How does a career break impact what you pay a returner?

Career negotiation

By Mili Velikova, Career and Mindset Lead @ Tech Returners

At Tech Returners, we often get asked by businesses: “How much should we pay a returner?” The question usually comes from a place of wanting to ensure fair compensation, but it’s one that sometimes leaves us confused. 

To shed light on this, we often respond with a reflective question: “How much would you offer an individual with X years of experience and ABC skills?” The figures we receive in reply typically range within industry standards, to which we then point out: “Well, there’s your answer for what a returner deserves too.”

But let’s unpack the hesitation here. When you’re looking to expand your engineering teams, the thought of onboarding someone who’s taken a break from their technical career may bring some doubt. 

You might question whether a mid level candidate who has paused their tech journey can legitimately claim a salary around £55-60k. The underlying concern: Can they truly measure up to the challenges of today’s tech environment?


The real worth of an engineer

It’s a common tech industry belief that only those with recent, uninterrupted experience can command significant salaries. So the question becomes: What exactly makes an individual’s skills worth £55k or more?

According to several tech hiring managers, it’s all about “the ability to quickly contribute to the team”, which is typically measured by the output and quality of their projects and work.

So how long does it actually take for a returner to start adding value?

Take Sukirti, a returner who joined Holiday Extras in 2022 after a break to raise her children:

On day 3 of my return, I was already completing tickets. Two years later, it’s as if the gap has been erased. All six of us who joined Holiday Extras as returners are thriving and have been promoted.”

This isn’t an isolated story; it’s a testament to the potential and real value of returners who are re-engaged through programmes like our TR4: 4 Week Returner Launchpad.


Myth: Returners have lost their skills

The misconception that returners have lost their skills during their career break is common, yet unfounded. While a returner might have taken time away from commercial roles, their technical experience hasn’t evaporated. Core skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and understanding of fundamental tech concepts are still very much intact.

So even if the latest tech tool is new to them, their foundational knowledge and past experience are not obsolete.

Up-skilling: The secret weapon

What’s more, returners often gain diverse skills during their break. Many navigate parenting, manage their own businesses, tackle relocation, or overcome health challenges. This comes with a whole host of transferable skills that can add value to any engineering team. 

Additionally, returners are not sitting idle during their break!  

Over the past 2 years, pretty much every returner we’ve come across has done at least one of the following:

  • Obtaining AWS certifications
  • Completing online courses
  • Building personal projects with new technologies 
  • Volunteering (e.g. building a website for a charity)
  • Teaching young people to code

and much more. So not only have these people not lost their skills, they’ve often added to their abilities!

Salaries when returning

Their salaries upon return reflect that value add. Just last year, individuals who we’ll name Patrick and Debbie, secured £65k positions after our programme, while we had a platform engineer, lead tester and several software developers earning roles with salaries ranging from £55k to £62k.

Multiple returners have secured high-paying roles, illustrating their worth in the modern tech market. So what else is stopping businesses from giving them a chance?


Myth: Returners need a lot of support

Another persistent myth is that returners require extensive support and handholding when they join a new organisation. 

In truth, acclimatisation is part of any new hire’s journey — familiarising themselves with the product, codebase, any legacy code, the team, culture, and working practices.

Even seasoned industry professionals aren’t fully integrated on day one!

What makes returners different from a typical ‘new hire’ is that they come with a level of maturity and perspective. For one, they have a good understanding of teamwork and a lot of previous project experience. 

Not only that – they’re often great at research, troubleshooting, and are sufficiently independent, only needing the level of support any typical new employee would require to excel.


Restoring confidence through opportunity

When a returner decides to come back to the tech industry, their confidence is often at an all-time low – not due to lack of capability, but due to lack of opportunity – a challenge imposed by society rather than by themselves. 

Their self-belief erodes every time:

  • they face rejection for ‘not having recent experience’,
  • they are overlooked despite diversity initiatives,
  • or they are undervalued and offered positions below their skill level due to their break.

So if you as a business want to harness the potential of experienced engineers:

  • Be open to career breaks: Recognise the multitude of reasons for career breaks and appreciate the breadth of experience that returners bring to the table.
  • Inquire about recent work: Ask candidates what they’ve recently learned or worked on. You’ll typically hear about their projects, certifications, or what they’ve been upskilling in.
  • Partner with Tech Returners: Engage with our TR4 programme, which is tailored to your tech stack, ensuring that returners integrate seamlessly within your organisation from day one, ready to contribute substantially to your team.


The TR4 Programme: Bridging the gap with tailored expertise

Our TR4 programme supports experienced engineers in their journey back into tech. 

Mili Velikova, Head of Career and Mindset at Tech Returners, highlights the invigorating moment when returners apply their skills on a new project:

“It only takes a few days for them to realise their skills are still there. It’s this rediscovered confidence and seeing the value they can bring to a new team that is truly priceless.”

Tech Returners is committed to your success and to the successful reintegration of skilled engineers into the tech industry. Our TR4 programme is an intensive 4-week launchpad that polishes and aligns returners’ skills with your specific needs, ensuring they can start adding value from day one.

Don’t let talent pass you by.

If you’re ready to invest in experienced engineers who are eager to reignite their tech careers, contact Tech Returners today to learn about our TR4 programme. Together, we can shatter misconceptions and build stronger, more diverse, and innovative teams.

Enquire about TR4 – because experience is invaluable, and every gap tells a story of growth.


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