My top 4 takeaways from the return-to-work programme

Adjust your interview approach

When we were interviewing for the program we met some incredibly capable individuals. But while they had skills and experience we thought the business could benefit from, we didn’t always have defined existing role vacancies.

On the one hand, this presented a great opportunity to think big-picture and add roles to the business for which there is a clear need.

But it also presented a practical problem in an interview. You can’t approach it with the standard interview mindset of “here’s a role, let me try and understand if this person can fill it”.

This was a different conversation.

It was trying to understand the skills and areas of enthusiasm that the individuals had. We had to think creatively around how that could work.

It was certainly more challenging than the standard “fill a role” type conversation. A little more advance preparation was needed. But the extra effort was worth it as we’ve brought skills into the business that we needed.

Get clear on role, day 1 projects and reporting line

We were conscious that, given a 10-week program, we didn’t want to lose a week trying to get email/systems login and finding your way round the office.

We were also conscious of ensuring managers took a firm view on whether each candidate is a good fit for an ongoing role.

For those reasons we spent a while hammering out clear individual reporting lines. We specified week 1, and day 1 tasks, projects and meetings that the returnees could contribute to.

I’m really glad we did, but it would still have been valuable to spend even more time on that up front. That’s one thing I can see us focusing on even more next time.

Making flexible working work for the business

I’m a fan of flexible working, but I do believe it has to work for the business.

That means:

  • doing it in a way that doesn’t place a burden on other people to pick things up
  • doesn’t create inefficiency as others have to repeat work or spend time finding things when an individual is out of the office .

It’s been great seeing how our returnship candidates have made that work.

Each returner made sure that momentum was maintained over the day not in the office, loose ends were tied off and the following day wasn’t spent simply catching up on emails.

I think that’s one of the benefits of the 10-week program.

We’ve been able to assess whether flexible working “works”. Both from the business’ perspective, and from the perspective of the individual, who may be juggling family commitments etc.

What’s important is exploring the culture fit

To my mind, the main benefit of the program is an extended opportunity for both the firm and the candidate to gauge whether there is cultural “fit” in terms of the day-to-day style of working within (and between) internal teams. This is particularly important in situations where the role is new and not perfectly defined.

Let me expand.

One of the real pleasures of working at a firm like Redington is the freedom we have to solve problems and help clients in new ways, rather than being constrained by protocol. As well as the autonomy and responsibility that we’re each able to have.

On the “flip side”, this can mean an absence of structure and process (when compared to other firms). It can also mean less clarity around areas of organisational responsibility which are regularly evolving:

“Who do I go to for X, who is responsible for Y?” – these questions don’t always have clear cut answers.

It’s not an environment that suits everyone – particularly for people with experience in large firms.

When trying to assess an individual’s fit, we’re asking ourselves questions like:

“will this person be able to pick things up and run with them themselves?

“will they ask questions until they understand everything?

“will they be happy working with a bit of ambiguity and figuring things out?”

And perhaps most importantly…

“will they have the confidence and the tact to tell us we’re wrong, or at least that we might benefit from doing something a different way?”.

This isn’t easy to test in an interview, but they are key to hiring the right people. Especially when dealing with experienced hires (as opposed to graduates).

I’d say that’s a key benefit of a returnship – the ability to test that fit, both from the perspective of the firm and the candidate, over an extended period.

All in all it’s been an excellent and eye-opening program.

I’m glad we’ve participated as it’s brought valuable skills and experience into the business that we might have found tricky to acquire otherwise.

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