Skip to main content

EP 274: Strategies for a successful HR relaunch and the important role of SHRM, with Christine Fay

Christine fay headshot

Episode Description

Christine Fay is the Human Resources Manager at Grenova, a biotechnology start-up focused on waste reduction solutions. A human resources professional with extensive experience in human capital consulting across a variety of sectors, from Fortune 500 companies to federal government agencies, Christine relaunched her HR career after a seven-year career break. Christine serves as the Director of Learning Events and on the Board of Directors of the Richmond, Virginia chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Our conversation with Christine focuses on specific networking strategies she used to successfully relaunch her career and the role of professional associations in upskilling, reskilling, and networking.

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 want to remind our listeners who are actively relaunching to make sure to register and upload your resume to our iRelaunch Job Board, go to and you'll find it. Employers who are looking to hire relaunchers regularly peruse our Job Board for candidates for their career re entry jobs and programs. Alright, now on to our podcast conversation. Today we welcome Christine Fay. a human resources professional who took a nearly seven year career break.

Christine is currently an HR manager at Grenova, an innovative biotechnology startup focused on high quality waste reduction solutions. She has extensive experience in human capital consulting across a variety of industries from Fortune 500 companies to federal government agencies. Christine has worked on global HR transformation projects, designed and implemented learning and development trainings, and created HR programs for a number of companies.

She's also on the board of directors of the Richmond, Virginia chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, also abbreviated as SHRM, where she serves as the Director of Learning Events. In today's episode, we speak with Christine about her own relaunch and how professional associations can help with upskilling, reskilling, and networking.

Christine, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Christine Fay: Hi, Carol. Welcome. Thank you for having me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, it's really great to see you and I'll just tell our listeners that Christine and I met when I was speaking at the Richmond SHRM Leadership Conference a while ago, and Christine hosted a Q& A with me and we had a really great conversation and we were so looking forward to this moment when we could interview her.

So, Christine, can we start with you telling us a little bit about your background, what did you do before your career break, and what prompted you to step away from the workforce?

Christine Fay: Sure. So, I was in human capital consulting for two large firms, Barron Point and Deloitte, and was your typical consulting schedule on a flight, Monday morning and then flying back on Thursday.

And my focus had always been human capital, which is the HR focus in consulting. I loved it. It was so much fun. however, I knew that I always wanted to go back and do in house HR, meaning HR for a company. I decided that I would do that after the birth of my daughter. Fast forward, I have my daughter, and I had originally planned to be home six months to maybe a year, and life happens. At the time, my, my then spouse was working in the intelligence community for the government and had a very erratic travel schedule.

We were living in the D. C. area, no family and friends to, to be able to help out. We had friends, but nobody, they were all working as well. My career break actually got extended due to logistics, so what I thought was going to be maybe six months turned into seven years, along with a couple of relocations in there as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I can't tell you how often we hear this. People think that they're going to have a short career break, maybe one or two years, and then the next thing you know, you wake up and five or 10 years have gone by. And it's always for a reason that makes total sense, but things are unpredictable, and if you're already on career break, you're, you are often the person who is there to enable all that change while your spouse or partner is working or other, other circumstances.

Christine Fay: Absolutely, too. I have to laugh looking back, because I was a consultant, I actually had to project plan . Looking back, I thought, oh gosh, that's so obnoxious. But I had a perfect plan in place. Okay, I'm gonna have a baby, I'm gonna be at home and then I'm gonna go back and that's what I'm gonna make my career pivot and go in-house HR.

And of course none of that went as planned. I also didn't sleep for a year having a daughter who was waking up constantly, and, but I loved it. It was great. But yes, other factors too, the childcare too, when you start to look at, okay, what is it going to take for [00:05:00] childcare? And then when you do have someone that's traveling several months at a time overseas, and then it's all on you. Are you looking at overnight help? Or, how are you gonna travel and do your work schedule? So a lot of moving pieces that it makes it, it's not a simple decision for anyone, I don't think.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Absolutely. And so can you, bring us back to that time you're on career break and then you are deciding that it's time to go back to work and maybe tell us a little bit about that decision and what were some of the first steps that you took to relaunch your career?

Christine Fay: Sure. So we've moved, where I am now in Richmond, Virginia. And I thought, okay, here, I'm ready to go back and dusted off the resume and started applying for jobs and, crickets. And, one thing that was a challenge is that all of my professional network had been Boston, New York, and DC. Those are the places that I had worked. Those were all my, were my professional contacts were.

And then we landed in Richmond. I didn't have any professional contacts. I was starting from scratch. And it was much more, someone had said to me, it's more of a relationship based city. And, for example, had I been in DC, I could just call up one of my friends or, email and say, Hey, I'm looking for a job.

And they'd say, great, send me your resume, and they'd forward it on to their coworker who I wouldn't even know, and, they would take a call with me. And here it was a little bit different because I didn't have that base. So people didn't know who I was or what I was looking for. So the just blindly applying to jobs wasn't working.

And so I quickly pivoted and started to network. and I would network with anybody I could. I was bringing my, dropping my daughter off at preschool and I'd be chatting, Hey, what do you do for work? Oh, what do you, where are you from? Just some sort of connection and then, offer to, take someone to coffee or if they knew somebody.

So I had a lot of networking coffees, which. actually ended up being how I found my first role back. So as frustrating as it was at the time because it, it went a lot slower, I will say that networking did really help with building a professional network in a place that I didn't have one. And also got me to really think through what I wanted to do.

I knew I wanted to go in house HR, but you really need to be a little bit more specific because no one's going to tell you, Oh, this is what you should do. I have this perfect job for you. You really need to tee it up for people. So that, that, the process really helped me do that. And then ultimately find my first role back, which, I was really lucky.

My, my then boss, she was, she understood. taking a career break and then coming back. She actually was new in her role and was looking for someone who had an HR consulting background, but wanted to do talent acquisition, and we just got chatting and hit it off and she looped back with me and said, Hey, I have this role. Are you interested? And I went in for the interview and got the role.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So you covered a lot of ground there and I want to step back and ask you some details about that. So when you said that one of the first things you did was you would drop your child off at preschool and you would get in conversations with people about their work.

You, so you meet them and you were just in the conversation, then you say, what do you do? Or, do you work? Or how do you, what did you say?

Christine Fay: I will say I, I'm a little bit of a chatter and I love meeting people. So it, for me, it was second nature. I just, Oh, where are you from? Are you from this area?

I'm new to the area. Oh, what do you do for work? Or if they didn't. work at the time. What did you do? Or where did you go to school? And the conversation would just evolve. It wasn't necessarily a match with each person, sometimes I'd stumble on to somebody. I remember one mom, she actually had worked at Deloitte too, but she was working in New York on the accounting side and I was on the consulting side.

So it was like, why don't we just go get coffee? And even though I wasn't looking for an accounting role, she ended up putting me in touch with an HR con, someone who knew, she knew worked in HR here in Richmond, who I got in touch with and grabbed coffee. So it was almost like a, if you think of a spider plant, like you, I'd have a conversation, or a coffee with someone and I would always make a point to ask them, Hey, do you think there's anybody else that, I could meet with?

And, nine times out of 10, they're going to give you a name. And I would follow up with that person.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. And, you're illustrating something that we talk about a lot, that you have to have a lot of conversations to yield a view that lead to something else. And that's just part of what happens. You have to accept that from the beginning.

Christine Fay: Absolutely. A hundred percent. I would say it took me, a couple years. I was at home and we had moved and was settling into a new city, but I was networking when I could fit it in. So that's definitely one thing that it, it took longer than I initially anticipated.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, it tends to take longer. And then when you had the information sessions, how did you reach out to the person and what did you say, like on an email, what was the subject line? What did you say in there, so and so recommended you'd be good to talk with. And then what would you actually discuss when you had coffee?

Christine Fay: Yeah, no, that's great. So I would always ask if someone was giving me the contact, do they prefer email or phone? And so I would follow up and, introduce myself, say, Hey, I met with so and I'm looking to, get back to work. I'm, for me personally, I was interested in HR and they gave me your name, thought it would be great for us to meet, thank you. And for the most part, people will take you up on it. And I actually branched out, gosh, I talked with people in learning development, people that worked at the university, somebody that worked in finance, somebody that worked in insurance. I wasn't picky, I wasn't like, oh, I'm only going to meet with HR people, I was just interested in meeting with anyone that was willing to have coffee and, sometimes would give advice, I'd ask, if it was something outside of an industry I worked in, or if it was outside of a func, like the HR function, I would be curious and ask questions, because at the end of the day, it's just great to build a professional network, which, I've gone back to some of those folks too, because I've reached out for professional work situations. If we've got, now I turn around and if I'm hiring somebody, oh, I met you when we were networking and we were in finance, but I was in HR, but hey, we've got this role opened, or we have a project that I know somebody I worked with could be a good fit.

I was very open. That was, I think, key.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I have one more detailed question to ask you. When you met the woman who ended up with the role that you took, was that someone else recommended that you have coffee with her? And then, what happened in that conversation that led to her following up?

Christine Fay: Yes. I actually think she was... three connections. I had a coffee with somebody who put me in contact with someone who had worked with her in another role and then connected me with her. So it was again, through that network, I just really stumbled upon her. 'Cause otherwise I never would have.

And she was working in HR. She had just started a role as HR director for the new company. And we got chatting. She actually had worked in HR consulting as well at a competitor where I had worked. So we had some things in common. So I guess I, I could say it's a networking success story, right?

Because It ended in a job.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then how did you handle discussion about your career break when you were in these conversations and then maybe when you moved forward and had more interviews?

Christine Fay: So I will say at first, when I was brushing off that resume and applying to roles, I didn't put my career break down because I didn't know what to say.

I thought, oh, I just won't put anything. And, I would say don't do that. I found quickly a few, I did get a few interviews and people would say, why were you, what did you do? Why, what were you doing the past like six or seven years? And, people are looking for you to fill that gap. I will say, I then put it on my resume, and then in networking conversations, I would say it was so much easier to explain because you're in person and you're talking, and people get, Oh, I took a break to care for kids or took a break to care for whether it's sick parents or whatever the situation is.

People understand that. I think when you're talking to someone in person, it's different than just a flat resume when there's a blank space. I will say, I think it was, this is after. I had gone back to work, but when iRelaunch was encouraging people on LinkedIn to put the career break, I'm 100 percent behind that.

I went, even though I was working, I went and put in career break because it's something so many people do. for various reasons. and it's a lot easier now, I think, to put that on than before when some people were hiding it or, just. Not addressing it,

Carol Fishman Cohen: right? Yeah, and it's great that LinkedIn has that category now where you can put career break and the reason but that's really interesting to hear you reflect on how you evolved in relationship to how you're going to portray your career break.

I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your, involvement with the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, and also when you got involved and whether that overlapped with your relaunch. But before we get into that, can you give a quick explanation for our audience about what SHRM is and does?

Christine Fay: Sure. SHRM is the largest HR association in the world. I think they're in 165 countries. countries, and they provide or they're advocates for people in the workforce, the workplace of the future, thought leadership, they offer leadership, learning and development opportunities to really, advance HR professionals and the HR function.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So there's, it's a professional association, then there are events, but there's also coursework and a whole range. Sure,

Christine Fay: there are SHRM certifications if you're an HR professional. There's also local chapters all over the country, all over the world, that offer learning events, webinars. information on their website, if you're an HR professional, or even if you are dealing with an HR issue, you can certainly reach out to SHRM, and they are a wealth of knowledge.

You can tell I'm a little biased because I'm a member. So I really enjoyed working with SHRM.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And you mentioned learning events and your role right now is director of learning events. And can you tell us a little bit more about what you do in that role? Sure.

Christine Fay: the director of learning events role is really near and dear to my heart because The Richmond SHRM chapter has done a fantastic job of really providing information around the workplace of the future.

So I, I think my role is super fun because I get to host and develop in person learning events for the Richmond chapter. So we. We also have events like HR Microburst, which is mini HR presentations on hot topics of the day for HR professionals, and then it provides networking opportunities. New this year, we hosted coffee with Chief Human Resource Officers, so we had panel discussions, chatting with them, and, getting their insights on, the workplace now and in the future.

And, then our big event, which you took part in last year, was the strategic leadership conference that we [00:18:00] offer every year. And that's a one day event that is in person. we've done it, virtually as well. There's usually a virtual option, but bringing leaders who are going to speak on topics that are really important for HR professionals to, to learn about.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you talk a little bit about the role that SHRM played in your own relaunch and your career since you relaunched?

Christine Fay: It's funny because I actually was a SHRM member before I took my career break and I was living in DC. And then during my career break, I wasn't actively involved. And, I actually ended up not getting back involved until I had started my role at my first job back after my career break.

And it was my boss who I had networked with. She actually asked me if I was interested, And I said, Oh, sure, absolutely. And the first role they needed somebody to help co chair the strategic leadership conference. So I co chaired with another woman, Ebony, she was great. we had a lot of fun and that's how I got involved.

I wasn't involved during my career relaunch. I got involved after. However, towards the end, like right before I, I landed my role, that's when I learned about iRelaunch. I had been Googling and seeing different programs. And at the time, I think iRelaunch was, you guys are in New York and London, much bigger cities.

And I thought, Oh my gosh, what a fantastic idea. And I wish that they were in, in Richmond at the time. So when I got involved with SHRM, I thought this is a fantastic idea and I, and something I wish I had access to. I was going through my career relaunch. And so that's why when we had the opportunity to bring you to the strategic leadership conference, I thought this is perfect because not only is it helpful for caree relaunchers, it's so important.

I worked in talent acquisition and I understand that how important it is to have alternative talent pipelines. Every company, attraction and attention is one of the biggest topics that they're dealing with, applying these employees and how do they retain them.

And here is this organization where, Hey, it's an option. There's a whole group of folks that are untapped talent that can help companies fill roles.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's so interesting to hear you talk about it because you have such a unique perspective having gone through the process yourself, so you know it firsthand, and then be in an HR talent acquisition function where you're looking at it from the other side and planning events for your professional association, looking at it from the employer side. Yeah. Do you have any suggestions for relaunchers if they're interested in HR? Do you think it's a good idea for them to get involved in SHRM while they're on career, or once they actively start getting ready to return?

And is there anything in particular you think that they would benefit from?

Christine Fay: Absolutely. In fact, I had a couple of relaunchers, people relaunching their careers, reach out because they were joining SHRM as they were starting their research in HR. So I would say, yes, reach out to your local SHRM chapter.

They have job boards there as well you can look at, and in terms of networking, there's no better place to start networking. SHRM folks always host onboarding sessions and networking sessions. I, let's see, all of the learning events that we have always have a networking component to them.

So it's a great opportunity to get involved and meet other HR professionals if that is, where you're looking to go.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that's great. That's great advice. Christine, I'm interested in hearing your perspective now that you've been back in the workforce for, I think, four and a half years. And I wanted to know, do you still think of yourself as a relauncher?

Do you retain that identity in some way? And how has your life changed since you have been back at work?

Christine Fay: It's funny you should ask that because even though now I'm back to work full time, I absolutely identify as an iRelauncher because I have gone through the process. I've, I had a career and then took the career break and then worked, did the work to get back into, to the workforce.

I do. And it's funny because I was working full time when I was updating my LinkedIn profile with a career break on it, even though I was working full time, because I do think it's important to know. And I have a daughter and I want her to be able to make the choice, whether she wants to work or take a break, but also know that there are options.

There are great programs out there and it's okay to take breaks really for any, for anyone, for any reason. And I think people are working longer now, gosh, I've seen the retirement age, I think it was Wall Street Journal had an article like the new retirement age is bumped like 10 years or 20 years.

And so when you think about that, if we're working 60, 70 decades, who knows, inevitably, you're probably going to take a break. Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You're exactly right. I'm, you're looking toward the hundred year life and the 60 year career instead of a 40 year career. And we believe that this is why at iRelaunch, this is why career breaks are not going away.

And we're going to see more of them for exactly the reason you're saying. We don't think people are going to work 60 years all the way through without a break. Yeah. And maybe take multiple breaks.

Christine Fay: Yeah, absolutely. I do think that's going to be something we're going to see more and more in not just taking breaks for childcare.

It can be taking breaks for, sometimes people just take a sabbatical or they're dealing with aging parents or sometimes there could be an injury or an illness that they're dealing with. There's so many reasons and to know that's okay, that's part of life and you can certainly go back to work.

It's not as if you take a break and you lose all of your knowledge, right?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. Christine, just to come back to that, the question, do you see yourself differently now? Is there, do you feel like you have more confidence? Do you look at, is your routine, things about, your life and your lifestyle?

Can you comment on how that's changed since you've gone back to work?

Christine Fay: Sure. I would say I am probably a little bit more stressed. There's a lot more planning that goes into the pickup and drop off. I'm a single working mom, so there's a lot of planning that I have to do. So I would say that's for sure.

I would say confidence, definitely. That's something that I've shared with friends who are going back to work too. Your confidence takes a little bit of a hit, like when you stop work and suddenly step away and it's, it was a little intimidating to go back and I was, I self doubted myself a little bit like, Oh my gosh, I haven't been on Microsoft Outlook sending emails, even though within a week of being back to work, I was like, Oh yeah, I remember this now. It's like riding a bike. But, yeah, I would definitely say, the confidence has definitely gone up and I'm a lot more empathetic and understanding with employees and working in HR I think that's helpful. I understand, people sometimes have a need to step away from the workplace and that's okay.

And there's certainly, the work's always going to be there, right? You can come back. Right now there's not enough people to fill all the jobs that we have right now. I was just looking at, actually, SHRM had posted the state by state data from the U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. And in Virginia alone, there's 307, 000 job postings right now, just in that state, just in Virginia.

And then unemployment in Virginia, they're estimating about 135, 000 people that are unemployed. So even if you fit all those folks into the role, you still have jobs that we don't have employees for. So I think even more important to, to really look at from if you're an HR professional, there's all different types of candidates with skill sets and experiences and have taken breaks and, there's a role for them in the workforce.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. It's great to hear you say that, especially given all of your experience and the work that you do in this field, human resources, talent acquisition, like you would know better than anyone else. Christine, I want to ask you our final question, the one that we ask all of our podcast guests.

I feel like the conversation went so fast, but we want to end with what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today.

Christine Fay: Let me say, give yourself some grace. You're going through a major transition and relaunching your career, it's a journey and it's not necessarily going to be a straightforward path and it may not go exactly as planned, but, I can promise you for, from someone who's been there and done that, that it's going to be fantastic on the other side, when you get through it, you land your first job.

And even after that first job, when you're getting back into your career, or if you've transitioned and pivoted into a new career, you're going to look back and be so happy that you took that first step. So just take a deep breath and it's exciting, it's tiring, it can be a little stressful, but, you're absolutely going to be so happy that you did it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's so great, and Christine, thank you so much for joining us today.

Christine Fay: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you. It's great chatting with you again.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I know. It's such a treat. And to our audience, 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, CEO and co founder of iRelaunch and your host. Please go to iRelaunch. com for resources, a job board, events, all of the content and what we create to support you as you are moving through the process of relaunching. Thank you so much for joining us.

Do you enjoy our podcast and want to make sure other relaunchers can find our return to work advice?

Be sure to rate, follow and leave a review of our podcast using our handy guide so we can reach even more relaunchers!

How to Rate and Review the 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch Podcast

New to our podcast?

Find out more about our most popular episodes and content of the 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch podcast!

Don't relaunch alone!

Join our growing relauncher communities on Facebook and LinkedIn. For more great guidance on your relaunch and updates on when return to work programs are accepting applications, events for relaunchers and more, be sure to sign up for our Return to Work Report and follow us on social media to stay informed!

Icon community