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EP 250: How I Relaunched after Years of Trying, and Where I am Today, with Amanda Liu

Amanda Liu headshot Amanda Liu

Episode Description

Amanda Drake Liu is currently Senior Director, Data Analytics, for ADP. She took a 14-year career break before relaunching as part of MetLife’s Act2 Program in 2014, to which she connected with through iRelaunch’s Return to Work Conference. Amanda got in touch with us last year because she was interested in hiring a relauncher to work for her! We discuss Amanda’s relaunch journey, how the first few years she tried to reenter the workforce were unsuccessful and what made the difference in finally breaking through, connections she made during her returnship that were critical later in her career advancement, her interest in hiring relaunchers, and her thoughts on having a relauncher report to her. Today’s episode is part of our “relaunchers hiring other relaunchers” mini-series.

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. Before we get started, I wanna remind our listeners who are actively relaunching to make sure to register and upload your resume to our iRelaunch Job Board.

Employers looking to hire relaunchers regularly peruse our Job Board for candidates for their career reentry jobs and programs. Today we welcome Amanda Drake Liu, who is now senior director data analytics for ADT. She took a 14 year career break before relaunching as part of MetLife's Act two program in 2014, which she connected with through having attended an iRelaunch Return to Work conference, and she told me she actually attended, two prior iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences. Amanda got in touch with us last year because she was interested in hiring a relauncher to work for her, and this was part of the original vision that Vivian Steir Rabin and I had when we wrote Back on the Career Track back in 2007 about what the future would look like.

We're going to talk about Amanda's relaunch connections she made during her returnship that were critical later in her career advancement, her interest in hiring relaunchers and her thoughts on having relaunchers report to her. Today's episode is part of our Relaunchers Hiring other Relaunchers miniseries.

Amanda, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Amanda Liu: Thank you so much for having me. I feel, I feel kind of like a fan girl because I remember seeing you at the conference speaking so confidently, and I want it to be like you. So thank you for having me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, it's so wonderful. And here you are.

Amanda Liu: I know.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Being a role model for other people and we'll talk about that. But, I love seeing that come full circle and I'm so glad that you mentioned it and I'm, very happy that's what happened. Amanda, can we start out with a conversation about your background and telling our audience a little bit about what you did prior to your career break, and then what prompted you to step away from the workforce?

Amanda Liu: Yep. This is an easy story. I got my MBA at NYU Stern and I felt very confident, launched my career at America Express and I was there for about nine years. Moved up from being an assistant manager, straight out of business school, up to be about a director with a staff of four or five people. I won Chairman's Award for quality two years in a row, and basically my work was focused on re-engineering, which is continuous process improvement.

It's very tied in with working with strategy and external consultants, so highfalutin analytics, and that's what I did. Felt very confident in my career, confident in what I was doing and the trajectory. But at the same time, I had a growing family and I was, by 2000, I had three kids under the age of seven.

And as much as I tried to find a balance between work and family, they both needed more. Great kids, but my son started asking the nanny about God. So that gives you pause. And at work I had a long commute. I was commuting into New York City. There was no work from home. I also had work travel where I'd be away from home in Arizona for a week, every month for a year and a half.

So it was very difficult to figure out how to balance everything. And I finally came to the conclusion that, maybe this isn't for me. Maybe I need to take a step back. But before I did that, I tried to do a job share. I tried to move to part-time, and what was difficult at that time, although I felt accomplished and an important resource for the company, those moves made me sidelined for important projects.

People looked at me differently. You don't get an MBA and then step away from the workforce or take a step back and take a part-time role or a job share role. So I felt like I was being put in a corner and it wasn't right. So at that point I felt, what I need to do right now is go back a hundred percent given to my family.

I can go back to work at any time. I'll find another situation later on. But for the time being, I have to make this choice. So that's what I did. It wasn't easy, but I felt like I exhausted all my opportunities to try to work with corporate America at that time. But I just decided that, yeah, I'm gonna go and I'm gonna be full force a hundred percent on my family.

I'm going to be that troop leader. I'm gonna be the room mom. I'm gonna start a garden and I was gonna do all the things. Yeah. All the things that I didn't have time to. The problem was, is that really wasn't me. And when I left the workforce and I took the, those metal name plates that you have on a cube or an office?

I had that metal name plate, Amanda Drake Liu, and I put it on the refrigerator. And that was my identity, like that was who I was. I was not a room mom. Nothing against room moms. I was someone who needed that kind of like drive and intellectual curiosity about things, and I didn't find that in, leading a Brownie troop. .

Carol Fishman Cohen: Amanda, thank you. And thank you for speaking about this transition and your time on career break so frankly. All of us react differently to different situations and context, and being on career break or not being on career break. And it's not everyone talks frankly about it and I appreciate that.

Can you tell us a little bit more about you, you're on career break for a long time, for 14 years. Was there a moment where you decided that it was time or was it building up over time? And then what ultimately precipitated relaunching, a decision that now is the time for me to actively start looking again.

Amanda Liu: Yeah, it wasn't one thing. But over that time, I would say about seven years of being home happened in a blink of an eye. All of a sudden it was seven years later and I'm thinking, wow, that, that went by fast. I should get, be getting back to work. And I started to look around, but I was casual and I was haphazard, and I really didn't have the possibility of being successful because I assumed I have an MBA from a very good school and that gives me a credential that you can't take away.

True. But I also had work experience and I thought you couldn't take that away. But then I'm trying to apply for jobs that needed less experience and less skill, and I wasn't even getting an interview. So I probably spent about seven years before I relaunched trying to relaunch, but trying in such a kind of bad way, you know? , I knew what I didn't want to do. I didn't wanna go back to the city. I didn't want the one hour commute each way. So I was looking at companies that were local that needed someone with about the same amount of years of experience. And I thought I'd get interviews. And I can count on one hand how many interviews I got, and even fewer how many actual, like in-person interviews I got after a phone screen. And then it was for some sort of hourly marketing manager, which was like, not a real job. , I was very disappointed, but I didn't put my heart and soul into it. I thought for sure everything that was on my resume would speak for itself and doors would open, and I was kind of surprised, and didn't realize that I was putting forward so many red flags. And really, it just got to the point where I gave up and was thinking, maybe I'll just go get a job at Kohl's because my friend could get a job there. And even that would be a little bit of money. Because by that time I'm starting to think about college and I have four kids now.

And I have four kids that need to go to college. And when you start to think about that, you start to say, why did you ever leave the workforce to begin with? But really when I found iRelaunch, it was like the beginning of having hope that I could get back to work because I had lost a lot of hope over those seven years of really searching and not getting any doors open .

Carol Fishman Cohen: . Yeah. It's, it could be very difficult and very demoralizing when, especially as the length of time goes on and you're not getting the results that you wanna get. What happened at the iRelaunch conferences? What happened when you got to be part of the Act Two program at MetLife?

First of all, how did you end up getting that job? Did you do any kind of skills updating or did you change something about the way you were looking once you went to the conference? Or was it purely meeting people from MetLife there? What do you think sparked the actual success?

Amanda Liu: Well, first the conference gave me a whole room full of people who had credentials like mine or better. There were scientists and lawyers and people who had been in management in financial firms and I didn't feel alone, and that was the first thing. I wasn't the only one because if you keep yourself isolated and sitting applying to jobs mindlessly at home, you start to think that you're the only one facing this kind of problem. But I found that there was a lot of people there that I looking at it on the podium as role models, you were able to relaunch yourself, why can't I? She could do it. So it really gave me the confidence to even just try. But then I think there was something in the book, I could be wrong, but there was a book where it was like...

Carol Fishman Cohen: There was a book. I'll just interject. It's called Back on the Career Track. That was the book that Vivian and I wrote, Vivian Steir Rabin and I wrote, that came out in 2007 and that was given out at the conference at the time.

Amanda Liu: And I think I had gotten it before the conference, so now I had two copies. I've since then passed it along to others.

But it was like, there was something in there about focusing on what it is that you are strong at and what it is that you want. And it's almost they used to have a book, What Color is Your Parachute? So I did do some soul searching, try to figure out where are my strengths, where's my superpower? Where's the thing that I can put forward as the reason why you should hire me? What am I good at? And when I started to focus in on that, I also became aware through the conference of these companies that had these programs where having a job gap wasn't a red flag. So when I saw that MetLife, one, close to my home, not too far away, two had roles that were looking for those skills that I was looking for, I applied. And I was lucky enough to really get a good match, a good vibe with the group that I interviewed and ultimately landed the position with. And I hadn't thought of myself as an analytics person before. I thought I was a problem solver, a project manager. But I didn't think of myself in analytics so much, but now it's a perfect fit.

But when I started that job, it really was the opening of the entire career path that I've had since then. I've had for the last eight years has been because of that role that really he saw in me what I didn't see, and that job put it all together.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. What kind, what job was it and how was it related to analytics now?

Amanda Liu: So the job at that particular job, and my current job is, it's an interesting role where you're almost like a private investigator. You're a detective, there's an operational issue or there's a, an outcome that the business doesn't understand. How did we get here? Why did that happen? The data tells the story.

But you have to translate that story to help the business understand how to fix it. I'm not a data scientist, but I work with data scientists there. They've become some of my best friends so they can go beyond what I can do in Excel or Pivot tables, and they can go on and build models. But I'm really good at taking what it is that they do and then translating it to the business so they can understand what to move forward, what should I change, how should I proceed? So we're almost like a team. That group at MetLife did that work and the group that I'm in right now does the same. So we take kind of problems and find solutions.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. So when you first started that role, you didn't have any like specific skill set in analytics or coursework or anything. You ended up learning that on the job.

Amanda Liu: Basically, Everyone works with data, everyone does Excel. But I was, it wasn't exactly what I did at American Express, but it's the projects at American Express that I excelled at used those same skills.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you talk to us a little bit now that you are in a position where you've moved up over time, you're hiring people to work for you and you're starting to look broadly at including relaunchers in that pool. And I wanted to know how long it took you to think about that and what that process has been like on the interview side.

Amanda Liu: Yeah, so, as a relauncher myself, I came in wanting to prove my value. That was like day one. I was nervous and felt like fish outta had to come up to speed on a lot of things. But the one thing that I had was drive, and I think all relaunchers have drive because they felt that they're just wanting to get that one opportunity to show what they're worth. So I think when you are hiring and managing people, finding someone who has the skills to do the job, definitely you're looking for that. But what you really hire is drive. You hire personality and drive. Somebody who wants to do the job it and doesn't have the skills, we'll go get those skills.

So that's why I think hiring a relauncher is a wise move. You get someone who wants to do more than the job itself. They wanna go above and beyond on everything that they do.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So does that mean when you're interviewing relaunchers that you would interview them differently than you would interview people who didn't take a career break or look at their potential in a different way?

Or how do you sort that out in your mind?

Amanda Liu: No, when it gets, when a relauncher gets to the interview, they're on the same footing to me as everyone else. But what they bring is a special spark, which sometimes you'd interview someone and they're not prepared for the interview or they don't know what your job is about.

They didn't really read the job description. They just applied. There's a lot of like careless applying and interviewing that goes on. But relaunchers are very focused on just making sure that this is a good move and making sure that they're putting their best foot forward. So they're more prepared to prove to you why you should hire them.

That's what I found at least.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And I think that's absolutely true. We've lived more life, we are more self aware. We have spent time thoughtfully considering where we can add the most value. And as you are saying, what is my superpower? So it's great to hear you and from your own experience relaunching and also now carrying that through to when you are starting to interview relaunchers to work for you, how you think about it.

I realize that there's one step here that we skipped that I wanted to talk a little bit about, and that was when you joined ADP and left MetLife. And can you talk about how that happened, and how networking was a factor in you taking this next job?

Amanda Liu: Yeah. So after I relaunched at MetLife, I went through the program, there's a whole, there's a whole story there. But I was at MetLife for about three years under the person who hired me for the internship, let's call him Mike, 'cause that's his name. So when Mike decided to pursue an opportunity at ADP and left MetLife, the group kind of not thrown to the winds, but it changed, the job changed, the group changed, and our group was broken apart. So the colleagues that I grew close to were sent off to a different group, and I was on my own in a different role. So Mike left, went to ADP, started up a team over there. And once he was able to, he was looking for some talent to build out that team, and he turned to the folks that we had been working with.

So he turned to some of the data scientists who were my colleagues, and ultimately I kept in touch with him the entire time after he left MetLife, I didn't lose touch with him and some of the key data scientists. And that's something I didn't say before, but when I first took my career break from American Express, I wanted to have a clean break and I didn't keep up with my network.

And I regret that because I could have leveraged that. At MetLife, after my relaunch began, I made sure that I didn't drop the network by the side of the road, ever. Mike always saw my value and my worth, and he put me on projects and assignments that were fantastic for me. And so I didn't wanna lose touch with him. And I was very excited when he reached out and offered me a position over at ADP.

And I've been three years at ADP now and I've been promoted, making very good money. Which was my initial worry way back when trying to get back so I could pay for my kids college. And it's really been a great, it's been a great ride. So looking forward to the future with this same team.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. There's nothing better than a great manager, right? Yes. When you're in a work environment.

Amanda Liu: Someone who believes in you, once you find that it's very rare. But once you do find that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And we've seen very good retention of relaunchers in organizations. But when we see them leave, it's often because they are moving with a team or they're moving with a manager or being hired by a manager who moved first and then wanted to bring them along.

So really, great illustration of exactly that. And then the other piece that you're saying is this connection, you had an ongoing connection with him, and that in part that was a reaction to doing the networking you thought you should have or being, staying in touch with people from American Express.

And we have had people say that they were in touch for 14 years, but it could have been like an annual holiday card or every few years just seeing the person or somehow being in touch. And those relationships staying intact and being very helpful years later. You're not talking about something unrealistic when you're saying, if you were relaunching 14 years later and you had kept up with some of those people, they could very well have been factors in your relaunch.

Amanda Liu: Definitely could have been something to leverage, which I didn't have that advantage because I really just cut, I cut it out of my life and I said, No, I'm going to be a stay-at-home mom. .

Carol Fishman Cohen: So how was the transition at home when you first went back to work and how did that evolve as your kids got older?

Amanda Liu: When I first went back to work, I'd have to think about how old my youngest was. My youngest was already in high school. So it was not like there was a big, who's going to take care of the kids kind of thing. But I think it was important to show her because she had, she was my youngest had never been around when mom had a job.

And so now regularly she'll try to call me and, I don't have time for the texts and the calls and the sharing of the TikToks until after work. She realizes and recognizes that you can have both of these people and it could be the mom and it could also be the professional.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. It's very meaningful, I think, to the kids at different age levels when their parent goes back to work after taking a career break. And it will be interesting to talk to her 10 years from now and hear her reflect on this time. We often hear adult children say how proud they are and how proud they felt and still are of their parent who returns to work after taking a career break, and the the idiosyncrasies of the day to day life was something that kind of faded away for them. And it was more the big theme of, yeah, it was a big deal when my mom went back to work and things changed, but it was, I'm really proud of her. So we hear that a lot. Amanda, any other comments about your relaunch, thinking about hiring relaunchers, anything about the transition at home before we wrap up with our final question?

Amanda Liu: Yeah, so I think the big thing that I would tell other relaunchers or people are thinking about it and you hear that phrase fake until you make it, but, one of the biggest things that I did when I was at MetLife is I said Yes a lot to anything because I was given opportunities that I had no right getting, I was given opportunities to lead a tool that was managed by a vendor.

Never did that before, but I jumped into it. It was two feet and scared out of my mind. But I think it's important because you just gotta challenge yourself to do these things. Because it's probably not skills that you need to get to overcome that challenge. It's really your confidence. It's just to give yourself the right to try and not to sabotage yourself and say, I don't know. I've never managed a vendor before, and you can stand in your way. So that's one thing.

And the other thing I had said before is really to figure out what's your superpower? Figure out what it is that you bring to the table that no one else can. And it might be something that you hadn't really given much thought to.

You have to spend some time thinking, when did I really excel? This is an interview question that I ask people, is if you look back, what is the one thing that you're most proud of, the one project or activity, or what are you most proud of? And usually that's when you're using your favorite skill or the superpower.

It's the time when you did something that no one else could have done. So if you can can identify that, that's where, that's the kind of job that you need to find, to use that superpower. And that is the way you win over an interviewer because they could see that you have this one specific skill that they're looking for and you have it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. So that's terrific advice and also what you're describing in the first part about not saying no and jumping in when you were scared out of your mind. We call that fearless learning . You were very, you were fearful, but you squashed that down and became fearless in order to take the opportunity. So that's great advice. Thank you. Amanda, thank you so much for joining us today.

Amanda Liu: Yep. It was really a good conversation. I appreciate you having me on.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I think our audience is gonna learn a lot from many of the different topics that we covered.

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. I want to remind our listeners who are actively relaunching to make sure to register and upload your resume to our iRelaunch Job Board. Employers looking to hire relaunchers regularly, peruse our Job Board for candidates for their career re-entry jobs and programs.

And be sure to visit iRelaunch.Com to access our many return to work tools and resources, and to sign up for our mailing list so you can receive our weekly return to work report featuring career re-entry jobs and programs.

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