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The Employer Perspective: Creative Strategies for Career Returner hiring

‘The programme gave us access to a talent pool that we wouldn’t otherwise have had access to and we were really impressed with the calibre of candidates’


Our recent Employer Event in November 2023 brought together 45 employers to hear from a panel of three employer partners who shared their insights on how they’ve successfully set up, adapted and embedded career returners hiring. Two of our three panellists shared how they started with one approach, and then successfully evolved this as business needs changed.


Sam Miller,  Head of Strategy & Delivery, Product and Technology, DC Thomson
Sam launched the DC Thomson Pathways Returnship Programme in 2022 and now leads the 2023 BAU (business as usual) rolling returner programme providing a rich recruitment pool for P&T technical and non-technical skills.

Sue Jenkins, Talent Partner, DAC Beachcroft LLP 
Sue was instrumental in DACB’s 2018 pilot programme as part of Women Returners legal cross-company programme with the Law Society, and then developed Reconnect, their 6-month returnship programme to welcome qualified legal professionals back to the law after a career break. This year DACB launched a new Reconnect ‘Return to Work Support’ Programme, providing job readiness support tailored for professionals returning to the law.

Caroline O’Reilly, HR Manager, Artemis Investment Management LLP.
As HR business partner, Caroline championed Artemis’s participation in the Diversity Project Cross-Company Returner Programme for the first time this year, successfully recruiting an Investment Analyst.

Employer Insights

What are the benefits of recruiting talent through a returner programme?

  • Access to a new and high quality talent pool. ‘The programme gave us access to a talent pool that we wouldn’t otherwise have had access to, and we were really impressed with the calibre of candidates’
  • Candidates with many years prior experience. ‘Many of the candidates we met had been doing the roles we were looking for 5+ years, so they had all the fundamental skills ….we could provide the training to help them get up to date’
  • A low-risk way to reach new talent. ‘Offering a 6 month returnship programme was a win for both our organisation and the returner – it was perceived as low risk for our business and a good opportunity for the returner to gain skills and experience’
  • A route to building a senior talent pipeline. ‘We found this to be good way of accessing talent that might be in a position to take on more senior roles in a shorter timeframe than other more junior hires’
  • A great approach to meeting DEI goals. ‘It helped us to increase diversity, and particularly gender diversity, across the workforce’

Why run a rolling returner programme?

  • Enables more participation across the business. ‘We decided to go to a rolling model this year to open it up to other roles within the wider organisation throughout the year.’
  • Allows for greater diversity – gender and ethnicity – and more choice. ‘We found real gems that you just wouldn’t find through an agency’.
  • Remote working has increased the talent pool available for normal BAU recruitment across the year. ‘As we can be remote now, ‘our pool has opened up tremendously’ as we can be based in one location and hire from another’

Why join a Cross Company programme?

  • Enabled our participation. ‘It enabled us as a relatively small company, without a huge number of roles to recruit for, to bring in a returner, without the time, resources and cost of running it ourselves in-house’. 
  • Ready-made infrastructure to tap into. ‘Women Returners provided the infrastructure from an employer and employee perspective – a framework with detailed instructions on what was needed by when, a dedicated webpage, a social media campaign, and the provision of online events where we could speak to prospective applicants’. 
  • A collaborative network of organisations in our sector. ‘It provided opportunities for us to learn from other participating firms in the sector about what worked and what didn’t work’. 
  • Continuing support throughout the programme. ‘The support continued when our returner joined us with manager briefing sessions which helped us to understand the psychology of what returners were going through’. 
  • A strong cross company returner network to ease your returners’ transition back to work. ‘Our returner found the coaching support that she received from the WR coaches really helpful, enabling her to plan practically and psychologically for her return. Through attending the coaching workshops, she formed a cohort with others who had similar experiences, so they drew strength from each other’

Panel’s Top Tips to make your returner programme a success

Gain buy-in from the business and hiring managers

  • Identify a small group of internal champions, including senior stakeholders. Get someone on the Exec to champion it
  • Help them to understand why and how a programme will work
  • Train hiring managers on what to expect so that they go in with realistic expectations and prepared to put in additional effort in to help their returner
  • Create a team of partners throughout the business including Communications/Marketing, HR Learning & Development to galvanise organisation wide support
  • Invite former returners to be your best ambassadors
  • Use a number of different communication channels, like teams, emails, face-to-face meetings, intranet, case studies, to keep the momentum going and spread the word
  • Arrange internal engagement events to inform and excite

 Keep the specifics of what you’re looking for open

  • Keep what you’re looking for intentionally open to increase the numbers of applicants
  • Interview all those that look appealing
  • Map the skills seen, including transferable skills, against the teams that are growing and potentially need new resource in the future
  • Invite returners to submit their CVs speculatively so that you have a bank of CVs to revisit when opportunities arise

Onboard well

  • Offer face-to-face sessions in the offices so that your returners meet and connect well with their teams
  • Introduce to any cohorts/returners from previous years
  • Provide briefing sessions to new returner line managers so that they know how to set their returners up for success.

Provide internal support

  • Offer coaching to returners to help them transition well
  • Establish an internal network and connect to return to work buddies and mentors
  • Connect the returners internally – create a returner Teams channel to enable networking and peer support

Further information

For Returner Programme terminology, please see

If you’d like to learn more about our consulting, advertising and coaching support to help you launch returner hiring, please contact Women Returners on