important over time.

Jennifer Tufillaro: I would just say, I think too, because they've only ever the only way they saw me was mom. They didn't see that other professional side of me. So I think that's great to be able to show them, yes, that there's more to me than just, just being, I love it, but it's more to me than just being a mom.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And how did the transition, what happened at home? Was it a complete lifestyle transition for all the family members? Or did it feel more gradual because you are virtual and you are working from home? Or how did that part work?

Jennifer Tufillaro: It's been, hasn't been bad at all, mostly because I am part-time. So I still can do some of the things around home. Although I did sit down with my husband and the one son that was gonna be here and said, look, if I'm working, you two are gonna have to pick up the slack. And they were more than supportive. My son ..There's been days where my husband and I both were, have late meetings, and he makes dinner. And all I can think of is I taught all my boys how to cook. And I'm thinking, oh, I figured it was gonna help them later in life, but I'm so grateful that we spent the time learning. So now I can just say, Hey, can you make dinner? And he does. And it's a real meal, not just, so wow. It's been, it's, I'm very blessed to have them be so supportive to and happy that I'm happy.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, and also, the independence there that is being encouraged and required by the situation, you have to step up. And that's a really important ex experience also. So you mentioned that your role is part-time; this part-time aspect or option to the Chapter Next program is pretty unusual.

So I wanted to know if you can talk a little bit about, was the returnship also part-time what does part-time mean? And then as the role transitioned and you were successful and you became an employee, also part-time, did the definition of part-time change then, or, and just give us a little bit more background about that. Yes.

Jennifer Tufillaro: So the return, the Chapter Next program actually can be either part-time or full-time, it depends on the person and the role that they're gonna come into. Now, when I did it, I did work full time for the returnship, part of it which was, you're 40 hours a week. And when I transitioned to employee, they were one, more than happy to have me 40 hours, but I said, thanks, but can we do this part-time? So part-time for me is at least 20 hours a week. There's some weeks that I have to work more just due to the nature of the work, but for the most part it's 20 hours, which is fabulous. At this point in my life, I needed the job to fit into my life. Twenty hours for me is perfect because I still can do everything else outside of life that I want, outside of work that I wanna do, but still get that, the chance to work.

It's been, honestly, it's been a blessing, a godsend. I can't believe that I was able to find a technical job that I can do from home, that's part-time, it's crazy. It's crazy. I'm so happy.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that is really amazing. Can you talk to us a little bit about the interaction that you had with your manager and team members as you were received as a new person on the team?

What did that feel like, and how did people support you or not support you? I don't know what the environment was when you came on board for the returnship? And then, I'm assuming that you stayed with the same team and group when you went,

Jennifer Tufillaro: Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You did, okay. So I guess, in the initial few months of the returnship.

Jennifer Tufillaro: I was very lucky to have, and I still have a fabulous manager, shout out to Christy Tuttle. She has always set me up for success. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to go back to Lockheed. And I was hoping that it was very similar, 'cause it's, it was the same as when I left 20 years ago. It's a very collaborative environment. She always would make time for all of my questions.

I was, the program also supplies you with a mentor and a buddy, so you had two official people that were always ready to answer questions. And that's where again, I was very happy with this team and why I wanted to when I transitioned to stay on this team. Because the whole team was willing to answer my questions because I had a million of them.

They would, I'd be in meetings and there'd be so many acronyms that it was hard to keep track. So it was great because anybody that I reached out to was willing to take the time to educate me. I never once found a person that said I'm too busy to meet with you, which I think is wonderful.

And I think that they knew I was a returner, or in this Chapter Next program, so they knew I was gonna have questions and were willing to work with me to get me up to speed so that I could become a person that is helping the team, not just sitting around asking questions.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And we should acknowledge that you were doing this in a virtual environment. So that means that you actually had to make an appointment to have a virtual meeting with someone, as opposed to just dropping by their office, like might happen a little more casually if we were all in person.

So that's also a significant piece. And you're mentioning the asking of questions. Sometimes returners or relaunchers are afraid to ask a question because you're worried that maybe the answer is obvious, and also you mentioned the acronym, so sometimes you're, especially a large complex organization, it's almost like they're speaking another language and you have to immerse yourself in that before you really know what's happening. So, did you have any hesitancy initially asking the questions? Did you have to wait or did you just dive right in and thought, this is just gonna be what I do?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I was more the latter. I would just ask the questions. It was, I don't know, I feel like as I get older, I just have less patience for I'm like, you know what, let me just ask, 'cause why not? So to me, I feel like I just would ask the questions. And it's just, I felt, cause I felt like it was quicker. I like some things I would try to research, but then I'm like, all right, if this is taking too long, this is silly, I know somebody can answer the question easily. So I would try to look at, find things out on my own, but I had no problem calling up people. And I think that's, and that's one of the pieces of advice that I give the new Chapter Next people. I said, ask questions.

Just ask away, even if you think it's a silly question, just ask.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's great advice.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Yeah, it doesn't hurt. Cause people, again, they, if they hired you, if they have that position there, they know that you're gonna have questions. It's expected. Chances are, people are not gonna have a relaunch or a returnship, without expecting to have to answer a million questions.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right, exactly. And can you comment on the cohort of other Chapter Next participants, or the community that you were joining, and how that felt to have other people around you who are making this life transition at the same time?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I think it's great that there is a cohort so that we can, we had different meetings where we all would ask questions amongst ourselves, and be able to talk about our experiences and how it's going. And it was nice to have that support, to know that you weren't the only one going through it. And it was interesting too, for us because Chapter Next doesn't, it's not just engineers.

We had people from all different parts of HR, finance. So it was interesting too, to hear how their experiences were either the same or different from, and we learned from each other, going, okay, what did you know, what did you do to help get up to speed and finding out the different things and avenues that people had, and ways that we might not have realized to know to ask questions or to find things out?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I love the construct that the cohort structure or community where you're connected with, just on your own with the other people who are in it, and oftentimes without program leadership on that thread and you have the ability to share resources, and use each other as a sounding board and really be able to be open and honest about questions.

Everyone is in that mode of helping each other out. So it's, it is very significant. And the other thing is, a program like Chapter Next, which has been running for a few years now, and is expanding, that means that there are more and more relaunchers inside the organization.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Absolutely.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And I, that was a vision that, when Vivian Steir Rabin and I wrote Back on the Career Track, which we wrote in 2005 and it came out in 2007, the last chapter was about the future, and the vision was that there would be a critical mass of relaunchers inside organizations, and that would change the way that people relaunching careers were viewed and would normalize career breaks as a career, as part of a career path. And to see it actually happening is, is amazing, and also really exciting. I love that's happening, within Lockheed Martin.

We see the programs that have been running long longest and have, and are expanding, are the ones that of course are getting to that point. Jennifer, before I wrap up with our last question, I noticed that you're, and I can see this, but our listeners can't, you're sitting, in front of what looks to me like a wall of medals in the back, and I want to know if you can comment on what those are, and what that meant in, in your life.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Sure. Those are my medals that I have gotten for doing various running races. And this is something that came to me also later in life. I think I was in my forties before my girlfriend said, let's do the rock and roll half marathon.

And I thought, sure. Why not. I was athletic, but I never in my life ran. So since then I've done a number of halves and my husband and I actually did a full marathon last year.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's very inspiring for me.

Jennifer Tufillaro: You know what, we were turning fifty, and it was one of those things that were like, if we don't do it now, cause we'd done the halves where I'm thinking, we're just falling apart anyway, we better get this in before we can't.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Wow. Congratulations. It looks like you won a lot of races, so I love seeing that. So Jennifer, we are coming to the end of our conversation time, and I wanna ask you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience even if it's something that we've already talked about today?

Jennifer Tufillaro: I would say not to wait and to take the shot. For myself, I wish I would've found this sooner. It's been so wonderful. When I looked at it and I thought, do I do this? Do I not?. It's, for, at least for the Chapter Next, it's a 10 to 16 week program.

And I thought to myself, huh, I can do anything for 10 to 16 weeks. And ideally I'll come out of this and I'll actually have a job in the field that I want. But if it doesn't work out, well, I've learned some new skills. I met some new people and I made some money, and 10, 16 weeks goes fast.

So I thought, I really have nothing to lose at this point. So why not take the chance? So that's what I would absolutely say. That life goes by fast, so why not?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, I love that advice and it's a great way to end our conversation. And I just wanna thank you, Jennifer, for spending the time with us and talking to us about so many dimensions of your relaunch.

Jennifer Tufillaro: Oh, thank you so much, it's been such a pleasure.

Carol Fishman Cohen: 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 iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to

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