Whether planned or unplanned, life happens and sometimes it pauses career plans. When raising a family, caring for ailing loved ones, caring for themselves, or relocating to a new region or country, people can experience a pause in their careers. When these professionals are ready to pick up where they left off, many find the interviewing process difficult, and for those who do receive an offer for employment, the ramp back into their day-to-day can be even more challenging.
The COVID-19 pandemic further amplified the issue, especially for women. The U.S. has seen a net loss of 4.5 million jobs held by women since February 2020, with nearly 2 million women leaving the labor force altogether, according to a May 2021 report from the National Women's Law Center.
To address the increasing need to support those who have left the workforce, either because of the pandemic or other reasons, we are launching the Amazon Returnship program. The initiative offers a clear path to return to work for professionals who have been unemployed or underemployed for at least one year, helping them to restart their careers at Amazon.
Through this new program, we hire candidates for 16 weeks and provide a risk-free, supportive environment that eases the transition back to work. We offer coaching and mentoring that starts at the recruitment and interview process and continues every day of the program as participants work on a set project plan with clear goals. At the end of the Returnship, we extend offers for full-time roles to participants who excel and see a future at Amazon.
Amazon recently piloted a smaller Returnship program with over 30 participants completing the program in the U.S. across Operations Finance, Consumer Payments, Amazon Pay, and Search teams. With the launch of this new program, we plan to hire 1,000 returners with plans to expand the program to additional teams and geographies.
Preparation from the beginning of the recruiting process
“The average returner has been out of the workforce for six years. Fewer than 10% receive a job offer, and the probability of gaining employment decreases significantly at two years of unemployment,” said Alex Mooney, senior diversity talent acquisition program manager at Amazon. “With our new Returnship program, we’ve formed a dedicated team that recruits specifically for professionals who are restarting their careers, and in doing so, we remove the competition between them and gainfully employed applicants.”
Zeinab Yassin started during the pilot phase of the Amazon Returnship program. She had taken a three-year break from her professional career to take care of her kids. As an ambitious and career-driven person, Yassin never questioned whether she would re-enter the workforce, only how. When she learned of the Amazon Returnship program from a current participant on LinkedIn, she knew it was an opportunity to prove herself.
“Prior to finding this program, I was rejected more times than I can count. I was overlooked by recruiters. My knowledge and skills were compared to those of currently working candidates with current experiences in the field. It was like everything kept moving except for me, I stayed behind. I was told to start small and get experience, forgoing the experience I had accumulated over the years,” said Yassin.
Amazon recruiters help candidates refresh their interviewing skills and translate their competencies into Amazon’s leadership principles, while our hiring teams assess candidates based on their future potential rather than their current resume or skills.
Arathi Shankri took a two-year break from a full-time position as a computer science instructor to give more attention to her family. She was drawn to the Amazon Returnship program because of the cushion it would provide her in helping to transition back to the industry.
“From the time I applied to the time I got accepted, I was treated with a lot of respect and dignity that made me feel good about myself. I saw Amazon’s key leadership principles ‘Customer Obsession’ and ‘Ownership’ in action in every step of my interview process,” said Shankri.
Dedicated support from day 1
Once hired, each returner is paired with a dedicated mentor in addition to their manager and onboarding buddy. The mentor helps the returner work through their project plan and provides coaching and feedback to help the returner become familiar with Amazon’s culture.
For Alex Paz, a layoff in 2015, caring for his son through years of surgeries and recovery, a move to Nashville, and the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unexpected five-year hiatus from the workforce. The dedicated support from his Amazon team has made his transition back to work more comfortable.
“One of the most critical elements of the program has been the support I have been given. My manager selected my mentor and onboarding buddy, and it’s evident she gave it thorough thought. They have been exceptional in explaining processes, guiding me to resources, clarifying definitions, providing encouragement and overall support. Both have been instrumental in helping me keep the right perspective and always making sure I am meeting my deadlines and that I am planning ahead so I complete my tasks on time,” said Paz.
During the first 16 weeks, participants work remotely from their homes and are provided child and elder care assistance so they can ease back into the workforce without making any major life changes during their first step.
Carolina Steadham also stepped away from the workforce for seven years to take care of her family. When she was ready to return, she was looking for a company that offered flexibility. “I was attracted to Amazon’s culture and how the company invests in upskilling and mentoring for those who have taken time off to take care of their loved ones,” said Steadham.
Opportunity for a new career and a new start
At the end of the 16 weeks, those who excel and raise the hiring bar are eligible for an offer for full-time employment and relocation assistance to a hiring location. If hired full-time, employees receive a comprehensive benefits package, which includes health insurance from the first day on the job, a 401(k) plan with a company match, up to 20 weeks of paid leave for birthing parents, company subsidized skills training opportunities, and more.
“In the end, the greatest benefit of the Returnship program is that it offers more than just a job—it provides a fresh start and a new perspective,” said Mooney.
Stephen Lucas was diagnosed with late stage 4 kidney cancer in 2016 and was forced to temporarily retire to fight the disease. When he was ready to return to work, he found himself intimidated by how the business changed, how fast the world progressed, and how software and skill sets evolved.
“The Returnship program shows you that you are still the same person you were before your break. You are still smart, insightful, and belong at Amazon. Things have progressed, but so have you, just in a much different path than you thought,” said Lucas.