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Returning to work: How Elizabeth owned her career gap and you can too

“Soft skills are the jewels that returners bring with them. They can’t be taught.” Elizabeth Gish, Manager Corporate Citizenship

Elizabeth was working on Wall Street when she got the unshakeable feeling that she wasn’t living up to her potential. A philanthropist at heart, she felt she could do more for the world by helping people in need. And so it was that she pressed pause on her high-flying finance career and began volunteering.

After a career break of fifteen years, Elizabeth decided to channel her passion for doing good into a career with Oracle. Now a manager on our Corporate Citizenship team, she’s a wonderful example of why Oracle values the unique skills that people who return to work bring with them.

Changing lanes in her career
Elizabeth’s career kicked off in 1986 after she graduated from business school with an MBA in Finance. “Following in my father’s footsteps I worked on a trading desk,” she begins. “But I eventually starting feeling as though my days were spent helping others make money and very little, if any, part of my life was about giving back.

After the birth of her first son Elizabeth continued to work, but it became increasingly clear to her that she had more to offer, even if it was spending time with her family and volunteering for causes that she cared about. “When my second son was born, I had the privilege of staying home with my boys, and engaging in volunteering at a local non-profit that supports under resourced elementary school students.”

Elizabeth donated her time to recruiting, training, and managing volunteers. Meanwhile her boys grew older and more self-sufficient. “I started to wonder what life would look like when they left the house, and that scared me,” she admits. “What would I do all day? Another thought going through my head was, I really want to earn a paycheck. It had been so long, and I believed earning a paycheck would help validate my self-worth.”

Getting back on the horse
Elizabeth couldn’t help but worry that returning to work would be easier said than done. Like so many others who’ve taken extended time off, she was plagued by doubts about where she would fit into the new working world. “I worried I was too old.  Would I have to work at a desk job in finance, because that’s what I did before? I could never work in Silicon Valley where all these really smart, innovative, and driven people work,” she remembers thinking.  “How would I manage all the things I do for my family? And who would exercise my dog?”

Elizabeth overcame her fears slowly but surely. “My husband is my biggest ally and he showed up in a big way,” she reveals. “He kept telling me that whoever hires me will be very lucky. I then spoke to a friend who founded a company, ReBoot Accel, that helps returners “reboot themselves” through weekly workshops.”

Elizabeth learned how to write a resume, own her career gap, create a LinkedIn profile, negotiate, and create her brand. “The most important thing I learned was how to create my elevator pitch,” she says. “That took time. I started by asking friends what they thought I was good at. The answers were all the same—supporting those who are less fortunate with empathy.”

Owning her career gap
Elizabeth’s resume displays multiple volunteering experiences, from being part of the leadership team of a non-profit to founding a school committee that delivers meals anonymously to community members who are dealing with a life crisis.

“These experiences show up first on my resume, not at the end,” she explains. “I treat them like a job on my resume, owning the break in my career. My volunteering informed my elevator pitch and launched my search for roles in corporate social responsibility. I felt empowered by leveraging my volunteering experience—it meant I could earn a salary doing what I loved with like-minded people, in an engaging, creative, professional environment. Everything just came together.”

Finding her calling at Oracle
With her resume spruced up, Elizabeth started looking for potential employers that were close to home. Oracle made the list. “Then a few weeks into my search I found a job on Glassdoor for Oracle Corporate Citizenship. I called my friend and asked if she knew anyone that worked at Oracle, and she did.  Her neighbour has been at Oracle for 20 plus years and, as it turned out, our two boys had played lacrosse together in high school.”

After some networking, Elizabeth shared her newly created resume with her Oracle connection, who duly passed it along to the director of corporate citizenship. An interview was set.

“It turned out the role wasn’t the best fit, but that a new role on the same team was being developed,” she shares. “I asked if I could come in for an informational interview with the director and hiring manager. I can’t overstate the value of informational interviews—it’s when your soft skills can shine. My timing was fortunate as the director was just beginning to visualize this new role, and I was invited to give my thoughts and insights.

Six months later, Elizabeth applied and was hired for the job that she helped to create.

Beating her pre-work jitters
A few weeks before starting, Elizabeth began to feel some of her old worries re-surface. “Would I meet their expectations? Will they find out I’m not as experienced as they thought I was? Would I be viewed as too old? How will I manage the new technology? Do I have to use Windows or could I use a Mac which I’ve been using for the past 10 years? How will my family manage? When will I work out? Who will do the cooking and the cleaning?” she lists.

Ever the pragmatist, Elizabeth dealt with her fears head on. “I created a spreadsheet listing all of the things I do for our family during the work week, from picking up laundry to grocery shopping, driving my youngest son to school and cooking. I totalled the hours up to 30,” she recalls. “When I shared this with my husband he was surprised; he had no idea. This process was super helpful in starting the conversation about splitting the family/house chores.”

Coming onboard
The big day came around when Elizabeth finally joined Team Oracle. “I spent much of the first few months learning about corporate citizenship and wrapping my head around designing and launching a new program, while at the same time becoming familiar with Oracle’s culture,” she describes. “I found Oracle very warm and welcoming. I’m fortunate to work with some amazing people who are passionate about doing good, and helping others do good. With a global role, I’ve met colleagues all over the world and really appreciate our similarities and differences.”

Life experience goes a long way at Oracle
Elizabeth’s perspective has been invaluable in the design and launch of our formal Oracle Career Relaunch program for people returning to work after a career break. She, like us, recognizes the intrinsic value that people with life experience can add to our company.

“Oracle recognizes that those who have taken a break from the workforce bring a unique set of talents and perspectives to the workforce,” she emphasizes. “Creativity, flexibility, time management skills, commitment…The hard skills you can teach, but the soft skills are the jewels that returners bring with them. These skills can’t be taught, they are developed and honed over time through different experiences. Of course, by investing in a return to work program, Oracle is proving its commitment to reducing the gender diversity gap which many tech companies face.”

Elizabeth’s advice for returners
“The biggest factor that holds women, and people who have taken a career break, back from acting on their return to work plan is a lack of self-confidence,” she advises. To counter this, she suggests aspiring returners do the following:

  • Ask those who know you what your strengths are. Bask in their words. Write them down. Revisit them often.
  • Take a workshop or course designed for relaunchers. Hearing from others who are experiencing the same fears is incredibly empowering.
  • Build a spreadsheet that identifies your daily/weekly obligations and the time commitment associated with them. This exercise allows you to start shifting your thinking about how your family can share them.
  • Surround yourself with allies, they will be your cheerleaders!

Ready to return to work after a career break? Oracle Career Relaunch can help you re-enter the working world in a full-time position, while giving you the skills you need to be successful. Apply now for positions in the US and Canada!

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