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How big banks learned to hire people who are out of work

If you read this site regularly, you’ll know that getting back into the market after taking time out to travel the world, raise children, learn Mandarin, or write a novel isn’t always easy. The finance industry is full of cautionary tales about people who spent time doing something else, intentionally or not, and then found themselves forever excluded.  There’s only one thing worse than being out of the market for more than six months, and that’s being out of the market for a year; or so the sentiment goes.

But this may be a little anachronistic. In the past few years, a new bandwagon has appeared. It usually goes by the name ‘returnship’ or ‘re-entry’ program. And most banks are on it.

In their original construct, returnships were a kind of internship for people – typically women and usually mothers – who’d taken time out of the market to be with their families. A carefully screened cohort of ex-corporate ex-high achievers were welcomed back for a short period while banks ascertained the extent to which their skills had atrophied and their genuine enthusiasm for a return to demanding work.

As schemes have evolved they’ve morphed into other formats: men can join too, programs aren’t always time-limited, there are different ones for people with different amounts of time out of the market.

Today, the list of banks running returnships is long and includes most big players in the industry. We’ve detailed a few at the bottom of this page, plus their application deadlines (some of which are coming soon). Not all programs are called returnships (the name may have its origins at Goldman Sachs, which launched its own ongoing 'returnships' back in the dark days of 2008). Credit Suisse has a 'Real Returns' program, UBS has 'Career Comeback', Barclays has 'Encore,' Morgan Stanley has the prosaically-named 'Return to Work' program, JPMorgan has 'ReEntry' and RBC Capital Markets has 'RLaunch.'

Returnships must be doing something right, because they’re growing fast. Every year, banks expand the number of divisions their programmes apply to, and the geographic reach. JPMorgan alone says its 2019 ReEntry program is 120% larger than 2018. “Return to Work is a critical part of our strategy to attract experienced professionals from multiple backgrounds and perspectives, who help us lead with exceptional ideas,” says Jeff Brodsky, chief human resources officer at Morgan Stanley, echoing the general sentiment. “The program’s expansion over the past six years is a testament to its success as a talent feeder for all divisions of the firm.”

Banks’ own websites are peppered with outpourings of genuine gratitude from people returnship programs have eased back into employment. However, the programs also have detractors who claim very few people get full-time roles at the end of them, and that they're really thinly disguised 'diversity' campaigns intended to make it seem that banks are doing their bit in getting women back into the workforce. This seems unfair - not all banks divulged their conversion rates (from returnships to full time hires), but those that did (JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley) said they offered 80% and 60% of their last cohorts of returners permanent jobs, respectively.

In fact, the hardest thing about a returnship may be getting a place on a program in the first place. The world is awash with unemployed bankers and traders but places on schemes are limited. Even the biggest rarely run to more than 100 places annually and most have considerably less.

If you're thinking of applying, there are a few ground rules. You'll need to have been out of the market for a year, maybe more, but there are no upper limits to fallow time. You also need to be realistic: if you spent two years as an analyst at second tier bank in 2015, you're not going to return as a director in 2020. 

One aspiring returner says the biggest benefit might be cultural change. "I think its widely accepted that there are a small number of places available on returnship programs, but the more widely banks embrace the concept, the more there will be a trickle-down effect as managers become open to the idea that career gaps don't have to translate as lower-level competency." 

If you're out of the market, you need to hope this is true.

A selection of banks' returnship programs for 2020:

Goldman Sachs' returnship programme: Click here. 

Where?  New York, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bengaluru. 

Application deadline: January 13, 2020 – March 7, 2020

Program duration: Ten weeks

Length of time you need to have been out of market: Two years or more (voluntarily)

Gender: All

UBS CareerComeback Program: Click here

Where? Switzerland, the U.K., the U.S., India

Application deadline: No deadline, applications are ongoing 

Program duration: CareerComeback isn't a fixed program with a time limited internships. UBS says: 'Returnees are hired into regular, open, permanent positions.  The roles are positions that we are currently looking to fill (and not created just for the program).'

Length of time you need to have been out of market: A minimum of two years.

Gender: All

Credit Suisse Real Returns Program: Click here. 

Where? U.S., the U.K., India and Switzerland (London, Zurich, New York, Raleigh and Pune).

Divisions: Investment Banking and Capital Markets, Sales, Trading, Research, Private Banking, Wealth Management and Asset Management, Finance, Operations, Legal/ Compliance, Audit, Risk, Chief Operating Office, Project Management, IT.

Application deadline:  For London the deadline is Friday the 8th of November. For the U.S. the deadline is September 30 – October 13, 2019.

Program duration: Approximately 12 weeks.

Gender: All.

Barclays Encore Programme: Click here. 

Where? London and Birmingham in the UK and Dublin, Republic of Ireland. New York and Wilmington in Delaware for Americas. India. 

Application deadline: Applications close on 15 November, 2019.

Length of time you need to have been out of market: One year or more.

Program duration: 12 weeks

Gender: All

Morgan Stanley’s Return To Work programme: Click here. 

Where? Baltimore, Bengaluru, Budapest, Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, Mumbai, New York and Tokyo.

Divisions: Cross-divisional, incuding Research, Fixed Income and Investment Management, as well as infrastructure divisions like Technology, Finance and HR.

Application deadline: Varies depending upon location, typically mid-October. 

Program duration: 12 weeks.

Length of time you need to have been out of market: Two or more years.

Gender: All.

JPMorgan ReEntry Program: Click here.

Where? In EMEA locations include: London, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Geneva

Application deadline: November 6th. 

Program duration: 14 weeks.

Length of time you need to have been out of market: Two or more years. Time out needs to be 'voluntary.'

Gender: Women.

RBC Capital Markets' RLaunch Program: Click here. 

Application deadline: No deadline, the program is run all year round and slots returners into permanent jobs.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available. Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash




AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Ob
    9 October 2019

    I have to wonder how much of the difficulty that unemployed job seekers were having was driven by banking recruitment firms rather than the banks themselves.

    My own anecdotes from my last bout of long term funemployment:

    -I was interested in a contract role at Bank X. Two recruitment firms refused to present me because I was unemployed, saying "Bank X does not hire unemployed candidates". A third firm took a chance on me, and I got that contract role.

    -As the contract role was ending, I became interested in a contract role at Bank Y. I noticed some recruitment firms had the role, so I hit them up. Again, a similar story "Bank Y does not hire workers on contract, and your previous unemployment gap is too long". So I applied to Bank Y directly via LinkedIn, and I got that role.

    *mic drop*

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