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EP 284: Harnessing disruption when you least expect it, a conversation with Carol Fishman Cohen

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Episode Description

We are pleased to present you with a special broadcast of a previously recorded interview where Carol Fishman Cohen, host of the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast, CEO & Co-founder of iRelaunch, sits on the opposite side of the podcast mic and answers questions regarding her relaunch and more on the "Disrupt Yourself Podcast" with Whitney Johnson. We hope you enjoy this insightful and inspirational conversation, and get a peak into aspects of Carol's relaunch story and her journey in founding iRelaunch.

Read Transcript

Welcome to 3 2 1 iRelaunch, the podcast series where we discuss career re entry strategies, advice and success stories. We are pleased to present you with a special broadcast of a previously recorded interview with Carol Fishman Cohen, host of the 3 2 1 iRelaunch podcast, CEO and Co founder of iRelaunch, sits on the opposite side of the podcast mic and answers questions about her relaunch and more on the Disrupt Yourself podcast with Whitney Johnson. We hope you enjoy this insightful and inspirational conversation and get a peek into aspects of Carol's relaunch story and her journey in founding iRelaunch.

Whitney Johnson: Welcome back to The Disrupt Yourself podcast. I'm your host, Whitney Johnson, CEO of Disruption Advisors, where we help you build high performing people and teams because organizations don't disrupt, people do, and the fundamental unit of that disruption, it's you. At Disruption Advisors, we are all about discovering and harnessing disruption, but sometimes disruption finds you.

It's a fact of life. Our car skids on ice we didn't see on the road up ahead. Your boat hits a reef at night. A business deal falls through out of nowhere. And there's nothing you can or could have done. So now that your car's in a snowbank, what's next? Our guest today has been there and back. After the company she worked for collapsed while she was on maternity leave, Carol Fishman Cohen decided to leave the workforce for 11 years to raise her children.

Today, she's the CEO of her own company, iRelaunch. Carol's had to fight through the nitty gritty of getting back into the office, remembering and trusting in her capabilities, and today her company helps others make the same jump. Her story is quite literally a case study and how people disrupt themselves in response to being disrupted.

So what can we learn from Carol? I hope you enjoy.

So Carol, in 1990, you left the workforce for 11 years. It was an eventful stretch of time. You created a lot of change out of those years, but upon reflection, tell us how those 11 years changed you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So first of all, the conditions that led to me taking my career break were that I was working for an investment bank, Drexel Burnham Lambert, for those who might remember it, and Drexel collapsed in February of 1990 while I was on maternity leave with my first child.

So I didn't have a company to go back to from maternity leave. And I knew we were wanting to have more kids and probably in close succession because of our ages. And so I decided not to go looking for the next big job. And so I did some part time work for the first couple of years and I had three more kids in close succession.

So I was home with them between 1990 and 2001. And I was fully engaged in life at home with them and the school and community and those types of activities. And periodically I would see people that I used to work with. There was an annual Christmas party, we all got together, so there were these periodic reminders as time went on.

And I'd say around year nine, which was around 1999. I think I had a moment where I still kind of remember this, I was in the kitchen and I was loading the dishwasher and I was like, I got to go back to work.It was like, I'm kind of done, you know, I'm not that I'm done parenting or anything like that, but I am done with this phase of my life in, in this, context. And so that was the beginning. Remember, 1999, no one was talking about relaunching your career. Hardly anyone had done it. I think Brenda Barnes, who was the CEO of PepsiCo North America made headline news in the Wall Street Journal in 97 when she decided to take a career break.

But you know, there were a lot, not a lot of data points. So, that's when I started thinking about it. And,we can talk about what happened after that, but that's the, background part.

Whitney Johnson: Yeah, this is interesting. So 1990 happens, Drexel, you know, you're on maternity leave, so you get disrupted, right?

And so you're like, what do I do with this?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes.

Whitney Johnson: Do I, when I come back from maternity leave, look for a job or do I look at this as an opportunity of, Oh, maybe I'll, I'll be at home for a while.

Yes. And it's interesting hearing you talk where you had, you know, I think about this from an S curve perspective, where you had those nine years and it probably started a little bit sooner than that, where you're like, okay, I'm at the launch point of the curve of figuring out how to be a parent.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes.

Whitney Johnson: So you're like, all right, I've had these four children. I've moved on to the launch, you know, off the launch point. I'm now into the sweet spot of kind of figuring out how to create this home for us. And now I need to expand again. I need to jump to a new curve. So that's what I'm hearing.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And you know, you say you're talking about as a disruption and the beginning of an S curve, but I also want to put into perspective that,Drexel was a huge company, and when it went under, it actually went under really fast, kind of like Lehman did in 2008, but in very different reasons. And so everyone in the company was instantly unemployed and there was shell shock, you know, through the whole organization.

And some people, who had been going, you know, we were going like a thousand miles an hour and it was intense deal flow and we're working all the time. And then it was just a stop. So some people were like, I'm going to go to Seattle and work at a coffee shop called Starbucks, which wasn't Starbucks then.

Or I'm, or some people looked around for the next investment banking job. Some people went into other fields, but there was kind of, I wasn't alone. Yeah, you know, I happen to make the decision I made because of the situation I was in. But,it was, there was a lot of conversation and a lot of seeing people take very different routes.

Whitney Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, it's a it's a in its own way. I mean, I think we for everybody who's lost a job, we all know, and lost a job and in that way, it was such a headline. There, there is trauma associated with it. And so hearing, how are people dealing with losing a job? And I think people are like, Oh no, it's not traumatic.

Well, if you've never lost a job, you can say that, but if you've lost a job, everybody knows there's some trauma associated with it. So, all right. So you're in this place, it's 1999, you're loading the dishwasher. You're like, I need to go back to work. Yeah. What happened next? What, what happened in your brain?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay, so, when Drexel went under I was working for the Boston Corporate Finance Group and that group reincorporated on their own, because we were a full deal team, we weren't just originators. And so they started something called the Boston Corporate Finance Group, very original, and I worked for them part time and I kind of became like their chief operating officer, because they didn't really have anyone to sort of pull things together.

And I did that part time for a couple years, and then they turned into an investment management firm. Every year, the managing director from that firm would have a Christmas party. So for me, that was an important event, because I would reconnect with everyone. Everyone's doing all this great stuff. I'm home year after year, and then I think in the 1999 year, I went, and people said, Hey, Carol, you know what's going on?

And instead of saying, well, still home with the kids, I was like, I'm thinking about getting back to work. And so, actually that might've been the 2000 Christmas party. And so all of a sudden they were like, that's awesome. And let's have lunch. Let's talk. And they were my biggest cheerleaders right away.

And it made me realize this concept that we talk about a lot now that they had a frozen in time view of me. And so they remembered me when we were working together. And as time went on,I started to have a diminished sense of self, because I was professionally disconnected, which is very common actually, as we, we found out.

And so they didn't know anything about that. They only remembered me as I was. So that was a key piece with that was having them react in a very enthusiastic way. And I took advantage of it. I said to them, you know, sit with me. I want to know what are all the new products and services now? Why aren't we using the old products anymore?

How did the new ones work? What are the acronyms? What are the controversies? And also, the nineties was a huge period of consolidation in the financial services industry. So I was afraid if I ever went on an interview, I would talk about some company that didn't exist anymore because it had been merged or they changed the name or, you know, so there was a lot of change there.

So I wanted to make sure I knew that. And then, I hadn't really read the newspaper that carefully, certainly not the business news. And so I resubscribed, that was when we used to get an actual paper, resubscribed to the Wall Street Journal and read it intensely for cover to cover for about six months before I felt like I was starting to get a handle on what was going on in the business world again.

So I wasn't really sure what I was going to do. I wasn't sure how it was going to work. I thought it was probably going to be finance related. I started to kind of review stuff from old deals that we worked on or even academic stuff from finance courses. So that was starting to go on. And then I went to my 15 year business school reunion.

I had graduated in 85 and I again had this conversation with people about, well, I've been home and now I'm thinking about going back to work and saw my classmates. That just as an aside, when you are in a class of, you know, ambitious people and you take 11 years off and you watch where they're going, in the meantime, that's another place where you start to develop some uncomfortable feeling, because you're thinking, Oh, this is where I might've been, you know, if I, if I had, stayed in the workforce, if Drexel had continued. But if Drexel had continued, maybe I would have only had two kids and gone back and I don't know, you know, life could have been very different.

So one of the people I saw at that reunion turned out to be a head hunter. And about nine months after that reunion, she sent me something. She said, there's an investment bank that's looking for a regional CFO, and I think this would be a perfect match with your skillset. Once again, frozen in time, because what skill set is she thinking about, the one that she remembers when we were first years together in 1983?

So, you know,we graduated in 85, that's why it was a 15 year reunion in 2000. Anyway, so I thought, again, wow, that's how people view me. And so, I dove in that pretty deeply and it forced me to get a resume to her and it forced me to have some conversations about, what do regional CFOs do? And ultimately they reorganized and they decided not to have regional CFOs, but it really got me going.

So that's when I started having serious conversations. And,I was really just talking to people I knew and it turned out that a group of people from Drexel had moved to Bain Capital and they had set up, there's one person in particular who now is head of Bain Capital, but he was the founder of Sankaty Advisors, and that was their credit arm. And so they're Drexel people, we worked on, we were all about credit, and that's where I got my opportunity. And that's another thing to think about is, this was a guy who was junior to me when we worked at Drexel. He was an analyst and I was an, associate.

And so of course, while I'm on career break, he's moving up. He's now in a position to say, why don't you come in and talk to a few people? And that was kind of how the ball started rolling. And yeah, I went in and, some of it was really hard, it was a lot of case interviews and some of them I did well on and some of them didn't.

And and that was the process. So I ended up at as some kind of an, a financial analyst. I don't think I, I was this one off unusual hire, and that's how I made my way back in.

Whitney Johnson: Wow. Okay. So at the end of our conversation, I am going to ask you for like two or three suggestions for people who are listening that are thinking, I want to do this in my company for, I want to hire relaunchers, but also people who want to relaunch, but I, but in the interim, I want to make a few observations from what you just said.

One is that this was actually a fairly slow process. I mean, in terms of, as I think about you, you said you started thinking about this in 1999, although there were these touch points throughout that decade where you would go to a reunion or something or have a conversation or the office party. You, you had people around you who were really encouraging you to say, Hey, I've worked with you before. I know you, you have a track record with me. I, I would work with you again. So the importance of never, ever, ever burning bridges. I think it's also interesting for you of how, like before you started moving into this, you read the paper for six months to get up to date. So once you decided you wanted to do something, it was, it sounds like about two years before you actually went back into the workforce.

And then the other piece is the importance of those connections and a sacrifice of your ego, because I'm sure there was a piece of you of like, I'm working for the guy that worked for me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You know what? I was totally fine with that.

Whitney Johnson: You were okay with that. Okay. Okay. All right. Okay. I love that. So, so as I said that any further reflections before I go to my next question.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So just a couple of things. First of all, one of the things we tell people is you have to become a subject matter expert all over again. And now there's all these courses and stuff, but at the time, that was kind of my version of it. It was all the, everything I was referencing about how I was trying to refresh my knowledge.

And the other thing was my family was supportive. They knew that this was important to me, and the kids were in elementary school. They were like five ages, five to 11. My husband, what now, and this is why you can never generalize from any one person's story. So my husband had worked at the same law firm for like 20 years at the point, very stable in his employment situation.

If he had been unstable in his employment situation, things might've moved along much faster, and in just what, whatever job I could get to start bring in income. You know, so anyway, I just wanted to sort of give that perspective. But the other thing that happened that when I went back, that kind of brought all of this home was about three weeks after I went back to work, I went to a cocktail party with friends, like I had always done, you know, when I was home too.

And when I walked in the door, a group of guys, all men, said, Hey, Carol, get over here. I heard your, you know, you're working at, you're working over at Sankaty, what's going on in the bond market? What's going on there? Like all of a sudden they didn't really have that much to talk to me about in prior social engagements, you know, during that 11 years when I was home.

But now that I have this new identity, and it's relevant to whatever they're in. Then I, they were interested in speaking. Then I walk over to the circle of mostly women, who were all of my friends, volunteers, people that we were in the PTO and school redistricting and all of those kinds of thingsthat we were contributing to.

And I said, what's going on with everyone? And one of the women said, I'm just working on some stupid PTO thing. And all of a sudden I thought my going back to work forced a reflection of the other people who are home and all of a sudden they were uncomfortable with the idea that why haven't they done that already?

Or, you know, how did she do it? And now she's this working person. And does she, is she still really my friend? I mean, I'm making this up, but I didn't, I'm just, you know projecting from that, those two conversations, how much your identity in terms of what you do for work has to do with your full identity as a person.

And when you're separated from it, like different people react to you different ways.

Whitney Johnson: There's an interesting thread of identity running through this entire conversation, isn't there? All right. I want to come back to that briefly once we've finished the arc of your story to date. So, okay. So you go to Bain Capital for a year. And what happens? Cause you didn't stay there that long.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I didn't. Yeah. They were fabulous. I'm, I mean, super supportive. I mean, even to hire someone like me after an 11 year career break back in 2001 was a very progressive kind of thing to do. While that was going on, there started to be some conversations going on at Harvard Business School with a couple, and that's actually where I graduated from, but there's a couple of professors there that were thinking about, what do we do with our grads who are on career break?

And is there some kind of, we were calling it a recertification program that could develop? So these conversations were going on the side, super interesting. A program that Professor Myra Hart, who's retired now, started called Charting Your Course, grew out of that, and at the same time, I decided to write a story.

Well, actually, there's a couple of other things that happened. So, while I was at Bain, Vivian Steir Rabin , who is an HBS class of 86, a year behind me, got introduced to me by a mutual friend, and she interviewed me for a book that she was writing on relaunching your career. So we had this interview, she didn't know, there are hardly any examples of people who had gone back to like an extreme career like I had gone back to, and so we interviewed. And I wasn't thinking about the interview after that.

She went to do her thing. I, we never even met. She was in New York. And then, When we were starting to talk about thisrecertification program, there were some students involved and later, one of them for a field study project, wanted to write about my relaunch as a case study. All right. So then in the meantime, I'm getting more and more intrigued about this, what's going on in HBS.

So I decide I really want to focus on that more. And so I ended up leaving and I left on really good terms. I'm still actually in touch with many of the people from then. And I, and again, I have to stress, a fabulous environment it was. So, it was my choice to, to leave at that point, because I knew I wanted to get more involved in this other piece.

So, they wrote a case study about me. So there's a Harvard Business School case study called Carol Fishman Cohen, Professional Career Reentry. They had to interview the Bain people from it, for it. They interviewed, of course me and my, like, It was the whole thing. I was the protagonist.So anyway, so that was kind of what happened in the transition.

And then I decided I'm going to write my own story. So I wrote what would probably be like a Boston Globe, they used to have the Boston Globe magazine, cover story. So I showed it to a couple of professors there and they said we think this might be a better book, and so do you want to talk to maybe some of the people at the HBS press about this?

And so I said sure. You know, and then I thought I wonder whatever happened to Vivian and the book she was writing. So we got back in touch. She had taken a seven year career break, has, she has five kids, and then she got into executive search at the same time that she was starting to write the book.

And she said, I said, what's going on with the book? And she said, I put on the back burner because my executive search businesses has become, has made me really busy. And so we talked about it and we didn't even, had never met. And we decided, maybe we should co author a book together on this topic and bring all of our experiences together.

So, we ended up that, there were two agents. We had two friends who had three friends who had published books. Two of their agents want to represent us. They did that, we got an agent. They pitched it. There was an auction for the book. We got paid in advance. It was this heady day of going around New York City, meeting with all these different publishers.

And, we got the book contract. And so that between 2004, 2004, 2005 is when we did a lot of the book research. And that's when a lot of these, a very few of these programs were starting at Lehman, at UBS and at Citi in conjunction with Tuck Dartmouth Business School. So I'll stop there and then, yeah.

Whitney Johnson: So you, again,I am, I'm fascinated by this process because you go and you're at Bain it sounds like from 2000, 2001.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It was 2001 to 2002. Okay.

Whitney Johnson: So 2001 to 2002. So then, this book that you published is in 2007. Yes. So there's a period there, yes, of, I don't want to call it a fallow period, but a period where you're exploring and you're thinking and you're curious and you're wondering and you're writing and you're interviewing.

You published that book in 2007 and when did you start iRelaunch the business?

Carol Fishman Cohen: So the business also started in 2007 and I should make it clear that it was never our intention to start a business. We were writing a book. We were having all these conversations, but with these new programs starting, like the Lehman program, it was called Encore, and Anne Erni, who was responsible for starting it is now the chief people officer at Audible and she and I, we've done full circle.

And, which she asked us, do you, could you, but we didn't have a company. She just said she knew us because of the book research. And she said, can you present in our program? They were starting to, it was basically a one day program, and they brought managers together with people relaunching.

They said, can you screen candidates? They want to pay us to do that. And then the people over at Tuck said, can you run focus groups for us? Can you present? And so we're like, okay. Gosh, you know, we're not doing anything. We have all this unsolicited requests. Maybe we should start a company.

And so that was reallythe origin of iRelaunch and it did start in the same year that the book was published. And put in the meantime, 2003 is when the heart of the HBS case came out about me, too.

Whitney Johnson: Got it. Okay. Yeah. Okay. So accidental entrepreneur wouldn't be quite it, although that's what came into my head.

Yeah. It's more of like you, you're discovering your way through this. People are finding your ideas intriguing. There's something happening in the zeitgeist and the ethos. And you, because of your experience are able to be a guide and in the vanguard of this movement.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, there wasn't anyone doing what we were doing. And we were very thorough. At the time we were focusing only on stay at home moms that was in the subtitle of our book. Now, we look at relaunching much more broadly. But we interviewed over a hundred women who had gone back to work after taking career breaks of various lengths And we interviewed academics and recruiters and people at companies and so we real we got really deep into it, and it was just starting to build. And so there was good timing there too. And you know, we had the firsthand experience. It wasn't, the book was not our relaunch. We had already actually done the full cycle of relaunching, which was pretty unusual because there were some other efforts that were starting that were either, the book was the relaunch or their company was a relaunch, but no one had been like us and actually had gone through every phase of their transition firsthand.

Whitney Johnson: Right, right. You were the practitioners and yeah. Okay, so one of the things I want to talk about what you do as a company in just a minute, but because before that, I'd love to hear as you're talking through your experience of relaunching, it was, sounds like by and large, a very positive experience.

You and I know that there has been, and I think it's lightening, a, quite a stigma around relaunchers, that, you failed to launch or you got lost along the way or you couldn't keep up. And so there's this burden attached to time away and people just, they don't know how to relaunch.

And so I'm wondering, what are one or two of the things that you, what does the reframe look like both for the person relaunching and for the organization that where you're saying, you know It does make sense for you to hire relaunchers. What does that look and sound like?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right? Well, I would argue that the stigma, it has significantly is definitely reduced now, it's still around, but reduced. Part of this is the reframing of the career break from something that was on your resume, that was why people tossed it, to now having these career reentry programs where for eligibility you have to have a career break. So there's a complete reframing of the career break.

There are things that have come up like LinkedIn created a category for profile building that is called career break and it has a drop down menu for re, and so we felt that was, you know, they're the arbiter of career profiling and career pathways, and they now it was like a validation that the career break experience is part of the career path.

So we've seen that happen. And then,we can get into this later, but, millennial surveys show that millennials are anticipating future career breaks in greater numbers than we had seen before. And then we should probably also get into the future and, the, what the byproduct of the hundred year life might mean for career breaks.

Whitney Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: But stepping, yeah, but stepping back, sowhat is the value proposition? Like why are employers interested? These programs started on Wall Street because, I argue, the companies are so old, they've gone through generation after generation of people moving up in the organization, and the women are leaving when, as people move up.

And the, as I mentioned, the first career re entry programs of any kind were in 2005, 2006, but the first returnship, which is a mid-career paid internship,mid-career version of a entry-level internship, we can talk about that later. That was started in 2008 by Goldman Sachs, and it was because there was a sense of urgency around, we don't have enough women in mid to senior level roles.

How are we going to find these women engaged? Let's connect with them on the other side of their career breaks and bring them in to mid career roles, poised and ready to move into senior roles. So that was really the first time that it was articulated that way. And the first wave of career reentry programs, until recently, 80%, 80 percent of them are return ship and 20 percent are a different type, and we can talk about that, and that's shifting to. The first wave was Wall Street financial services. The next wave was tech companies. And this current third wave is public sector. So I don't know if we'll have time to talk about that, but if you think about it, this is a very high caliber pool.

The returnships were created because there was risk, perceived risk attached to hiring someone who's coming off of a multi year career break. And the, that's why the returnship gave the hiring manager of the company an opportunity to have exposure to the person's work experience, actual work sample instead of, you know, a resume or a series of interviews.

So there was that.

Whitney Johnson: The frozen in time piece, right?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. So there was that part of it. But anyway,when you start, when they start to see who came in the door, they were kind of blown away by the caliber of the people. And so originally these programs were in the gender diversity arena, and we've seen them shift over time into, not in all cases, but in some cases, to the mainstream talent acquisition strategy.

And if you think about it, the reasons that people take career breaks, and they're broad. The biggest subgroup is women who take career breaks for child care reasons, but men do that also, and women and men take career breaks for a whole range of reasons, elder care, their own health issue, they're a trailing spouse or partner with someone with an overseas assignment, they're taking a career break after military service, they're military spouses, people are unretiring.

Now, the common thread here is that all of those reasons have nothing to do with work performance. They're an external factor and we say, people don't lose their ability to be high performers simply because they take a career break. And then the other conversation we're having with employers is the attributes of the relauncher.

Yeah. And tell us, and we have all sorts of stats on this because we run conferences and we collect a lot of data on people. They're educated. 98 percent of the people who attend our conferences have bachelor's degree or higher. They have great work experience. Eighty, over 80 percent of them have over five years of work experience.

Over 50 percent of them have over 10 years of work experience before taking their career breaks. So it's an educated experience group. They're in a relatively stable life stage. They have a mature perspective, they've worked before. So, I'm going to say we because I'm one of them. We've faced, work deadlines before we work with different personalities and multi generational teams.

None of that needs to be taught. And then we're, because we've, we're older, we've lived more life. We have a better sense, a more refined sense of where interests and skills are strongest and where we can add value. As opposed to, what should normally happen early in a career, you're exploring, you're relatively unformed, you know, you're still looking around and that's what you should be doing. But we find that when people are coming off of a career break, they've gone through a lot of reflection on, are they on the right career path to begin with, if they were, and lots of them aren't great, do they have to tweak that at all? But that is a refinement process that the employer benefits from at the end.

Whitney Johnson: I remember too, I'm thinking, you know, if you will not remember, but as I'm, as you're kind of ticking off these different reasons, why people take the career breaks, I mean, the experience that you have during that time, you know, if you're taking care of an aging parent, if you are rearing children, if you have moved to another place because you're a trailing spouse, if you are coming out of the military, there is a lot of experience, life skills that are happening in that process that I just, I think that, you know, so you not only have now the domain or subject matter expertise, but you also have, you have EQ that allows you to be very effective in the workplace.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I mean, for sure that life experience and also, because we haven't worked for a long time and we're so eager to get back, we're super excited to be at work. And that enthusiasm is injected into work teams, and managers really point that out. But what, just a comment on, especially if you've taken a career break for childcare reasons, people say, should I be flaunting my parenting skills?

You know, and we say no, because there are plenty of people who are parenting who've been working all the way through and,so,

Whitney Johnson: Interesting.

Carol Fishman Cohen: They may not be that impressed, you know you should be focusing more on what exactly you want to do and being very specific about that and then becoming that subject matter expert all over again in terms of the requirements.

But the other thing about this is that, that model, the returnship model has been around since 2008. Now there, you know, 80 percent of the companies until recently, I'm going to tell you about this shift, but,we're running returnships. There's lots of data out there. And we know that about 85 percent of the people who are in these programs convert, they get hired when the returnship is over.

So it's a very successful model. And now that we're seeing, um, programs been around a long enough, some of them are so young, we couldn't, we're starting to get retention numbers. And retention, and you can argue it's measured all different ways, and people only around for two years versus five years, and how does it compare to the general employee population? But, all that considered, the returnship rates are running between 70 percent and 90%, which the companies reporting those are saying that's higher than their average retention rates of people who did not take career breaks. So, you know, it's, we're seeing this bear out that the, the relauncher, as we call them, is an excellent employee.

Whitney Johnson: Yeah, it's actually an excellent low risk employee, you know.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Much lower risk than anyone. And so that's the other point that I said, it was 80, 20. The other 20 percent of programs are what we call direct hire programs where people, they're still career reentry programs, they have transitional support programming, they have mentoring, all the aspects of a returnship, but people are hired as an employee from day one. So we only started counting this a couple of years ago. We just counted again. We actually count, and 75 percent of the programs are return ship now and 25 percent are direct hire. So the shift we think is happening for two reasons.

One is companies that have been running their programs as return ships get these high conversion rates and they're thinking, it's not as risky as we thought. Let's just do away with the returnship, we don't have to track and conversion and all that and hire people right from the get go. And then there are other companies that look around and see what's going on with peers and they think, we're just going to go right out of the gate, at, as a direct hire.

Whitney Johnson: Very exciting. Okay, so I want to talk a little bit about the identity piece, because you mentioned that you work with organizations to help them structure relaunch programs, but you also work with individuals to help them relaunch. I'd love to hear a couple of, I'd love to hear about the identity piece.

How do you help them deal with, because you talked about this diminished sense of self.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes.

Whitney Johnson: And how do you help people navigate the whole identity piece around being out, being in? You talked about it for yourself. What do you do around that?

Carol Fishman Cohen: We have community. So we have a private Facebook, we have about 125, 000 people in our broad community in all different stages of returning after career breaks at different lengths.

Probably the most vibrant, active part of that community is a private Facebook group we run called the iRelaunch Return to Work Forum, which has about 13, 000 of that group in it. And that's where we're seeing a lot of interaction and people are very frank about what the issues are. And then they get peer interaction.

We, our coaches are involved, we are involved. So that I think that community support is really, really important. And then we give people tools. We have a whole online e-learning Roadmap to take people through 35 steps of how to relaunch your career. The success stories are really important. When, you know, people get very motivated by listening to our podcasts, the majority of which are people talking about how they relaunch their careers.

And we get into some pretty tough topics. We have a mini series on the prolonged career search and how people get into really dark places. And then what we, what is this moment? What, how did they get themselves out of that? And so I think all of this together, plus, we run the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference, which we've run 34 times since 2008.

So we're always bringing people together. We're bringing together with each other. We're bringing them together with employers and we're giving them lots of resources to support them. So that's, yeah.

Whitney Johnson: Okay. So I love, you started with community and then you've got all sorts of online, I know that you've got a course, three to five steps.

So here's my question, if people wanted to do, so we've talked about the employers, now let's talk about the individuals because we're talking about you know, companies don't disrupt, people do. So, what are a couple of those resources? You talked about an online course, where can people find that? And then what's one or two like really practical things that people could do today if they're thinking about relaunching?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Sure. So I just direct people to iRelaunch. com. We have a Job Board that is specifically relaunchers and we are searching that job board to work with employers to, who want to, they specifically want to hire people coming off of career break. So that's really important. Our conferences, they're online now, they're virtual, when it used to be at college campuses, but when COVID hit, we had to move to a virtual platform.

And because we became national overnight, it was better for anyone in the country who could attend and also any employer recruiting anywhere. So they can, we have our 35th conference coming up in May. And yeah, the Roadmap is actually five stages, 35 steps, and it's like, it's very, it's broken down into bite sized pieces that people can jump in at any point that's relevant for them.

Whitney Johnson: Okay, so what's step one, Carol?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, okay, so step one is you have to figure out what you want to do all over again. And you have to get really specific. So you have to, you're not just going back into finance. You're going into regulatory compliance, and so the more specific you can be, the better, and that is going to drive every other part of your relaunch, what you're going to study to become a subject matter expert again, what you're going to talk to people about in terms of what, how that translates as to what jobs you're looking at. And so it is also when you become a subject matter expert, I just want to add this, that it not only helps you with your knowledge, but it boosts your confidence. And especially for people worried about ageism, it gives you substantive topics and info and material to talk about with people in your industry.

And so they're going to be much more focused on the substance of what you're talking about, as opposed to your age or how long you've been out of the workforce. And I guess the other step you need to be thinking about is you have to reinvigorate your networks. And we know that people will say, you know, I've spent all this time researching companies online and applying, and I've, you know, not only have I been rejected a bunch of times, but half the time, I don't hear anything.

And that's just, you have to have that as part of your job search. But the really hard part is to go out and have conversations because it means you have to go public with your job search and tell people and risk that they will come back to you and check, and you have to say, I'm still looking. And that's okay.

And you have to just expect upfront, you're going to have many conversations that don't go anywhere, because you have to have the many conversations to yield the few that are going to lead to a job.

Whitney Johnson: Yeah. Well, and I actually want to refer people back to our conversation that we had with the Sally Helgeson about how women rise, because one of the, one of the challenges I know men have relaunched, my husband was a relauncher and we've talked about this and we're talking primarily.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I think about 85 percent are of the relauncher community, 85 percent are women. Yeah.

Whitney Johnson: One of the things that women really struggle with is that, you know, we'll build a network, but then we don't want to ask the network for help.

And then you'd say, well, but if your network is partly about doing good in the world, then why wouldn't you have those conversations? So I would actually refer people to go back and listen to that interview that we did with Sally Helgeson, because she talks about, the importance of being willing to tap into your network to ask for help.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. Yeah.

Whitney Johnson: So, okay. So,what's next for you and iRelaunch, it's been around for 15 years now, 16 years, 17 years, 17 years. What's next for you all? What do you want to have happen in the next few years?

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're always doing something different. We started as a conference company, then we added the consulting to work with the companies to create their programs, then we did training.

We have to train managers and recruiters who've never managed a relauncher or recruited one before, and we also do a lot of this customized onboarding programming for the relaunchers once they're in the program. And now we're getting more into search, because we have,

Whitney Johnson: Yes, yes! You should be in search.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We should have been in search, frankly. Yes. I was always hesitant to get into that part of the business because I'm not familiar with it, and I didn't know how we would do it. So then I brought in some people who are experts, and so now we're getting into that more, because. we have been told by our clients that we have the largest database of people who are eligible for their programs.

There are other ones that are much bigger, but everyone's either working or they're looking for gig work. Our database, people are on career break and they want to return to 94 percent of them want to return to a full time job. And 99 percent of these career reentry programs are for full time. So, that's where we're going, and we think that, as I mentioned, with these, the 100 year life, 60 year career, that more and more employers are going to need to have these programs.

And so, we're looking to a future where career breaks will be more common, and career break, career re entry programs will be a competitive advantage.

Whitney Johnson: Right. So you're going to relaunch and off ramp and relaunch, several cycles of relaunching potentially.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly.

Whitney Johnson: Any final thoughts? Putting a bow on this conversation. We'll bring it in for now, as we bring it in for a landing.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah.I want to encourage the relaunchers who are listening to move forward, be part of a community. Don't do this by yourself. And follow through on some of the strategies that we talked about and try not to get overwhelmed by this big question of how I'm going to get back to work.

We break it into components and that's, but don't be afraid to start. And then, for the employers. I,I want them to focus on not only your exit interviews, because I want employers to think about their own alumni, their own regrettable losses, who have left over the last five or 10 years. And how can you bring them back through your career reentry program?

Because career reentry programs are for alumni, and for people who have previously not been associated with it, with the employer. So I want employers to, to focus on that. And I guess the last thing is we're seeing a lot of activity now in the public sector. We work with the first state, Utah, State of Utah, first returnship program, we're talking to cities. And now we're, the federal government is in conversations about using returnships for its own employment.

So we're moving into that very, very exciting.

Whitney Johnson: Wow. Okay. So I just want to do one final reflection before we wrap is just, I'm thinking, you know, you and I first met right around the time that you were starting your business, maybe 2008. And it's just really fun to step back and think about you went from this, idea and very discovery driven to creating something quite magnificent and exciting.

And I just, you know, sometimes you have to just step back and be like, wow, look at what you, you did.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Well, thank you. And Whitney, same, I've watched you evolve and grow. And then the whole part where your husband relaunched his career and you wrote about that in HBR. And we had conversations about that and I watched you evolve and grow to the prominence where you are now. And,and also thank you for your support. You've been a mentor and an advisor and, I'm indebted to you for that.

Whitney Johnson: Well, and you know what, we'll put that HBR article in the show notes for my husband, cause we've talked about you and them. So, all right, Carol. Wonderful. Thank you so much. And, yeah, just thank you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: All right, thanks Whitney.

Coming back can feel like starting over. It can feel like the tragedy Sisyphus, getting ready to push that boulder up the hill again. But what I learned from Carol is that it's not starting over and there are people to remind you of that when you forget. I can't imagine finding out in the middle of maternity leave that your employer has gone belly up.

But given the recent mass layoffs, especially in the tech sector, more and more people are waking up to the trauma of a phone call, or worse, an email, telling them they're not needed anymore. Which makes Carol's work that much more important and timely. She's building that community that she's found in bits and pieces at reunions and company parties.

Carol was fortunate enough to have a strong circle that reminded her she wasn't starting from zero. And now she's making sure others know that they have that circle of support too. For more on reinventing your organization to consider the value of returnships, there's episode 138 with Dave Ulrich. We mentioned my talk with Sally Helgeson on how women can harness the language of achievement.

That's episode 229. And if you're looking for another powerful story of self reinvention, I'd recommend you check out episode 343 with Jamesy Dixon. Thank you again to Carol Fishman Cohen, and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today's show, hit subscribe so you don't miss a single episode. Thank you to our producer, Alexander Chirk, production assistant, Etta King, and production coordinator, Nicole Pellegrino.

I'm Whitney Johnson, and this has been Disrupt Yourself.

We hope you have enjoyed this episode, and thanks for listening to 321 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, Whitney Johnson.

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 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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