This post features the voice of Jessica Mercado, senior associate graphic designer at Workday. As a graduate of the Returnship Program, Mercado shares her perspective as an ex-military spouse and single mom who found her way back to a career in the professional workforce.
Not long ago, I was a military wife, moving from base to base with my then-husband’s deployments. I’d left my career in creative services to raise my two girls. With my husband serving deployments overseas, I was the sole caregiver at home. It wasn’t feasible for me to hold down a job, let alone a career, and be the mother I wanted to be for my daughters.
In 2016, I separated from my husband and moved back to California to be closer to my family. I had a seven-year gap on my resume. But I knew I just needed to find the right support and opportunity. Here’s my story of how I found my way back to my career through the Workday Returnship Program (part of Opportunity Onramps®).
After graduating from college with an art degree, I started working at a small family entertainment franchise headquartered in the Bay Area. My boss at the time noticed my knack for creativity and design and encouraged me to pursue graphic design, so I decided to go back to school at night while maintaining my full-time job as a creative services manager.
A few years later, I got engaged to a soldier in the United States Army who was serving in the Iraq War. I quit my job and moved to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., to marry him. A few months later, my previous employer asked if I would be open to a remote contract position doing graphic design. It worked out well since we moved around so much—as long as I had a strong internet connection and my laptop, I could do my job. Soon after we moved to Washington state, and not long later, Alaska.
My first daughter was born the day after Christmas on an Army base in Anchorage. Just two weeks later, my then-husband shipped off to Afghanistan for nine months. I was alone. I didn’t have family nearby for support, and it became too difficult to try to maintain a job while raising my daughter on my own. So we made the decision: I would put my career on pause. Two years later, I had my second daughter—and we moved, again, to Florida for a new assignment. From snow to sauna—what a drastic change!
As any military family knows, there’s always so much change. New units, new cities, and new families to get to know. My marriage changed, too. After a couple years in Florida, I separated from my ex-husband, packed up my car with my two girls, and drove back to California.
On the cross-country drive, I had a lot of time to think about our future. I was reminded of how diverse the Bay Area is, and how lucky I was to grow up in a place that had such a rich culture. As a mom of two biracial daughters, I knew I wanted to raise them in a place that exposed my daughters to all types of cultures, backgrounds, and people. And I knew, eventually, I wanted to get back to my career in marketing.
It’s no secret the Bay Area is an incredibly expensive place to live, and the cost of living had significantly increased since I’d left 14 years earlier. I kept telling myself to have faith, and trust that God would make it happen.
I ended up moving to the Central Valley, which is less expensive than the Bay Area. I wanted to wait until my youngest was in kindergarten to find a job, and it was difficult to make ends meet relying on my savings and child care allowance.
I often looked for career opportunities online. I knew I needed not just a job, but a well-paying career that would allow me to provide for my girls. I wanted a career in the creative field. But the listings I would come across were never enough to cover living expenses plus childcare costs.
But then, one of those miraculous things happened. I saw the job posting for the Workday Returnship Program. It was a four-month opportunity, with the potential to convert to full-time if I performed well. It was a graphic design position—and honestly, it felt like fate.
I applied, and then interviewed. Two hours after my interview, the recruiter called with an offer, and I accepted. On a leap of faith, I moved our family to Pleasanton—the community I had left almost 15 years earlier—to start my new career that afforded me the opportunity to live in the Bay Area.
The fact that Workday wanted to hire me was so validating —and I couldn’t believe that a program like the Returnship Program existed. Here was a company with a program that focused on hiring talented parents and caregivers who have resume gaps, and who have been out of the corporate workforce, but have still been building their skills and their resumes, just in an untraditional way. From the very beginning, I felt valued—and I felt like I belonged.
"At the end of the day, I’m proud of my resilience. I’ve overcome so many challenges, I’m confident, and I’m hopeful for the future."
Jessica Mercado Senior Associate Graphic Designer Workday
The Opportunity Onramps team helped me with every step of my transition back to the workforce, from regular check-ins and advice to cultivating a community within our Returnship cohort. I was comforted to be entering this program with a group of other returnees who were in my shoes, and I had a fellow returnee and new friend just a few desks away from me in our marketing department. It was reassuring to be able to connect with fellow caregivers who were re-entering the workforce and experiencing the things I was going through.
I’m so grateful for Opportunity Onramps and the diverse community we have at Workday. I’ve experienced a lot of change and disruption to my life over the past few years, and the friendly and welcoming culture makes me feel like I belong. I was impressed by our employee-first culture to support and encourage our employees and their families, with events like “Bring Your Kids to Workday” and the “Summer Bash” where my daughters could experience this company that not only allows us to get by, but actually enables my family to thrive. The supportive culture made this adjustment back to the corporate workforce that much smoother, and I attribute that to the sense of belonging Workday has built by valuing inclusion, belonging, and equity for all.
With COVID-19, I’m back at home again working remotely in graphic design, but this time, with my two girls while balancing virtual learning. In some ways, it almost feels like my life has come full circle. At the end of the day, I’m proud of my resilience. I’ve overcome so many challenges. I’m confident, and I’m hopeful for the future. I’ve learned that I have valuable skills to offer, and there are companies like Workday that seek diverse, nontraditional talent. For anyone in my position, there’s hope out there—and there are opportunities that will help you conquer that mountain of obstacles. Have faith, and you’ll find them.