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Carmen’s Story: Returning to investment banking at Morgan Stanley

Career Returners 400 x 400

Carmen, Macro-Economist: Morgan Stanley Return to Work Programme 

This Q&A was put together for our site and includes content from a recent (8/4/15) Woman’s Hour feature on returnships.

What were you doing prior to the ‘returnship’?

  • I was an economist in a research department at another bank. I have been working for nearly 15 years in the financial sector.

Why did you take time out of work?

  • For personal reasons. I decided to step down, luckily in 2007, before the crisis, to look after my family. I have three children. My youngest at the time was 5 years old, so I carried on working for quite a long time. I enjoyed my work, but the role was very demanding and required a great deal of travelling and a lot of my time, which meant I was away from my family for long periods. I felt I was missing an important part of my children’s development, so I decided to take a break.

Why did you take seven years out of work, even though the children were not babies at all?

  • You might find this puzzling, but I felt they needed more help when they were at primary school. I wanted to be there and closer to them in that phase of their life. In fact, I decided to return to work when my youngest went to secondary school. The children were more independent and I felt that I could let them go.

How much did you miss work?

  • A lot. I have always been very busy and very engaged during my time off work. When I stopped working initially, it was a shock. I had always worked and never been a ‘full time’ mother before, not that being a mother is ever ‘part-time’! It was difficult at the beginning, I had to find a new balance but I do not regret my decision.

How did you approach your return to work?

  • The biggest challenge was justifying the long-term career break. Indeed, I was discouraged by one head hunter I had approached. In addition, so much is done online these days that a 7 year ‘career break’ can be easily disregarded. So I completely wrote off the option of going back to the financial sector, because I would not have ‘ticked’ the right boxes.
  • Importantly, I think it is easy to assume people haven’t developed during their break, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to qualify the different learning experiences I had during my career break. For example, I became a governor at a local primary school, which I feel helped me to hone my negotiation skills and deal with occasional difficult situations.

Why did you choose to do a Return to Work programme?

  • A recruitment company told me about a Return to Work workshop hosted by Morgan Stanley via email in the spring of last year; following this I applied for a place on the 12-week programme later in the year. The workshop was really a confidence booster, because it helped participants with tips to write CVs, to face interviews, and to hear from women who had taken a career break and faced their own challenges upon their return. Importantly, what stood out for me was the interest by Morgan Stanley to hear about what I had been doing during my break; they really understood the importance of the different experiences I’d gained.

How did it go?

  • It went very well. It was hard work but I was also lucky to have a deliverable project to work on and to find supportive managers who recognised the possibility to combine my skills with a report in the sustainable investment field that I feel passionate about. Now I am in a permanent senior role at the Firm and enjoying my work very much.

Was the programme a success?

  • Yes, so much so that the pilot programme in London last year is now an annual initiative, with the 2015 London programme starting again in September. Our 2015 programme in NY has begun already. Of 19 participants who took part in London in 2014, 13 were offered permanent jobs in mostly senior roles. That’s around 70%.

Was it very competitive?

  • It did not feel that way. The experience was a real test of whether we were ready to go back to work, also in terms of work life balance. The company was very supportive. We had regular meetings with senior management and, as we were scattered around different areas of the firm, we could leverage off each other’s experience and get to know Morgan Stanley better.

Would you advice other people to join the Return to Work Programme?

  • It was an amazing experience for me and a real bridge to return into the financial sector, which otherwise would have proved a challenge. I enjoyed being back at work. I worked hard but I was also very lucky because I worked on a specific project, a publication, therefore, as I said before, I had a ‘deliverable’ to work on. Some departments lend themselves better than others to the return to work programme, and it is also important that management embraces the programme as well. I was very lucky to find managers who were extremely supportive and guided me throughout the process.

Carmen’s Return to Work Programme ended with a publication on Sustainable Economics, titled ‘The Bitter Aftertaste of Sugar’, which addresses the implications on long-term economic growth of the rise in sugar consumption via its impact on health.