A career break after having children or taking care of other family members (or other reasons) is not unusual, especially for women. What is unusual is a company that offers a smooth way to re-enter the workforce. Credit Suisse is that company, via their Real Returns program. The 12-week paid program offers talented senior professionals who have taken an extended career break a way to transition back into the workforce with confidence.
The Switzerland-based global wealth manager has more than 45,000 employees in 150 different nations. Recognizing the untapped potential of those coming back on the job means that the candidates can ramp up their skills, expand and update their industry knowledge, and boost their confidence. The program also offers a mentor, a network of program alumni, and the chance to be part of interesting and challenging projects.
Kelly Fast and Sara Yun both participated in the program, which is currently available in the U.S., the U.K., India and Switzerland. They are now working full-time at Credit Suisse. They recently shared their experiences with Fairygodboss.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
Kelly: I joined my current team in December 2020 following completion of the 12-week Real Returns program at Credit Suisse. Prior to the Real Returns program, I worked in the manufacturing and utility industries. With the addition of banking experience, I’ve gotten a great education in some of the fundamental sectors of the US economy throughout my career.
Sara: I have been in my current role for almost a year. I was previously at JPMorgan, leading a finance team that supported the investment management business.
How did you learn about the program?
Kelly: As I was researching options for the next phase of my career, I watched Carol Fishman Cohen’s TED talk – “How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break.” Her company, iRelaunch, has so many helpful resources, and it was through the iRelaunch website that I learned about the Real Returns program at Credit Suisse. I feel so fortunate to have had an opportunity to participate in this program and to find a challenging and interesting role in the company at the conclusion of the program.
Sara: One of my business school friends went through the program a few years ago and had a very positive experience. Additionally, one of my former colleagues from Lehman put me in contact with the program sponsors.
How did the Real Returns program help you re-enter the workforce?
Kelly: The program provided a supportive relaunch platform with a built-in support network and training opportunities to refresh skills and build new ones. I had an opportunity to learn about many different areas of the bank during the program and to interact with others who had also returned to the workforce following a career break. Having that network was instrumental to my onboarding experience at Credit Suisse. I’m also grateful for the support from HR and my project teams during the transition.
Sara: I had initially worked with recruiters, but some of them indicated that gaps on a resume can be viewed negatively. Since the goal of the program is to help professionals who had taken a break from their careers, it was an ideal fit for me. Throughout the program, I had a network of people who supported me — the other program participants, including ones from previous years, human resources, and other colleagues. I was introduced to a buddy and a mentor from the very beginning, so I always had people to turn to with questions.
How did the pandemic impact your experience in the Real Returns program?
Kelly: Due to the pandemic, my Real Returns experience was 100% virtual. With the exception of physical interaction, we completed a very full program with a combination of training, project assignments, and abundant networking opportunities. From day one, we were paired with a mentor and an onboarding buddy to assist with the transition. Onboarding virtually was no easy task, but I applaud the entire Credit Suisse IT team for making that part less overwhelming and providing support whenever needed.
Sara: The pandemic certainly made some elements of returning to the workplace very challenging --- and in ways that I had never experienced prior to my career break. All the childcare plans I had made and relied on had to be discarded. Fortunately, I have family close by who helped take care of my daughter. I also missed the spontaneous collaboration and learning that happens just by interacting in person with a team. I had to rely on calls, and had to be disciplined about initiating communication with everyone. [If Sara could add a line on how the program helped support her with these challenges, if that was her experience, it would be nice (otherwise can leave out).]
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities, and what about it excites you most?
Kelly: I’m currently in a Project Management role within a Strategic Implementation team. We’re in the transition phase of the current project and getting ready to launch the next implementation. I’m excited to be involved from the beginning of a large project and am looking forward to defining our success criteria for the next one.
Sara: I work within the Equities business in the Investment Bank, supporting Prime Services and Advisory Sales with client analysis and initiatives. My main priority is to help execute the sales strategy, and I do that by presenting relevant client information to senior management so they can make informed decisions leveraging data and analytics. One of the current projects I am working on, which is very exciting, is to help implement a new customer relationship management (CRM) tool, which will further our sales strategy.
Why are you personally passionate about this type of work?
Kelly: I love to organize and plan so this role fits perfectly. I’m very detail oriented and enjoy combining my analytical nature with my creative side to tell a story about the work we are doing. The visual aspect is so important when trying to communicate project status in an interesting way.
Sara: I am passionate about working with numbers and data, and using them to grow a business intelligently. I also enjoy working with a team to achieve shared goals.
What about this company stood out to you and made you want to join? What’s been your favorite aspect since joining?
Kelly: Credit Suisse has a solid reputation and a global presence, and I was so impressed with the support of the Real Returns program. I had no prior banking experience and thought this would be an ideal way to transition to a new industry. My favorite part has been the people I’ve met and worked with, including my Real Returns cohort, my mentor and buddy, and my new teammates who challenge me daily.
Sara: The culture of the Credit Suisse has stood out to me — it’s very collaborative. Everyone I have encountered has been very supportive, quick to answer my many questions, and is invested in my success.
What’s the first and last thing you do at work every day?
Kelly: I start every morning with a plan for my day and of course a list of things to accomplish. I end every day with a glance at the next day’s calendar.
Sara: I scan my email inbox to ensure there is nothing I need to respond to urgently. Then I spend a few minutes creating a to-do list, and prioritizing it.
What’s been your favorite career mistake that you’ve made?
Kelly: Tough question! I can’t think of a mistake, but there was one job offer I turned down when I was in my 20s and I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had accepted that one.
Sara: I accepted a role to be a proprietary trader at another large global bank because I thought it would leverage my analytical skills and was fast paced. The role drained me, and wasn’t a good fit for me. I learned it is easier to excel when I am working in an environment which suits me.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Kelly: I had a mentor a while ago who was masterful at managing relationships at work, especially the difficult ones. I learned so much from watching him relate to people. His memorable advice was to always maintain your professional network, and I’ve tried to do that. The Real Returns program provided ample opportunity to enhance my professional network, and I hope to pay that forward.
Sara: I was in a leadership training class, and we completed a number of self-assessments. The instructors taught me something I had never learned in school — to be more self-aware and don’t just react, to pause for a tiny little bit of time before reacting.
What advice would you give to other women considering returning to the workforce at this challenging time?
Kelly: In addition to the same advice a mentor once told me (always maintain your professional network), I would add to be curious, be bold, and be willing to ask for help. And remember to sometimes take a break and go for a walk.
Sara: Don’t be shy about getting on the phone and reaching out to people, even people who you haven’t been in touch with in years. Be patient if someone doesn’t respond to emails within a few days.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
Kelly: I just started reading “The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto” by Pico Iyer. Since travel is so limited, I thought a good travel story would be in order. I’m oddly captivated by the show “The Blacklist” currently. I’m not normally a fan of so much gore, but there’s something about James Spader’s charismatic head tilt that keeps me coming back for more.
Sara: It’s not really related to finance. I am a bit of a nerd, and have been watching “The Expanse.”
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