Internships aren't only for college students and recent grads. In fact, people of all ages take internships and entry-level positions. Many of them do so while they're changing careers or simply to dabble in something new—to do something they've always been interested in.
If you can financially afford to, taking an internship as an experienced worker can be a great idea. Here are five reasons why, in the words of experienced professionals who've done it.
1. An internship can kickstart a new career.
"I was 26 when I landed my first internship as a ux/ui design intern at a development agency," says Rachel Carroll, the senior head of user experience at Studysoup. "It was a fantastic learning experience and a great way to get my foot in the door in a very competitive industry. Interning can be very challenging at any age, particularly if you choose to intern later in life. Internships consist of working long and hard hours, meeting difficult expectations with little to no pay, and often include making many sacrifices. Being able to intern without without having to carry a financial burden was a luxury that most do not have later in life, and this can make pursuing an internship exceptionally challenging. The internships I pursued, although they were extremely challenging, were the starting point to my career, and I will always be thankful for them. I encourage anyone interested in gaining experience in a new career to intern if they're financially able to do so." <
2. An internship can be an invaluable learning experience, and being more experienced can help you perform better as an intern.
"I changed careers when I was in my late 40s," says Laura MacLeod, HR expert, consultant, and therapist. "I had a relatively successful career as a professional actress, but roles were scarce and I wanted (and needed) to find something else. I went back to school in New York City to get a master's in social work (an MSW). The program included unpaid internships for two years. In year one I interned at a supported housing/residence for the mentally ill. In year two I interned in a high-needs high school.
"Both of these experiences were invaluable for a few reasons: One, I had no experience in these settings or in the role of social worker/counselor. As an intern, that was fine. It was clearly the expectation. There was no pressure to prove myself. Two, learning by doing is the norm. Mistakes will happen, and the on-the-job experience shows you the real world right away. And three, networking and professional behavior were things I knew I could bring to the internship. They helped me get the most out of the experience. Not being 22 was an asset. I had no problem fitting into the culture and using my people skills to excel and connect."
3. An internship, which might look like a step back, can be a big step forward.
"I am 34 and will be starting an internship in two weeks at a PR firm and, looking at the photos of the other interns, I feel like Robert DeNiro—like I will be the Intern Mother," says Jordanna Stephen. "While in college, I had a very brief PR intern experience at a very well-known PR firm. But after that, I didn't gain any more experience in my field. I was pretty much self-taught, with the exception of the basics I learned in college. I took other jobs and, at the age of 34, I want to re-enter the PR world, and can't do it without the current know-how.
"My dad always said, 'You have to pay your dues,' and when the opportunity presented itself, I just thought, 'If not now, then when?' I start in two weeks and I am nervscited (nervous + excited), but if I want to move forward, I have to take a brief step back. I get hands-on learning experience from experienced PoweR women who are genuinely interested in my development, regardless of age. I get to meet other young women who I would probably never get a chance to connect with.
"Cons include feelings of inadequacy, having to learn or re-learn things, taking a dip in salary, and being the oldest intern there. But I think you should always go for your dreams no matter the age. There's a quote: 'Great things never came from inside your comfort zone.' And it's true. We could always learn more, and there is nothing shameful really about being an older intern or taking an entry-level position. It just shows determination and drive. And, even in failure (as in, if you didn't like it or it just didn't work out), there is success because now you know."<
4. An internship is only temporary.
"After shuttering a business I founded and ran for 20 years in Atlanta, it was necessary that I downsize from two houses in Georgia and move to an apartment in Arlington, Virginia, where my husband had started a business," says Patty Lundy, a writer and editor. "I was at a loss as to the path I needed to follow to find my 'new life.' I made friends easily and enjoyed most of the networking, but I did not find a good place to land. I picked up the occasional gig developing content for clients' websites or corporate stories, but it was slow going. I needed more.
"Cleaning up my desk one day, I ran across a recruiter's business card, got on the website, and nonchalantly entered 'writer' into the 'positions available' search tab. Voila! A recruiter called in 20 minutes. Three days later, I met with the recruiter, was fully vetted in a couple of days, then met with the employer and, within a week of my first inquiry, was offered and accepted a six-month gig with Navy Federal Credit Union. It was a complete 180 from what I had ever known. I was 60! I had been my own boss for 30 years. The work was way beneath my abilities (writing email and text messaging, brochure copy, and other marketing communications), but it was a wonderful experience.
"I could not see myself transitioning to full-time job, so when the offer was made to shift to real employee status, I bolted out the door, happy to be free, but happy to have gone through the experience. The pros were meeting so many interesting people (some interesting in a wonderful way, some interesting in an awful way!), experiencing first-hand how large organizations with lots of 'teams' work together, having a well-defined set of tasks every day and carrying out what was required, being paid every two weeks, making a couple of friends I will have for life, and knowing that at the ripe old age of 60, I was still 'employable.'
"I would encourage anyone to explore options offered. Even if the work is not precisely what you are capable of, and even if the environment isn't a good fit for the long haul, people should always be open to new experiences. One never knows what might result from being exposed to opportunities that arise in unusual places."
5. An internship can lead to something much greater.
"After 16 years in the Air Force (eight years on active duty and eight years in the Air Force Reserves), and even with a master's degree, I had a hard time finding a full-time job when my husband and I moved to Georgia," says Carol Gee, an author who lives in Atlanta. "While I had held adjunct faculty positions at a couple colleges and several temp positions, interviews for full-time positions didn't pan out. One day a woman at my temp job at a college approached me. She was the secretary in the development department (fundraising) at the school. She was leaving to accept an out-of-state job and thought for a number of reasons her boss and I would be a good match. Although over-qualified according to HR, I wanted to get my foot in the door and advance. I was 39 years old at the time. And 14 months later, I applied for a higher position (my supervisor had also been promoted and moved to another position) and got it. Six years ago, I retired from the college after close to 22 years there and a number of professional positions. So, yes, I would recommend an internship or entry-level position if your interest or personal goals are met."
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, which helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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