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Getting An Internship As A Mid-Career Professional

We’re talking internships this week! While they aren’t just for students, how do you make the most of an internship opportunity? Today we’re exploring the role of internships for mid-career professionals and tomorrow a 30-year-old intern will share her experiences.

If the word “internship” conjures images of 20-year-olds taking coffee orders for higher ups, it might be time to think again. Many mid-career professionals and encore careerists are turning to internships to advance their career, learn new skills, and make a social impact.

Why would you want an internship as a mid-career professional?

There are a few benefits to taking on internship:

  • If you’re making a career switch, and especially if you’re entering the nonprofit sector for the first time, an internship can give you an edge. It provides meaningful experiences to discuss in a job interview and an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to a cause.
  • An internship can also be a way to re-enter the workforce after many years away—for example, if you’ve been raising children (this is sometimes referred to as a “returnship”).
  • Internships can serve as a fantastic sabbatical or career break, can fill a gap between jobs, and keep your morale up during a long job search.
  • Finally, you might seek out an internship for the same reasons many others do: to gain experience and skills, to grow your network, to make sure the field is a good fit for you.

Challenges faced by older applicants

Because many internships are unpaid–and those that offer compensation tend to be on the low end of the pay scale–it can hard to support yourself financially while taking an internship. Older applicants may have additional financial responsibilities that keep internships from being a viable option.

And while it’s illegal to discriminate based on age in the United States, it doesn’t mean that older applicants won’t get caught in the “overqualified” catch-22 when applying for internships. Your experience may actually work against you. And when you do get the role, you may be supervised by someone much younger than you, which can be uncomfortable (both for you, and for them).

Getting the gig

First, take a realistic look at your finances to see if you can afford taking on an internship. Encore.org recommends using a simple financial framework of taxes, savings, needs, and wants. Learn more.

Start your search by looking for internships offered by organizations that are specifically looking for more experienced applicants (the good news is, these will often be paid internships. Search for paid internships on Idealist).

Be prepared to counter the overqualified concern. Remember, applying for an internship is different from applying for a job because internships have a built-in learning component, so your interest in learning new skills or exploring a new field is one of your main qualifications. However, don’t be afraid to be upfront and ask: “What is your concern with respect to my experience in terms of how it will hurt my ability to do the job?”

Additional resources:

  • For those returning after a long time away from the workforce—check out iRelaunch.com for a wealth of information about relaunching your career
  • For those looking for meaningful work in the nonprofit or social sector after a full career—check out encore.org

Whether you’re returning to work or making a career change, an internship can open doors to many new opportunities. To make the most of it, be ready to dive in with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

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