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Creating your own returnship

Returnships are a fantastic way of building confidence, skills and current experience in a short-term role before applying for more permanent positions. It’s a new concept in the UK so if it appeals, you may well have to get creative and develop your own. Here are some tips on how best to create your own.

1. Think about what you’re looking for

  • Are you looking to refresh skills and experience in an industry you previously worked in or to develop skills and experience in a new area?

2. Prepare

  • Do as much research as you can before you make any formal approaches. Speak to old colleagues or people working in the industry you are keen to enter, sign up for relevant e-newsletters and look at professional body websites or magazines.

3. Be clear on what you can offer

  • Remind yourself of your skills and achievements and update your CV.
  • Be realistic about the hours & days that you can be available and the length of project you will accept.
  • Can you afford to work free of charge? It is easier to gain opportunities if you aren’t a cost to the business. But if you are not charging for your time, you must be sure to clearly define the scope of the project to ensure it is valuable experience. You may be able to scale your offering – maybe begin with a couple of weeks of unpaid observation/shadowing, then offer to undertake a specific project review. If your proposal is well-received, you could negotiate to be paid to deliver it.

4. Identify your targets

  • Concentrate on using your network, including friends, family, other school parents, contacts from volunteer/community organisations and local businesses you deal with as well as old colleagues and clients (use LinkedIn and alumni groups to renew connections). Avoid ‘cold-call’ approaches.
  • Don’t just think about large companies. Smaller &/or local organisations may have more flexibility to accommodate an intern and to value more highly your professional skills and experience. You can also potentially make more impact.
  • Don’t rule out regular internships, particularly if you are looking to change career direction. Employers which use sites such as may be open to mid-career interns as well. Some charities such as Cancer Research offer (unpaid) internships which they state are also open to career changers.

5. Develop your pitch

  • Prepare your ‘pitch’. What are you asking for (a short-term consulting project, specific work experience)? What are you hoping to achieve? How could you benefit the organisation that you are contacting? Practise this with family and friends.

6. Be brave

  • Often the hardest part is the initial approach. Remember that you have little to lose and a lot to gain.

7. Check the details

  • If you get the go-ahead, be clear about the scope and timing of what you will be doing.
  • Make sure that any work you do will look meaningful on your CV, with a specific outcome that you can talk about at future interviews. Aim for work at a professional level, using your skills and experience.
  • Establish a ‘go-to’ person within the organisation with whom you can discuss your experience and ask for advice if you come up against unexpected challenges.

8. Create a good ending

  • At the end of the project, leave the door open for future opportunities or projects. Connect with everyone you worked with via LinkedIn.
  • Arrange a review with the person who managed you for feedback about what you did particularly well and gaps they saw in your skills. Develop an action plan for any additional work or learning you need to do before you start looking for permanent roles.

You can read a few real-life examples of how UK returners have successfully created their own internships on our website: Stephanie and Fiona.

We would be really interested to hear from you if you have experience of a returnship. Did it work well for you? Did it help you to find a permanent role? Maybe you work for an organisation that has hosted such a programme – was it valuable for the business? Please get in touch with your stories…

Guest Blog by Tamsin Crook from Making Careers Work