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50 Second Q&A: Carol Fishman Cohen

All 50 Second Q&As

Carol Fishman Cohen is CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch. Her return to work at Bain Capital after 11 years out of the full-time workforce is documented in a Harvard Business School case study. Her article “The 40-year old intern” was selected for HBR’s 90th anniversary celebration of articles that made the biggest difference to readers’ lives. Her TED talk “How to get back to work after a career break” has been viewed over 1.5 million times and translated into 29 languages. She consults to corporations on career reentry strategy and programming.

What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading two books right now- Daniel McGinn’s Psyched Up and Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project.

How do you describe what you do?

My company iRelaunch and I help people return to work after taking a career break and we work closely with employers interested in hiring from this high caliber talent pool. We run conferences and events and also work directly with companies to create career reentry programs.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

I am inspired by “pioneering relaunchers” who returned to work after taking multi-year career breaks before anyone was talking about it. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who took a 5 year career break early in her career, and former Sara Lee CEO, the late Brenda Barnes who was the highest ranking woman in business to return to work after a long career break, are two of my personal heroes.

What does success look like?

Feeling happy and satisfied with a full life – personal and professional

What is your competitive advantage?

I work really really hard, am always learning, and search for ideas that benefit multiple constituencies.

How do you keep your thinking fresh? I always have a lot of inputs- I read constantly from sources across the political spectrum, interact with people with a wide range of perspectives, and read articles on a variety of topics. I only exercise twice a week but find when I am lost in a workout, it frees my mind, and I come up with some of my best ideas.

How much time do you spend travelling?

At the moment, close to 100% (I just finished a two week, 5 city speaking tour and am about to leave for another one) but usually about 50%.

What is the secret of a great presentation?

Knowing your audience, believing in your message and using lots of stories, anecdotes, photos and screenshots to get your points across.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Having first hand experience with your subject matter – living it – has been a key part of my success. I returned to work myself after 11 years out of the full time workforce so I understand every phase of the transition first hand. This gives me a direct connection to individuals returning to work after a career break, and an authentic perspective when speaking with employers. But with that said, it’s also important not to generalize from personal experience. Get lots of data points and perspectives and understand exactly what your constituencies will find most helpful. In the career reentry space, individuals want scripts to follow in terms of what to say and write and employers want step by step recommendations and best practices on how to engage with this high caliber returning professional pool through formal programming and events.

What is your next goal?

Every company that has a large-scale entry-level internship program should have a large-scale reentry internship program, and use it to engage with the full range of career transitioners and relaunchers. I am working on making that happen.

Describe yourself in three words.

Focused, Driven, Empathetic

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