If the word “internship” conjures images of 20-year-olds taking coffee orders for higher ups, it might be time to rethink things just a bit (or a lot!). Many mid-career professionals are turning to internships to advance their career, learn new skills, and make an impact.
Why would you want an internship as a mid-career professional?
There are a few benefits to taking on internship as a mid-career professional, or as some have started calling it, and "minternship":
- If you’re making a career switch, and especially if you’re a sector switcher entering the social-impact space 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 an issue area
- An internship can also be a way to re-enter the workforce after time away—for example, if you’ve been raising children or are sector switching, caring for a loved one, or myriad other things that may have kept you from the traditional workforce for an extended period. This is sometimes referred to as a "returnship".
- Here's one way you may not have looked at an internship: they 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. The beauty of an internship is that it's almost always over a finite period of time so it could be just the temporary experience and morale booster you've been looking for.
- Finally, you might seek out an internship for the same reasons many others do: to gain experience and skills, to grow your network, or to make sure the field is a good fit for you.
Challenges faced by older applicants
While you'll only find paid internships here on Idealist, there are still unpaid opportunities out there—and those that offer compensation may be on the low end of the pay scale—so it can be hard to support yourself financially while interning. Many older applicants 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. It may feel like your experience is actually working against you. And when you do get the role, you may be supervised by someone younger than you; a completely common situation that comes with a unique set of challenges and benefits.
Getting the gig
First, take a realistic look at your finances to see if you can afford taking on an internship. Here's a great resource to review as you begin to budget for a lower salary.
Start your search by looking for internships offered by organizations that are specifically looking for more experienced applicants.
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?”
- 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 the door 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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As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.