Returner Programme Dictionary

What’s the difference between a returnship and supported hiring? Are all returner programmes returnships? As there are many new terms floating around, and some confusion on social media, here’s our official Women Returners dictionary. We partner with companies to offer three types of returner programme: returnships, supported hiring and returner events.

Returner Programme

The generic term for an initiative targeted specifically at returning professionals, including returnships, supported hiring programmes, returner events, return-to-work fellowships and returner training programmes.


A higher-level professionally-paid internship for returning professionals. A returnship is a fixed-term contract (usually for 3-6 months), with a strong possibility of an on-going role at the end of the programme. With most returnships, support in the form of mentoring/training/coaching is provided. Many are now structured as temporary roles which will roll-over into permanent roles if they are successful for both sides. Returnships are solely targeted at people who have taken a long career break. Most returnships occur annually with a cohort, however there may be more than one programme a year. UK returnships are listed here.

Supported Hiring Programme**

A recruitment process by which a returner is hired into a permanent position and provided with returner coaching support through the transition. Supported hiring roles are usually open to any applicants, however applications are welcomed from people who have taken a long career break. Supported hiring as part of a returner programme can either be on a cohort basis (starting at fixed dates once or twice a year) or on an on-going basis. Supported hiring can also be offered for one-off roles rather than as part of a programme.

Returner Event

An event for organisations to engage, support and attract returning professionals. A Returner Conference is a large-scale form of returner event for a large audience over one or two days. Returner events can also be run for a smaller more targeted audience and/or with a shorter format. There are also launch events for a returnship or supported hiring programme, and events targeted at career change retraining programmes.

Return-to-Work Fellowship

A funded fellowship for returners to research careers, usually in STEM fields. Fellowships are typically for 1-3 years. One longstanding example is the Daphne Jackson Fellowship.

Returner Training Programme

A form of returner programme where people who have taken a long break are retrained into a new or related field or reskilled to return to practice in their previous field. This can be combined with a committed on-going role at the end of the training or with a potential ongoing role or be stand-alone.

Some Returner Programmes include:

Returner Coaching Programme

A tailored form of coaching to support people returning to work after a career break, ideally addressing both the psychological and the practical challenges, to enable them to be more satisfied and more productive. Offered as part of some returnships and supported hiring programmes. Can be offered for individuals or in groups (e.g. Our Career Returners Coaching Programme)

*term invented by Goldman Sachs, 2008

**term invented by Women Returners, 2015