Alicia Schober took an 18-year break from her career in corporate sales and marketing management to raise her sons. After an emotional start to her career search – on her wedding anniversary – she spent a year and a half exploring her interests, preparing for her career return, and searching for opportunities before being accepted into a returnship at Sage Intacct, where she was ultimately hired full-time as a Sales Program Manager, and has since been promoted to Sr. Sales Enablement Program Manager. Alicia tells us about her return to work journey, keeping her skills fresh during her career break, and the importance of saying “yes” to new opportunities.
How many years of experience did you have before you took a career break? What kind of work did you do?
I worked over ten years in the corporate world before taking a break to raise my teenage sons. I worked in sales and marketing. As a sales manager, I sold enterprise software to Fortune 500 companies and the legal industry. My last position before my break was at an internet startup, where I was the sales marketing manager, and I focused on field marketing and product marketing.
How long were you out of the workforce?
I was out for 18 years – which, looking back, I now realize is a long time, since some of my colleagues are 22!
And what type of work are you doing now?
I’m the Sales Program Manager at Sage Intacct. My primary responsibility is to drive sales campaigns, and collaborate between the sales and marketing departments. I also implement departmental process improvements.
How long were you actively looking for work before applying for a Path Forward return-to-work program? What was that experience like?
I started my return to work efforts by attending a workshop on April 24, 2017, which I remember because it was also my wedding anniversary. It was a very emotional experience. I was feeling scared about making such a big change in my life, and nervous about taking a step forward. At the beginning of the event, we introduced ourselves. It was a room full of women sharing why they took a pause, and the obstacles that they faced trying to return, and it overwhelmed me to be surrounded by women like me. Up to that point, it had been 18 years of managing my family and not really meeting other women who wanted to get back into the workforce.
Because it had been so long since I’d been in the corporate world, I had a lot to upskill on – I had to catch up on the latest technology, I had to learn how to market my unique brand, I had to discover today’s workplace norms, because things like dress code had changed in the last 18 years, and had to rewrite and modernize my resume and LinkedIn, and practice networking and interviewing.
The most important phase to me, however, was the discernment phase. That’s where you ask yourself: what do I want to do when I go back to work? I spent six months exploring what was most important to me about returning to work, and where my skills and experience would best fit in today’s world. A long portion of my return to work was spent in this self-discovery phase.
After hearing about Path Forward, I wasn’t ready to participate in the Spring 2018 program yet, but by July, when Path Forward held a Career Restart Seminar in Silicon Valley for the Fall Program, I was one hundred percent ready to return to work. I applied for a few positions and accepted a returnship as Sales Program Manager at Sage Intacct.
So, the journey from attending my first career restart event to my first day back at a job took almost seventeen months, and it was a transformative experience. When I first decided to restart my career, I made it my full-time job. I was very focused. I worked six days a week, for three to six hours a day, updating on my skills and applying to jobs.
What made you decide to return to work?
There was a strong feeling within me that I had more to give and that I could make a positive impact on the world that was greater than what I was able to do by being a caregiver and taking care of my home. There was a longing to go out and make a difference and use my skills to make a difference.
Are there any skills from your previous experience that you use in your new position?
What’s really crucial is understanding the whole sales life-cycle process. I have walked in the shoes of the sales people I work with, and I understand the job and its challenges, because I started in sales and worked there for a long time. It gives me a deeper level of understanding on how I can work with them. My background in marketing is crucial to effectively collaborate between sales and marketing, which I have to do. However, I would say what makes me a better employee after my break is my life experience in managing my household, raising two sons, and being an active civic volunteer. From those experiences I have learned valuable people skills, project management fundamentals, and I am a much wiser employee now than I was when I left the workforce.
What has been one of the more challenging parts of returning to work?
The first would be getting used to a fixed schedule – prior, I was my own boss, and got to decide what I needed to do in order to run the house for the day. My flexibility on managing my life is now more limited, and I have to find the balance between getting my work done and meet the priorities of caring for my family. Also, managing my energy output has been a challenge. I’ve really been energized by returning to work – it’s amazing. But I’m still trying to find the right mix between my output at work, making time for myself, being there for my family, and getting enough sleep.
What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work?
That I was recognized for the skills and the experience I bring to the table, and was given a job commensurate with my experience. While I was job searching, I was told that I might end up having to start over at an entry level position. But my manager at Sage Intacct recognized the value of my volunteer work and recognized the project management skills I could bring to the company, as well as my sales and marketing experience. It’s been gratifying to be validated for who you are and what you’ve done, and to be given an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do.
It’s great that your manager saw value in the volunteer work you did during your career break. What did that entail?
I did a lot of strategic volunteering in my community to help build my resume. I was selected as a first alternate Commissioner for the Cupertino City Council. I served on the PTA board of my local school district, where I led a 3-year project overhauling the safety-preparedness procedures of my local elementary school. I’ve also sat on the Board of Directors for my HOA, served as webmaster for my community’s website, and founded an emergency response committee. During my break, I very purposefully looked for opportunities to step forward and use my business skills in a volunteer capacity.
Did anything surprise you about your return to work experience?
What really surprised me was that my colleagues treated me like I belonged there, and welcomed me as an equal from the beginning. For the first few weeks I couldn’t believe I was back at work in a corporate office. I kept thinking, do they know how long I’ve been away? It’s been 18 years! It was great that they thought I fit in, and I just had to convince myself that I did.
When I restarted my career, I thought I had to know all the answers, or I wouldn’t get hired. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to talk the talk and walk the walk. I’m surprised at how much continuous learning there is at work, and am relieved to be in an environment where that’s encouraged and supported by my team.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
Proving to myself that I could still deliver in a corporate setting, building my confidence and self esteem, and during the returnship, I strove to do phenomenal work with the projects I was given, to prove what I could do. I got the opportunity to demonstrate that I was capable and committed to doing the work, and I was thrilled when Sage Intacct offered me a permanent position.
What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program at Sage Intacct?
In Silicon Valley, you get thrown right into the deep end when you go back to work. You have to figure things out on your own, be a self-starter, and take full advantage to highlight your skills. Work moved fast, but the three workshops that Path Forward put on during the returnship program were invaluable. It was fantastic to get to know my cohort of returnees and hear their stories of how their returnships were going. And have that community where I knew I wasn’t alone. Plus, Path Forward provided tools to manage and maximize our returnship experience, while allowing us to build a community of fellow returners. The support from Path Forward was key.
Do you keep in touch with any fellow returnees or use your cohort network?
I do – I’m actually having lunch next week with a fellow returnee at Sage Intacct to celebrate her being hired! It was very important to me that my fellow returnees and I had the chance to build our own community, because we were all having such a unique experience together.
What advice would you give to future returnees?
My advice is “have a bias to action” – say yes to an opportunity, then deal with the anxiety that comes with it afterwards. Take a deep breath, be confident, say yes, and take advantage of the project you’ve been given, or the chance to lead a meeting or meet people. My other piece of advice is to network, network, network, within your company. Take that opportunity in the first few months to meet everybody you can. Practice your elevator pitch. Keep up informational interviews. When I have lunch with someone in another department, I’m interviewing them, asking what their job is like, what their concerns are, how different departments work together, and it’s a chance to keep learning on the job. We talk a lot about ageism, but I’m finding age is in my favor at Sage Intacct. My peer group are at a more advanced level in their careers, and I am accepted more easily due to my age and my experience.
June 2019 Update: Alicia was hired full-time as a Sales Program Manager after completing her returnship, and has recently been promoted to Sales Enablement Program Manager. Her responsibilities have expanded to include interfacing with Sage Intacct’s entire sales organization, as well as its marketing, sales and business operations, and senior management. Congratulations, Alicia! You can learn more about Alicia on her LinkedIn page. – The Path Forward Team