Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and cofounder of iRelaunch, a career-reentry consulting firm based near Boston. iRelaunch.com
Bottom Line: Gap in your resume? This will fix it!
In the movie The Intern, Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old retiree who becomes an intern at an online fashion business. The plot was fictional, but there actually are internships designed for experienced employees who have been out of the workforce. If you have put your career on hold to raise kids, care for an ill family member or just try out retirement, one of these “senior” internships could jump-start your career again, fill the gap in your résumé and convince an employer to hire you.
These eight-week-to-six-month senior internship programs are very different from the fetch-the-coffee internships meant for college kids. They tend to be for people who spent at least five to seven years—or possibly much longer—in the workforce before a career break. Many of the programs pay wages in line with interns’ experience, and a few even offer benefits. Example: The Boeing Return Flight program offers a 401(k) retirement account, health and dental insurance and more.
Companies that offer these programs consider it a low-risk way to try out an underutilized pool of experienced workers. Trying out employees who have been out of the job market makes particular sense for employers these days because low unemployment is making it hard for them to recruit the skilled people they need.
When these internships end, at least half of the interns typically are offered permanent positions (this varies by company, sector and year). And these permanent positions do not tend to be entry level—in fact, it isn’t very unusual for an older intern to be offered a job at the vice-president level.
To locate senior internships suitable for you…
Explore the list of ongoing programs at iRelaunch.com. Click the “For Relaunchers” tab, and then select “80+ Paid Corporate Re-entry Internship Programs Around the World.” This list features programs from a wide variety of companies including Dell, Deloitte, Fidelity, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Mastercard, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Northrop Grumman, PayPal, PepsiCo, Texas Instruments, United Technologies, Visa, Young & Rubicam and more. Helpful: Also click “Career Re-entry Programs” under the “For Employers” tab on iRelaunch.com. This longer list includes experienced-employee internships and other career-reentry programs known to have been offered in the past in addition to ongoing programs. Some of these programs might not currently be accepting applicants, but there’s no harm in reaching out to ask.
Also, peruse free tools and resources at iRelaunch.com, including the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast, which offers advice, strategies and success stories for returning to work after a career break.
Contact the career services office at your alma mater. Explain that you’re a graduate hoping to return to the workplace following a career break, and ask what services the office offers. These may include free or discounted access to career assessments and, in some cases, coaching to help interpret the results…as well as mock interview practice.
Once you’ve located internships that you may want to apply for, take the following steps for the best chance of landing one…
Signal to employers that you’re chomping at the bit to return to work. Before applying for an internship, take a technical course or certification course relevant to your field, and/or volunteer in a relevant role. Example: Mentor young entrepreneurs in your sector through the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Check out CatchAFire.org, Idealist.org and VolunteerMatch.org for volunteer projects and roles.
Catch up on the latest news and thinking in your field. Ask people you know who still are active in the sector which blogs, podcasts and books will help you catch up on the latest developments. Reading these will help you become an expert on the subject matter all over again, which will give you confidence when you go for interviews.
Network in search of company insiders. Ask people you know in the sector—including recent retirees—whom they know who works at a company offering an internship of interest. If you can convince someone who works there to put in a good word for you, it will greatly improve your odds of moving forward in the selection process. LinkedIn can be a useful networking tool for identifying these individuals.
If a company doesn’t offer a senior internship program, suggest one. Although these programs are proliferating, most companies still don’t offer them. Don’t hesitate to suggest a special project, contract consulting arrangement or other short-term work opportunity that allows you to engage with a company on a temporary basis. If the company is intrigued by you and your background but hung up on the fact that you took a career break, a short-term work opportunity may be the perfect solution.