Older Workers Taking on Internships

Beth Braccio Hering, CareerBuilder.com writer

If somebody asked why an older worker would take on an internship, chances are you'd say that the person was hoping it would lead to a permanent position.

And you'd be right -- sort of.

While a tough economy has forced workers of all ages to rethink the ways they might land a job, "seasoned" interns like the four profiled below often discover that the experience can offer more than simply a foot in the door.

Exploring interests

April Langus of Chappaqua, N.Y., was a veteran marketing and advertising professional, until she lost her job last September. With positions hard to find, she decided instead to "test-drive" some new areas. She currently interns with both Women's Leadership Exchange, a social entrepreneurship organization founded by and for successful businesswomen, and The Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a group that trains therapy dogs.

Older workers often have connections made during their careers, giving them an advantage when trying to find an internship. Langus was introduced to one of the founders of WLE by a friend during a networking event. The two later met for coffee and discussed internship opportunities.

As for her other internship, Langus says, "I'm passionate about the Guiding Eyes mission. I've tried for years to get a job and finally decided that I needed to start in any capacity to get my foot in the door."

Learning from a mentor

Twenty-nine-year-old Aron Schoenfeld of New York City had a background in music production and internal auditing at Barnes & Noble, but hoping to become an entrepreneur, he decided to try learning the ropes from somebody he admired.

"I had met Gary Whitehill, the founder of New York Entrepreneur Week, a few years back and kept in touch because I loved what he was doing," Schoenfeld says. "The current market is slow, and I think it is smart to place yourself with positive people who are making a real impact."

Schoenfeld became an intern for New York Entrepreneur Week, a five-day, semiannual, nonprofit event for budding entrepreneurs. While he'd love to work full time with the foundation if the need developed, his main goal at the moment is "to get contacts and the skills needed to be an entrepreneur."

Getting an education outside of the classroom

Valerie Cudnik of Chesapeake, Va., worked as a graphic designer before being laid off. She took the opportunity to go back to school. Taking advice from her instructors, Cudnik made finding an internship a priority and researched local television stations.

In her 40s, Cudnik initially had some concerns about being the "old" intern (others were in their 20s). That changed when she met employees. "Most of them were in my age group, and I found that they rather enjoyed having an intern that had business experience and that wasn't a cocky college student." The skills she learned at the station -- from going out on location with a reporter to running the teleprompter -- later helped her land a permanent position at a competing station.

John M. Thompson, executive director of career services at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, agrees that an internship can be helpful at any age. "We have a formal agreement with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce that focuses on putting our students into member companies as interns. We are expanding that for our alumni as we have found some companies want more experienced workers."

Gaining confidence

With a background in journalism and mass media, Vlad Zachary wanted a way to prove to himself that he was making the correct move when he decided to pursue an MBA. College career counselors helped him contact Polaroid, which led to an internship.

"Polaroid was one of the best choices for me because of my fascination with photography and imaging technologies," Zachary says. "Most of all, I was hoping to learn what it was like to work at the headquarters of a global corporation and to validate for myself my MBA career path as something I could do."

Today, Zachary is a career coach and CEO of CareerConceptZ.com, but he still looks back at his internship as a significant point in his life. "With the internship at Polaroid, I learned to trust what I know. I also discovered the big role that confident personal interactions play in 'big business.' In the corporate world, you are always buying and selling in a constant marketplace of ideas. The more confident you are about your own ideas, the more successful you will be in your career. This is a lesson I still teach today to everyone who will listen."

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