A former executive assistant, Celeste Chappell-Bates of Columbus, Ohio, spent the past three years jetting across the country as a flight attendant. At midlife, she was ready for a change. “I figured life is too short not to take the chance to do what you love,” Chappell-Bates says. She has long wanted to pursue her interests in writing—and complete her degree.
A midlife internship helped her do both. While studying mass communication and journalism at Ashford University, Chappell-Bates put her skills to work handling communications for an IT recruiting firm – from writing letters to the editor and press releases to rewriting resumes and tweeting. Her internship gave her invaluable skills and turned into a steady job.
Challenges at Work
More and more midlife job seekers are relying on internships and apprenticeships to find meaningful second careers. According to a study by the Metlife Foundation and Civic Ventures, some 9 million people between the ages of 44 and 70 are starting new careers. The transition into a second act often requires taking much lower pay, or even a unpaid internship. Yet they’re making a great investment, according to Shara Senderoff, founder of InternSushi.com. The right internship can lead to a good job.
“Internships are a window into the higher up’s mistakes. It’s your chance to learn what not to do when you’re put into a similar situation,” Senderoff says. “Most of the time, that’s far more helpful than learning what to do. It’s a priceless opportunity.” On her intern-matching website, half of the listings are paid internships; the rest are unpaid for college credit. More and more schools have upped their internship requirements—from four to as much as 12 credits. No wonder: About 64% of companies are hiring straight from their internships, says Senderoff. “The internship is the new entry-level job.”
More and more applicants on her site are midlife career changers. This pioneering group is so new that her team doesn’t track their numbers yet. Often, job seekers mistakenly assume internships or apprenticeships are for younger workers just starting out. But many career paths, including financial services, insurance and the healing arts, welcome midlife career change—and those roles begin with an apprenticeship.
Make the most of a “midternship”
If you’re considering a program to learn a new skill, certification or degree, seek out a one with an internship requirement, advises Karen Kodzik, who counsels job seekers in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Those institutions will have the connections and support you’ll need to find work, which is so helpful for midlifers who decide to retrain or get an advanced degree.”
If you’re going it alone, here’s how:
Network naturally. Life experience has given you a rich circle of friends and colleagues. An internship-networking site such as InternSushi or a midlife fellowship program like Encore can focus your efforts. If you want to grow a business, seek out someone you know in the field and ask how you can help them and learn at the same time.
Start small. Most large companies are primed to hire young interns right out of schools or universities they trust, according to Kodzik. Instead, pitch small firms and non-profit organizations in your new field. “Nonprofits would love your time and may even offer you a part-time job,” she says. “It’s low risk for them, yet you’ll develop a skill and see if you like the work.”
Think long-term. Work diligently to create a relationship that will make the company want to keep you – because you’re indispensible. Once your internship ends, don’t be shy: ask for an interview.
As helpful as they are, midlife internships aren’t common—yet. As more and more midlifers reconsider their careers, they likely will be because internships offer the opportunity to demonstrate your experience, trustworthiness and passion for a new field.
Pharmacist Dave Morgan, 58, owned three stores in and around Boston before he found his calling as a Certified Financial Planner. He studied at Boston University by night, passed his CFP exam, and completed a 6,000-hour internship. “It’s a lot of time, but I learned their process,” he says of the internship with the firm he now represents full-time. “I really like it. I’m learning and I can do this work anywhere – for as long as I want.”