Coming back to work after an eight year break

From high-tech startups to health and nutrition: Johanne Bernardi explains how she got back into the workforce after eight years on parental leave.

I am a serial startup marketer. Startups are risky business, but they are what get me up and raring to go in the morning! My background combines science, technology and nutrition with a marketing MBA and over 15 years building new ventures and brands from the ground up.

“I thrive in fast-moving companies where I can roll up my sleeves
and work with a team to have a direct impact on the future.”

Why did you leave the workforce?

I have always put my heart and soul into my work, and treated every startup as though it were my own. This has meant 70- to 80-hour work weeks throughout my career. Over time, this can certainly take its toll on outside interests and family life! So, at a point when my high-tech employer closed its doors, I took the opportunity to pursue a longstanding interest in health and nutrition. I had always had a fascination for food and its impact on the body, and, after years of reading nutrition books in my spare time, I bit the bullet and went back to school for a more formal education.

Around the same time, I started a family. Having a child hit me like a ton of bricks! My pre- and post-pregnancy were fraught with complications, and despite my ambition to get back to work fast, I found it difficult in the face of this mammoth new responsibility.

Between continuing studies and new motherhood, I was out of the workforce for 8 years. While a sabbatical of this length may appear to be insurmountable, I actually had no difficulty resuming my career. My story proves that it is possible to go back after an extended leave!


Can you explain to us your process for returning from an extended leave? 

My continuing studies program offered a co-op that allowed me to work with a CPG company in the natural health sector, and I continued to network with key people there until I was offered a contract position launching their newest brand. This all happened within 6 months of completing my co-op, and just one month after graduation.

“It was the combination of continuing education, co-op opportunity
and networking that bolstered my return to work.”


Do you have any advice to offer the tellent community? 

I will be thrilled if my story is able to help other women find their way back to work after a sabbatical. For me, going back to school was integral to resuming my career. Keeping your skills current through continuing studies and self-improvement is critical for demonstrating your ambition and drive to employers.

“My number one piece of advice is to NEVER send your
resume through the black hole of the internet.”

Network instead. Attend conferences where your target employers are, meet people who work there, and find out whether they are seeking anyone with your skills. Write personalized letters to hiring managers, detailing what you can offer.

In addition to education and networking, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a mentor in our career journeys. When my CPG contract ended, I turned to my mentor of 16 years, who was fortunately starting up a new company at the time – we were excited to work together again! If you think you don’t have a mentor, take a closer look at your past work experience – there is always a person who valued your contribution and who would be willing to help you move forward.

And always remember: there is an organization out there that needs exactly the skills, drive and experience you have – it may just take some time and extra determination to find it!

Johanne is now the Director of Marketing for Health First Network in Burlington. She has offered to speak with women in the tellent community who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break.

You can connect with Johanne on LinkedIn.