Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

What is a Returnship? (Hint: Something You Probably Want to Check Out if You're Returning to the Workforce)

Photo of woman in meeting
Hero Images/Getty Images

If you’ve been out of the traditional workforce for a few years—maybe you spent a few years at home with your kids, served in the military, or took time off while finding your path—you might feel a little shaky on your feet.

You’d probably welcome a way to sharpen up your skills, get some recent experience on your resume, and revive your network. Kind of like an internship—but without ending up back at the bottom of the totem pole.

Turns out, that’s a thing.

It’s called a returnship, and it’s essentially an internship that helps adults who have taken time away from their careers and are interested in re-entering the workforce. It usually lasts a few weeks to a few months, typically offers payment that’s commensurate with an individual’s level of experience, and provides extra training and mentorship, helping folks reacquaint themselves with the culture and pace of today’s work environment and improve skills that may have become rusty.

Today, there are more than 160 companies worldwide investing in such programs after recognizing that not everyone has a traditional career path. “There’s actually a very large population of people out there who are interested in returning to the workforce, but don’t know how to go about it,” explains Diane Borhani, Talent Director at Deloitte LLP and leader of Deloitte’s “Encore Program,” the organization’s new returnship offering. “So it’s an untapped pool of talent of qualified, diverse people who, with the right programs and approach, could definitely supplement the talent pool.”

Interested? We chatted with Sylvia Taylor, a senior consultant in the Advisory practice of Deloitte & Touche LLP, who participated in the Encore Program after taking time off to be a full-time parent while her husband was on active duty in the Navy, to learn more about the benefits a program like this can provide anyone returning to the workforce.

You’ll Learn the Latest Skills

Especially in today’s technology-driven world, things in the workplace can change fast. That’s why, as Borhani explains, people who have been away for a while can be “a little shocked about what’s expected from them, as far as their technical skills and using certain technologies in the workforce.” For instance, if you haven’t been working for several years, you may not know how to use the social media platforms or the new coding language you need to do your job. You may not even be sure how to use your office’s newest chat system to collaborate with your colleagues.

That’s why returnships tend to focus on identifying skills that may need sharpening and helping people improve them. “I received some initial soft skills training at Deloitte University and then it was on to real-world, on-the-job training, facing clients,” says Taylor. “It’s similar to an 11-week bootcamp to get your skills refined and your brain in shape again. You won’t get an immersion of experience and information in such a short period of time anywhere else.”

And it’s not just about improving on tactical skills—it’s often just as much about understanding cultural changes in your office or industry. “It was a great opportunity to continue to get up to speed on the marketplace and regulations that have taken place since I left the workforce,” adds Taylor.

You’ll Explore Your Options

When returning to the workplace, you may see a clear path into a role similar to the one you left—but for many the next step is foggier. Maybe the job you were doing doesn’t really exist anymore, or maybe you didn’t like it very much in the first place and want to explore other options.

Taylor joined the returnship program as a Senior Consultant in the IT audit area—even though she had worked at Deloitte in a different position before her time away. She loved that through the Encore Program she got to find her place in a different and in-demand industry. “I got to rotate on different clients to see if the fit was right both ways,” explains Taylor. “It was an incredible learning experience with maximum exposure to multiple industries.”

If, unlike Taylor, you haven’t worked for the organization in the past, a returnship will also give you a chance to see if it’s a good fit before you dive in too deep. “The goal [of the Encore Program] is definitely to provide them exposure to our culture and our environment,” shares Borhani.

You’ll Deepen Your Network

These programs also give those involved an instant support group—people like Taylor can turn to others in their “class” to ask questions, get advice and know that they’re not alone as they dip their toes back into the working world. Since there were eight others who were doing the returnship with her, Taylor had a built-in network of people who were at her level and were also playing catch up. There is a learning curve that comes with any new job, but it’s easier to overcome it when you’re part of a team.

Being assigned a mentor is also quite common with returnships. You're paired with an employee, usually someone older and more experienced who has worked for the company for a while and can teach you all the ins and outs. At Deloitte, all personnel have access to mentors, but those who do the returnship program are provided with even more involved mentoring.

You Might Get Hired

As with internships, there isn’t often a guarantee that a returnship will lead to a job at that particular company, but it certainly increases the odds.

When Deloitte launched its first paid returnship program in the U.S. in 2015, its goal was to hire at least 50% of the nine participants—and the company exceeded that goal by hiring eight of them.

Even if you don’t end up taking a job at the end, a returnship will certainly give you some new experience to freshen up your resume, some confidence to talk about your expertise in interviews, and some references to help you achieve your next step.

If all of this sounds intriguing, we’ve got good news: Since its 2015 returnship program was a hit, Deloitte is bringing the program back this fall with 18 to 20 people this time—a number it plans to continue growing as long as the program remains successful. The program will run for 11 weeks from September through December in the organization’s consulting department and will be available in locations all over the country.

You can also find an ever-evolving list of returnships at or even contact the human resources departments of employers you’re interested in to ask about similar programs. The company might call the program something slightly different (such as a “re-entry” or a “return-to-work” program)—or, thanks to you, it might just be inspired to start one.