Nancy Turner Jung worked in business development for Hewlett Packard for almost 20 years before taking a break to spend quality time with and help care for her ailing mother. After five years, she realized that she missed the mental stimulation of her career, and decided to return to work. After spotting a returnship at Quizlet relevant to her skills, she jumped on the opportunity. She talks about her returnship experience, the existing skills she brought into her role, and ways she helped improve her team’s approach to partnerships.
What type of work did you do before taking a break?
I worked on strategic alliances for Hewlett-Packard (HP) for about 20 years, which included managing our relationships with different types of partners, particularly security partners.
Tell me a bit about your career break. What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I took a break of five years because my mom wasn’t doing so well. When my dad passed, I regretted that I wasn’t able to really be there for him, and I didn’t want to do the same with my mom. My sister was their primary caregiver, and I also felt it wasn’t fair to put all the responsibility on her.
What prompted you to return to work? How long were you actively looking for work prior to applying for a returnship?
After my mom passed, I wanted to go back to work because I had invested so much in my education, had so much experience, and I just wasn’t ready to be done working. I tried being a stay-at-home parent, and did a lot of volunteering – which I have always done, even while working – but I wanted even more intellectual stimulation.
I job-searched for a year before I found Path Forward. From there, it took about three or four months from hearing about the organization, to attending a Career Restart Seminar, to applying and being accepted into a returnship at Quizlet.
Prior to that, I had several on-site interviews for full time jobs but it was getting very frustrating, because I never actually got an offer, for various reasons. There were a few contract positions I came close to getting, only to be told that I had too much experience and wouldn’t be interested in the work. I was like, “let me be the judge of that!” Other times it was difficult to even get my foot in the door because of my long resume gap. Path Forward was a god-send for taking that out of the equation, because everyone knows you have that gap going in.
What was your returnship role at Quizlet?
My role at Quizlet was in business development for a partner program that they had just started. Quizlet had always had user-generated content on their site, and also wanted to work with publishers and more professional content creators. They had a small team working on that, and brought me on to help get more partners on board. When I was converted into a full-time position, it was in the same role. I’m now a business development manager and continue working on getting us new partnerships.
Are there any skills from your pre-break career that you use in your new role?
Pretty much all of my previous skills were useful. My experience building alliances – selecting partners, negotiating with them, managing them after signing – were all applicable to my role at Quizlet, which has been great. Many of the returnships being offered during my cohort were technology-oriented in nature, so I really jumped at this role when I saw it was available.
You mentioned volunteering, both before and during your break. How did that experience translate into your current position?
I have been volunteering with schools for ages, doing typical in-classroom activities with kids, as well as fundraising and marketing support for educational foundations. That helped me in many ways. For one, Quizlet is very focused on education, so they recognized that I would be a great cultural fit. My work with foundations showed them that, even though I was out of the workforce, I was still practicing skills like raising money, working with donors, writing copy and sending emails strategically, all of which are important from a business development perspective.
What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program at Quizlet?
The main thing was just helping me get my foot in the door. A returnship takes that whole career gap out of the equation. I think several strikes were held against me during my job search – I had a career break, I was older, and I had been at HP for so long. I was actually surprised when several recruiters told me that this last factor was being held against me. I think many people these days hop around from job to job, so staying at one company for so long is seen as strange. But HP is such a big company that I was able to move around and hold several different roles, and felt like I was always learning something new.
Overall, I faced a lot of rejection in my search, so it was really nice to come into the Path Forward program and know I had a better chance of being successful.
What was the experience of returning to work at Quizlet like?
I love Quizlet. It’s a great company, and I’m glad that they’ve returned for the next Path Forward cohort. There’s a big culture of learning here. They want people to come onboard who care about students and want to help our users succeed. And that’s something I’m passionate about as well – all the volunteering I’ve done in the past several decades was education-related.
Everyone here was really welcoming, and treated me as a member of the team from day one. I was on-boarded just like everyone else, and I think people would even forget that I was a returnee.
Did anything surprise you about your return to work?
This might be a difference between working at an older company versus a start-up, but it was interesting to me was that everything was online. I’m used to having a personal hard drive with all of my documents, and a desk drawer full of hard copies. Around here, no one prints anything out, and all of our documents are on the Cloud, so almost anything you create, everyone can see. I like that this makes things more open and transparent, but it took some getting used to.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I put more structure around regular interaction with some of our largest partners. I created a quarterly review process to ensure we were continuing to explore additional partnerships with existing customers. I also worked to plan and execute joint marketing plans, including publishing customer success stories.
What advice would you give to future returnees?
Don’t get discouraged. Even if you see a role that isn’t a one hundred percent match for your skills, apply anyway. It might be a great learning experience, or there might be other opportunities at that company. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to meet with as many people at the company as you can. I had a lot of networking meetings with different managers and leaders, peers and colleagues, to get their sense of the company and what other types of roles exist. During my returnship, when I wasn’t sure yet whether I would get a full-time offer, I was just happy to be there for the experience. I had an attitude of, “if this works out, that’s great, but if not, I don’t view this as a waste of time. I’m getting experience that I can leverage later.” Look at the returnship as a learning experience, go in with an open mind, and don’t worry if it’s not the same as what you’re used to.
Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. – The Path Forward Team