Spotlight on Anju Kurian & Anne-Barbara Lemmens of Sparkup NY

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Anju Kurian & Anne-Barbara Lemmens of Sparkup have heard many stories of why women find themselves in the midst of a career break, ranging from the irresistible lure of motherhood, to unexpected health issues, relocation, downsizing, or caring for elderly parent. People step out of their careers for many reasons, but few anticipate the struggles in re-entering the workforce. Regardless of the motivation for exiting or even re-entering the workforce, the struggle to get back in is universal.

With Sparkup, they are building a platform to help women get back to work. With chapters in New York and San Francisco, over the last 3 years, the Sparkup team has built a great community of women, ready to reignite their careers. In New York, Sparkup curates programming and resources to prepare women for re-entry ranging from panel discussions with hiring managers, professional skills workshops, and networking and social events. They recently added the final piece of the puzzle, connecting members with local companies via their Talent 2.0 program.  In NY, they found a common theme in talking to members – to help them find a job.  This was the real bottom line – paid job opportunities. So, they accepted the challenge and took a deep dive into matchmaking. In addition to workshops and other programs, Sparkup curates paid “returnships” with local companies which can then lead to a longer term opportunity.

They have the unique privilege of building a company that is changing the lives of candidates and influencing how companies view women who have taken a career break.

Both Anju and Anne-Barbara went through this transition themselves.  Anju took time off from her career in management consulting to take care of her sons, while Anne-Barbara, an expat from the Netherlands, found herself in transition due to relocation.  They know how difficult it can be when faced with an overwhelming feeling of “where do I begin?” They hear stories all the time of how a vibrant professional career, once the source of pride and accomplishment, has faded into a distant memory.

They work with women to remind them that their careers are not dead, just temporarily dormant. Via Sparkup’s Talent 2.0 program, Anju and Anne-Barbara regularly speak with hiring companies. One element they keep hearing is that companies value not only talent and functional skills, but also a portfolio of other “soft-skills” such as communication, professionalism, maturity, and emotional intelligence inherent in “returnees.”

They have one word of advice for anyone considering a career comeback.  It all starts with your mindset. Many women lose professional confidence during the course of a career break.  Focus on your accomplishments during your “career-break”. You did not sit still. Think of all the great successes you had:  serving with the PTA, fundraising events, leading community projects, and even being the CEO (Chief Everything Officer) of Life for your family. You developed skills you didn’t know you had: project management, financial management, technology, mediation, change management, collaboration. Include these activities in your resume and explain how these skills are transferrable into your next role. Don’t diminish what you did during your career break.  If you minimize your accomplishments, so will your audience.

When figuring out what your ideal role looks like, they advise their members to be honest with themselves in what they are seeking in terms of lifestyle, company culture.  Investing time thinking through these things will allow you to find the ideal role in the long run.  For example, taking a remote positing when you are motivated by being in a stimulating office environment is a recipe for disaster.  Being honest with your needs and acknowledging that these needs may have changed over time will set the stage for your next career opportunity.  This is what we call true matchmaking.

If you are planning to re-enter the workforce or would like to hire a Sparkup “returnee,” you can reach out to Anju or Anne-Barbara at talent@sparkup.org.