Adult Internships

A Way to Experience a New Career

Smiling women at computer in adult education classroom
Caiaimage/Tom Merton / Getty Images

Most people think of internships as something college kids do to get job experience before they graduate. It is true that they are a great way for students to expose themselves to a career, but internships aren't just for students. Career changers and returnees to the workforce can benefit from them as well.

Adult internships can even help someone with many years of work experience learn about an occupation that's new to them. Individuals who are going back to work—those who have taken time off to raise a family, for instance—can reacquaint themselves with their careers.

Benefits of an Adult Internship

The hardest part of changing careers is going from a known entity to an unknown one. Even though you are no longer satisfied with your current career, it's familiar. Whether or not you enjoyed your job duties, you at least knew what they were.

While you can, and most definitely should, learn all about any career you are considering, there's nothing that compares to experiencing it firsthand. What you see on paper (or online) may differ quite a bit from reality. Even conducting informational interviews with people who work in the field you're exploring won't be as revealing as full immersion. An adult internship can fill in the missing pieces that will help you decide whether the career is right for you.

Individuals who have spent a substantial amount of time away from work, even if they are staying in the same career, can also benefit from doing an internship. Many fields change over time. Interning will provide you with an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with your occupation before making a full commitment to jump back in. It will also allow you to show prospective employers that you're up to date on any changes that occurred while you were away.

The Downside: Pay

The one thing an internship won't be is a way to make a decent salary. Employers often pay interns very little, if they compensate them at all. And, even though United States labor laws provide very strict guidelines regarding paying interns, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. While everyone deserves to be fairly compensated, employers may be reluctant to offer internships if it means they have to pay inexperienced workers.

How to Find Adult Internships

When organizations post openings for interns, they typically expect most of their applicants to be students. It can be challenging to grab an employer's attention if you are a midlife career changer or returning to the workforce. Here are some ways to find internships for which an employer may consider a non-student:

  • Contact your alma mater. The college from which you graduated should have a career services office that helps current students, as well as alumni, with career-related issues. They can help you figure out how to move forward.
  • Join the alumni association of the college you attended, if you haven't already. You will be able to network with other graduates who may be working in your prospective occupation.
  • Look at your network. Is there anyone in it who could provide you with a training opportunity? Don't forget LinkedIn.
  • Join the professional association for the field you want to enter. These groups can provide access to internships and other jobs.

Convincing an Employer to Hire an Adult Intern

Once you make connections with possible employers, it may take some effort to persuade them to hire you. It will seem unconventional to take on a non-student intern, but once you convince them of the benefits, they may come around.

Unlike traditional interns, adults who have worked for years have lots of experience. Point out that your transferable skills, acquired through time spent working in your prior career, will allow you to take on job duties a less experienced intern wouldn't be able to do without training.

With age comes maturity. This can put you ahead of your younger competitors. As an adult intern, you will be able to demonstrate a higher degree of professionalism, which might set you apart in the eyes of an employer.

Don't forget to stress your eagerness to learn new things, though. Employers may worry that experienced workers will be set in their ways. Address that concern up front. Emphasize that you have chosen to take on an internship because you realize there are unfamiliar things you need to master before you can embark on your new career.

You can also highlight your willingness to work during times traditional interns may choose not to. Most college students do internships during the summer or when they are on winter break. If you aren't currently in school, those schedule limitations won't exist.

It may feel strange to consider an internship when your days as a student are far behind you. But, if you can get your foot in the door—and endure an intern's salary—an internship can be a great way to reboot your career later in life.