Time Out

Debra Sandler left her company to raise her child. Like many female professionals, she discovered that returning to the job market is hard work.

revealed that a number of respondents also used their time to reflect on the direction of their career.

Survey results and follow-up interviews revealed a key finding: Generally, women who stepped out held happy and optimistic attitudes at the time of their departures. However, a majority of respondents found the workforce re-entry process to be frustrating, especially when interacting with recruiters and potential employers. Says McGrath, “A lot of the women in this study told us that recruiters would ask them all kinds of questions that really had them perplexed. Because they had taken this break, they were assumed to have not only lost their ambition but lost competence in some way.”

REJOINING THE CORPORATE FOLD
After her 18-month hiatus, Sandler thought about returning to corporate America. She didn’t want to be removed from the working world for more than two to two-and-a-half years and, figuring it would take a few months to find a job, she began her search early, “just to see what would be out there.”

To her surprise, she experienced much of the same scrutiny as respondents to the Wharton study. She recalls: “I sort of thought, ‘Gosh, I [haven't] been out that long and already people are asking, ‘Well can you do this, can you do that?’ It’s in my resumé. Yes, I can do these things. And so initially I was discouraged from what I was finding in the reception from recruiters and headhunters.”

Hiring professionals interviewed for the survey said their assumptions were based on a belief that women who were serious about their careers would not have left their jobs in the first place. There is no data to support that analysis, suggests McGrath. “There is more data out there that shows that once [women] are back they are more engaged than before.” Those poised for career re-entry return to work when aptly motivated and eager to re-establish their professional commitments. The study suggests that employers who invest in workforce returnees reap huge benefits such as stronger corporate allegiance and a lower employee turnover rate.

With guidance from a career coach, Sandler used a number of self-assessment tools to explore her career and personal interests. “My feeling was if I was going to go back to work, it had to be something that added value to me and my life or why bother,” she explains.

Sandler wanted to work only for companies “known for excellence,” such as her previous employer, PepsiCo. Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical, health, and beauty aids giant, was among the first on her list to show interest. After a five-month search, she joined the company as vice president of worldwide marketing for the J&J unit McNeil Specialty Products Co. in May 1999. Today, as worldwide president for McNeil Nutritionals L.L.C., Sandler is back in gear, credited with overseeing the marketing and launch of America’s No. 1 artificial sweetener, Splenda.

The 46-year-old executive has no regrets. The time spent reprioritizing her life and nurturing her 9-year-old daughter, Kiah, was a life-enhancing experience. “In some respects,” she

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