Planning a Move? How the Best Move of Your MidCareer Change is to Be an Intern

What does it feel like to be an intern at 30? Journalist Elizabeth Sergen painted a vivid picture of it for Fast Company — and even better, she said it was the best move of her career. In the gig economy where the only thing permanent is change, many professionals are reinventing themselves to cope up with the limited job market. 

Because they need a job, they usually go through the process of internships, even at 30 or much older, which may mean moving to another place like northern California where tech companies seem immune to economic upheavals.

Sergen knew that to be credible as an intern, she also had to downplay her credentials; she had completed her Ph.D when she interned for a public relations firm. For someone with Sergen’s advanced degree to be working as an intern in her 30s is unusual, but the US economy has taken professionals in so many directions, from the effects of the 2008 recession to the outsourcing of jobs around the world, to the automation of certain jobs and just the highly competitive world we live in now. 

Sergen goes on to describe more in her book, The Rocket Years, where she recounts how “our twenties are littered with career challenges and roadblocks. I encountered a particularly enormous boulder on my path to professional bliss.” 

Her goal was to become a professor, so she spent six years at U.C. Berkeley pursuing a Ph.D. in classical Indian love poetry with a further specialization in gender studies. Her doggedness was no match for the terrible academic job market, which was even bleaker in the years after the Great Recession. 

After three years of applying to every job in her field, she gave up. Who would possibly hire me, she thought? She had an advanced degree but no work experience. She observed how Americans change jobs upwards of 11 times over the course of their lives and that surveys indicate many people switch careers voluntarily; others change careers because their chosen industry is shrinking. Her solution: An internship would allow her to switch careers. 

Many mid-careerists are doing just that — testing industries and places to make a fresh start and find their new North. Some go as far as work outside of the country. Canadian companies are even holding job fairs in New York to woo tech professionals to Canada. Some HR consultants have thrived in global mobility work, hiring and managing foreign talents in San Francisco. California Corporate Housing has seen many career switchers moving to San Jose. These talents are moving to northern California from different parts of the country, because they’ve reinvented themselves years before and now their hybrid talents are in demand here. For those looking to work in one of the tech giants here, here are some tips from Sergen, Glassdoor and Balance Careers.

Network your way in

Reach out to people you know through your network to see if their company is accepting interns or ask the internship manager of a company you’re interested in for an informational interview. Don’t worry about your age, use it to your advantage to demonstrate how your maturity and new skills can make you an effective global mobility professional. It might be hard to convince them to fit into their company culture, so make sure to do some research ahead of time to see what aspects of your career trajectory fits into their business.

Beware of insecure managers

There are some managers who may not be good mentors. They have no interest in teaching people new skills. It’s common to be perceived as a threat if you bring more maturity and experience to the job, based simply on your age. 

Remember this is temporary

During your internship, you’ll feel out of place, thinking you can do more but incapable of doing so because of your limited role. Remember this is temporary. You’re doing this internship to learn as much as you can about yourself and the kind of work you enjoy, so the next job you accept should be the path you’re looking to take

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 if labor laws provide very strict guidelines regarding paying interns, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. 

Contact your alma mater

A career services office helps current students, as well as alumni, with career-related issues. Find out how the college can help you.

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.

Convince them to hire an adult Intern

Point out 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 

Think as an intern when you’re a pro

The chance to grow and expand your career horizons is a pro. Internships can offer you a low commitment and low-pressure way to get your foot in the door with employers. 

An interview by Glassdoor with Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, resulted in this gem: “My attitude is that I’m still an intern. I’ve been in my current role for a year and I’m learning all the time.”