March 23, 2009
The 40-year-old intern: How to start at the bottom...again
I've seen a lot of recent media coverage about taking an internship in a new field at age 40, 50, and beyond.
As the thinking goes, if you're out of work anyway and looking to change careers, why not get some free training, along with some firsthand insight into what the business is really like? Why not test the waters to see if you actually like the field before you dive in face first? If you have the time and you're not getting paid to work anyway, it beats sitting at home, watching Oprah, and wondering why the heck the 100 employers you've already sent resumes to this month haven't called you yet.
The TODAY show did a segment last Friday featuring an out-of-work fifty-something print publishing professional currently doing an internship at a Web publishing company so she could pick up some new tech skills. In the segment, Marci Alboher, author of One Person/Multiple Careers, gave the following spot-on tips for those over 40 looking for an internship to jumpstart a career change, regardless of whether they've been laid off:
Figure out which specific skills you lack. Talk to twenty- and thirty-somethings who have the career you covet to see what skills are essential for the job these days. If you're not sure where to find Gen Y and Gen X workers in your field of choice, start with a Google blog search. (From the Google home page, click "more," then select "Blogs.")
Look to the twenty-somethings in your life for leads. Network with your kids, your friends' kids, your neighbors' kids, and so on to see if they know of any companies that regularly hire interns. Ditto for asking your younger counterparts to make introductions to anyone they know who may be able to help.
Create your own opportunities. Can't find an internship you want? Why not pitch yourself as an intern to a company you're interested in working with? With so many businesses short-staffed these days, they'd be lucky to have an experienced worker to lend a hand for a few hours, not to mention a few weeks or months.
One important tip I'd like to add to Alboher's suggestions above:
Make sure you negotiate a part-time, flexible, and short-term internship. Three months max is plenty, as is 20 hours a week. Otherwise, looking for a new job will be tough. And if you're on unemployment and want to keep collecting those government checks, you'll have to be available to look for jobs and go on any interviews that do come through.
Of course, the media business isn't the only industry known for its unpaid internships. Many business sectors offer them, as do many nonprofits. And for those who don't want to work in an office, most of the trades (construction, electrical work, firefighting, and the like) offer paid apprenticeships to those who qualify.
If you're a worker over 40 who recently took an internship to break into a new field, I'd love to hear from you. Was it worthwhile? What were the biggest gains? Pitfalls? Likewise, if any companies have hired older workers as interns in the past year, how did it go? What would you do differently if you could hit rewind?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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