Writing Their Next Chapter

In many ways, a career is like a choose-your-own-adventure novel: there’s no one path to success. But writing the next chapter of your career can be challenging, especially if you are re-entering the workforce.

For a variety of reasons, many professionals choose to take a career break — perhaps to try a different industry, pursue additional education or care for family members. Through the iReturn program, which Northrop Grumman offers in partnership with the Society of Women Engineers and iRelaunch, experienced professionals who have taken a two-plus year career break are supported as they re-enter the workforce and prepare for a full-time career at Northrop Grumman.

iReturn participants come from all backgrounds and walks of life. Hear from three women who re-joined the workforce through iReturn after taking a career break to care for their children.

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Why did you decide to re-enter the workforce?

Sunita, systems engineer in Orlando, Florida: Leaving had been a hard decision to make because I loved what I did. But I needed to step away and focus on myself and my family. I wasn’t having enough time for me, and as a single parent, I needed to dedicate that time to my two daughters without limits. Before I knew it, three and a half years went by. And that’s when I felt ready to return back to work.

Gabriella, program manager in Rolling Meadows, Illinois: I worked as an engineer for about eight years after college and was fortunately able to take time off after my first son was born. There was never really a question that I would stay home and care for him and my other two sons. By the time my second son went off to college, I joked with my friends that I needed to start figuring out what I wanted to do when they grew up, as opposed to when I grow up. That’s when I became aware of iReturn — this seemed like the obvious way in for me to re-enter the workforce.

How did you become interested in Northrop Grumman?

Amy, project manager in Huntsville, Alabama: A friend of mine, who worked for Northrop Grumman, had previously told me about the company’s iReturn program. I wasn’t sure, though, how my background could relate to the work that Northrop Grumman does. I went on YouTube to look up videos about the work that the company is doing — and I got chills. I felt drawn to the company and to help those who are doing such important work.

Gabriella: In late June 2017, I saw a Northrop Grumman iReturn program posting looking for engineers in Chicago. My youngest was due to leave for college that August, so there was no reason for me not to apply and I received a call within 20 minutes after my submission.

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Tell us more about how the iReturn program works.

Amy: During your 12-week “returnship” — similar to an internship, but for experienced professionals — Northrop Grumman supports your return to the workforce through training, professional development and networking opportunities, along with a cohort of other returning professionals. At the end of the returnship, if you and your manager have determined that Northrop Grumman is a good fit, you’re offered a conversion to a full-time role.

Sunita: It was easy and convenient to apply online, and I received a response quickly. All the postings had descriptions and specifics the program wants you to know. It was the hardest interview I’ve had yet! They asked lots of questions to get to know me; surprisingly they didn’t ask about my employment gap, which was really cool because they were assessing based on my skills, knowledge and interests.

Did you experience any challenges with transitioning back to the workforce after a long break?

Sunita: Yes, and it was all foreseeable. I had to figure out how to maintain that work/life balance. I wanted to make sure I was still taking care of myself, prioritizing my health, while supporting my team at work. It was an adjustment, and I had to play around with it during the first few weeks to figure out what works. Now I have a routine that works well, and I make adjustments when needed.

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Gabriella: There certainly were some readjustments, but one of the main challenges with re-entering the workforce is the change in family dynamics that everyone had to get used to. I was fortunate that my kids were out of the house and I could focus on my career 100% of the time. But, there were other program participants who still had kids in school and had to find ways to balance that.

How is working at Northrop Grumman purposeful or personal to you?

Amy: I’m someone that likes to think that the glass is half full — usually it’s overflowing. I have a passion for positive thinking and helping others succeed in finding their purpose in and out of work. As a project manager, I feel like I am making an important contribution to Northrop Grumman’s overall mission and to my teams.

Sunita: I’m able to fulfill my passion for inclusivity at work. I’m a champion for inclusion, meaning I help others at our Orlando facility spread small acts of inclusion. We talk about what inclusion means and what we can do to include everyone. I want others to know they’re in a safe environment and make sure they feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts.

Learn more about the iReturn program.

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