One of the things that makes a returnship program a great way to restart your career is the support you get during your transition – from your company, from Path Forward and from your cohort – a group of fellow returners who are on the same journey that you are. We talked about the experience with six returners who completed returnships at VMware at the same time. This cohort – Denise, Nishma, Zoya, Bindu, Shweta and Jossie – all came back to the workforce after career breaks of four to six years and each has a unique story to tell. They had a lot to share about their return to work experiences, the ways VMware and Path Forward helped their transition, and how being part of a close-knit group helped them on their journey.
Here are a few highlights:
Denise on how VMware returnship experience made her feel right at home: It felt like VMware was rolling out the red carpet for us. They treated us like the experienced professionals we were from the beginning and provided an amazing experience for returning to work.
Zoya on the support she received from VMware:
I was assigned a technical mentor, who helped me with everything work-related, and we had a daily meeting for the first two weeks, to check in and offer guidance as I was getting set up and oriented. I also had a community mentor, who got me up to speed on the workplace, what groups I should join, and where I could find all the information I needed. Overall, I’ve been having a great journey at VMware, and the support I received is a big part of that.
Nishma on how being a part of a cohort gave her strength:
The cohort felt like a big support group. Everyone was there to encourage each other and share their experiences. Since we all began at the same time, even though we were on different teams, we found a lot of common ground in being returners. We met frequently to share any challenges we were facing, and the achievements we were most proud of. We even started our own Slack channel, to be able to reach out to one another at any time.
Jossie on how she adjusted to returning to work remotely:
Fortunately, VMware is a company that has already dealt with remote employees, which helped the experience go a lot smoother. We had a lot of communication over Slack, and that allowed us to go back and reread chat histories if we forgot anything. The hardest part was adjusting to being back in the professional setting, while working from home. I had to set up a routine where I got ready early in the morning as if I were going into the office. That really helped me focus at the start of my day.
Bindu on the support she received through Path Forward:
The Path Forward team went out of their way to reach out to us and treat us like real people with real stories, not just boxes to check. They really respected us on a deeper level, and I think that made the workshops much more enriching experiences for all of us.
Shweta on her advice she gives to anyone thinking about applying to VMware:
You are as good as any other candidate out there, all you need is to trust yourself. It’s a journey you will be glad you went on, with Path Forward and VMware there to help you in every way they can.
Inspired to hear more? Enjoy the full round-table interview.
What prompted you to return to work, and at VMware in particular?
Denise (Senior Technical Program Manager): I was out of the workforce for 4 years before I considered a return to work. After a handful of resumes got no response, I decided to use the COVID-19 lockdown window to update my technical certifications, and open the door to job searching in the fall of 2020. In the meantime, I looked into the Path Forward program and it seemed like a fabulous fit for me. I attended a Path Forward employer roundtable session and afterwards, multiple recruiters reached out to me with various opportunities. VMware was the easy choice. Not only was I impressed with their products and commitment to security, but their focus on innovation and people was a clear stand out!
Nishma (Software Engineer): I was out of the workforce for about four years, although I originally planned to be out for two. When I started my job search, it quickly became overwhelming. I was not getting any calls back from employers or recruiters. Then, I found out about Path Forward and thought a returnship could be a great opportunity for me. I attended a Path Forward webinar with a recruiter roundtable with VMware. I knew VMware was a great company with a great workplace culture, but it really impressed me that they were doing this program with Path Forward. At the webinar, the recruiters provided so much information that made me excited to apply. It felt like the recruiters were really reaching out to us and telling us to go for it even if we didn’t feel we perfectly fit the roles, which inspired me to apply.
Zoya (Member of the technical staff, VMware Horizon): I also had a career break of a little over four years. After my break, I was actively looking for work for almost a year. I had the same experience as Denise and Nishma – I was sending out my resume, but barely getting any calls. I had been on the Path Forward mailing list for a year, and when they announced roles at VMware, there was one role that completely matched my skill set, and which I got a call for almost immediately. Starting from there, the entire application process was so quick and clear-cut.
Bindu (Member of technical staff, Workspace One Intelligence): Prior to my returnship I was on a career break of four and a half years. I had been looking for work after moving to the USA from India, but not having too much luck. Then, some personal health issues halted my job search for a while. I was disappointed, because I had no plans to take a career break. I started painting, and was even thinking about stepping away from my technical career to go to art school, when I learned about the Path Forward program. It seemed like a perfect opportunity. I decided to take a chance and apply to several returnships, including at VMware. This was in the middle of the pandemic, but VMware was still actively hiring, and I got accepted into a returnship within two weeks.
Jossie (Software Developer): I was out of the workforce for six and a half years before joining the company. I started looking to re-enter the workforce after 5 years at home, and it became immediately obvious that it would be hard to find anything. I looked for internships, or very junior-level jobs, but had no luck. I heard of Path Forward at a seminar in Denver, and decided to sign up, but didn’t think anything would really come from it, until it did!
Shweta (Member of Technical Staff, WS1 Mobile Apps Analytics R&D): I was out of the workforce for about 4 years before I started looking for opportunities around Feb 2020. I had lost count of the number of positions I applied for with no callbacks from recruiters. I heard about Path Forward and the returnship program in VMware from a friend of mine who has been with VMware for almost a decade now and he and a few other former colleagues had nothing but good things to share about VMware and that motivated me to try out for this position.
How did your manager, teammates and other colleagues at VMware support you in your returnship?
Denise: Both my manager and assigned mentor had a structured onboarding plan prepared, and established 1:1 meetings from the start. Their insights into the organization, combined with wisdom on transitions created both needed grounding and served as a successful launchpad. They consistently went out of their way to make themselves available. It felt like VMware was rolling out the red carpet for us. They treated us like the experienced professionals we were from the beginning and provided an amazing experience for returning to work.
Jossie: I had a great team of colleagues supporting me, and my questions were always welcomed. At the beginning I felt self-conscious about asking, but I did anyway, because my job was to come up to speed as fast as possible and asking questions was one way to get there.
Zoya: I was assigned a technical mentor, who helped me with everything work-related, and we had a daily meeting for the first two weeks, to check in and offer guidance as I was getting set up and oriented. I also had a community mentor, who got me up to speed on the workplace, what groups I should join, and where I could find all the information I needed. Overall, I’ve been having a great journey at VMware, and the support I received is a big part of that.
Shweta: My technical mentor was very supportive, and my community mentor helped me to connect with people from various other teams. It was such a pleasure to have their support.
Can you share what it was like to return to work at VMware with others doing the same thing? What did the cohort experience mean to you? How did you help each other?
Zoya: I still remember my first day, how overwhelming it was and how apprehensive I was, and second guessing whether I was making the right decision. And then, when meeting the cohort, everyone started talking about what they were feeling, and I realized my fears were the same as theirs. And we slowly overcame that together.
Bindu: Going through my returnship with a cohort was so invaluable to me. It’s been great to learn and grow in my new role alongside a group of people who understand what I’m going through. I always looked forward to our meetings, because it was a chance to not just share advice but to socialize and get to know one another, which was especially important, since we were working remotely during the returnship.
Nishma: The cohort felt like a big support group. Everyone was there to encourage each other and share their experiences. Since we all began at the same time, even though we were on different teams, we found a lot of common ground in being returners. We met frequently to share any challenges we were facing, and the achievements we were most proud of. We even started our own Slack channel, to be able to reach out to one another at any time.
Denise: I so appreciated having a team of fellow returnees to address the awkward questions and get the needed reality check on what is normal. Having a group of people walking that same path, willing to be transparent, desiring the best for one another, and courageous enough to speak into each other’s challenge was a wonderful gift – a special opportunity that I’m so very thankful for. I don’t believe any of us would have had that experience if we were not willing to put ourselves out there, to be real, and to truly care about making a difference and helping one another.
Shweta: I knew returning to work was not going to be easy, and there were times when I would doubt myself. The cohort really helped me get up and be stronger than before every time I felt I was going to fall. The support and courage they gave was invaluable.
Can you describe what the experience of returning to work remotely at VMware has been like?
Jossie: Fortunately, VMware is a company that has already dealt with remote employees, which helped the experience go a lot smoother. We had a lot of communication over Slack, and that allowed us to go back and reread chat histories if we forgot anything. The hardest part was adjusting to being back in the professional setting, while working from home. I had to set up a routine where I got ready early in the morning as if I were going into the office. That really helped me focus at the start of my day.
Nishma: VMware set up training and guest speakers, and we got several chances to come together as a group. We were even given special opportunities to meet with senior leadership. We had mentors to help guide us through the program. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, and I’m super grateful that I was hired by an amazing manager and got to work with an awesome team.
Bindu: As somebody who did not have prior experience working in the US, I did not know what to expect from the work culture. In the past, going into a physical work environment was what energized me and helped me get closer with my coworkers. However, I’ve adapted to working remotely and found ways to make connections with my team. For instance, I’m coming to appreciate Slack as a powerful way to create a remote work environment!
Can you share what you enjoyed about the workshops that Path Forward provided?
Zoya: One thing I really appreciate is that you make these return to work opportunities possible, and give us an opportunity to connect directly with employers in a really simple and streamlined process. But what really stands out about Path Forward is that you didn’t just help us get our returnships — you were there for us throughout the program and beyond, offering support.
Bindu: What made these workshops so honest and transparent was that the Path Forward team went out of their way to reach out to us and treat us like real people with real stories, not just boxes to check. They really respected us on a deeper level, and I think that made the workshops much more enriching experiences for all of us.
Nishma: What I found helpful was that Path Forward gave advice on what we should expect at every step of our returnship, and what we should be directing our focus on if we wanted to succeed. It made me feel like they were our partners throughout this entire process, which really helped with the transition back to work.
Denise: The timing of the workshops was perfect. During the first workshop, we had just started and everything was so new, so to have a place where we could bond and talk about what we were going through really helped. The quality of the Path Forward materials complimented the VMware HIVE training sessions offered through the ASCENT mentor programs perfectly, and the workshops provided the venue to process the materials and our experiences. I also enjoyed hearing the experiences of Path Forward alumni at VMware and other companies. Their honest and transparent reflections motivated our group and created opportunities to connect with one another. Overall, it was a fabulous experience.
What aspects of VMware’s culture do you appreciate the most?
Nishma: People are really supportive of your adventures here at VMware. In a very short time, I have come to appreciate their [EPIC2] core values. This is an amazing company, with world class products, and an industry leader. They treat their employees as their most valuable assets and the workforce is the most diverse that I’ve seen anywhere. I learned so much in such a short period of time.
Bindu: I love the culture at VMware. They put an emphasis on the overall well-being of their employees, there is room for achieving professional aspirations, and we are encouraged to have achievable goals, not merely as an exercise to fill checkboxes for the year but to be aware of the direction we might want to take so that we find meaning in our careers.
Denise: I really appreciate the people, the innovative mindset, the culture of people first – both customers and peers.
Now that you’re full-time employees at VMware and have had a chance to reflect on the returnship experience, what advice would you give to those thinking about applying but are worried they won’t be successful?
Bindu: I cannot think of a reason not to apply. What’s the worst thing that can happen? If you’re worried that you don’t have the exact right skill set – none of us did. The good news is that you will have the skills you need at the end of the returnship program. If you feel you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities – join the club! A returnship will build your confidence back up, brick by brick. And Path Forward will help you with this – lovingly.
Jossie: It’s understandable to be worried and afraid since you’ve been out of the workforce for some time. However, you will find that you have what it takes and you will surprise yourself. It might take a couple of months to get adjusted and feel comfortable, but at the beginning you can focus on things where you can make an impact right away. Perhaps you have great organizational skills or you can fill in the gaps on assignments. Those are things that you can do fairly quickly in the beginning, by asking lots of questions and offering new perspectives and ideas. It will all come back to you slowly, and that’s the point of this returnship. Be patient with yourself and the process.
Denise: I say, give it a try! Path Forward’s returnship program offers a rare opportunity with built in success criteria. They deepen the impact of the professional development materials by applying the content through a support team model. Not only are you given a forum in which to ask for guidance, but you also have a team applying the same learnings and providing real time feedback. I’ve never experienced anything like this returnship giving both the employer and returnee the chance for a trial run to confirm a match. It is a win-win.
Nishma: Just go for it! Taking the first step is half the battle won. There are many people who have a fear about going back to work. I was one of them – but Path Forward’s returnship program encouraged me to take that first step. You start slowly and gradually you find your standing in the workforce.
Shweta: You are as good as any other candidate out there, all we need is to trust yourself. It’s a journey you will be glad you went on, with Path Forward and VMware there to help you in every way they can.
Thanks for sharing your stories! We are so happy you’ve all found success and balance in your career.
– The Path Forward Team