Why Are More Experienced Professionals Taking Internships?

by Claire Kilroy Inspiring Interns

Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their website for listings of internships and graduate jobs in London and beyond, or head to their blog to read graduate careers advice.

Internship – a word that conjures up images of eager young graduates scurrying to fetch the CEO’s coffee order. In fact, not only are internships consisting of nothing but the coffee run increasingly a thing of the past, but internships are not just for the young. A growing number of professionals with anywhere from 5 to 50 years of experience under their belts are donning the intern mantle.

Recent years have seen the release of two films about mature interns. The Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn comedy The Internship (2013) saw two out-of-work salesmen compete with young talent for a job at Google, while Robert De Niro played a sprightly 70-year-old heading back into the workforce in The Intern (2015).

In both films, the idea of older interns was played for laughs, but in reality an internship can prove a serious benefit to people of all ages. Here we look at some of the key reasons someone might choose to take an internship later in life.

A Change Of Heart

What should you do if, after breaking into an industry and spending some years establishing yourself, you realise it’s not what you want after all?

According to research by the London School of Business and Finance, published in 2015, 30% of 25-34 year olds have regrets about entering their current profession. Although many are unwilling to make the leap, another 2015 survey revealed that 21% of millennial respondents who had changed jobs said that a desire to try out a new industry had contributed to their decision.

If an individual has several years of work experience under their belts, they might find it fairly easy to shift career paths. However others will find themselves in a frustrating position; because the experience they have is unrelated to positions they’re seeking, no one will hire them to a more senior role. And for this reason, some decide to take an internship.

An internship is a great way to get the hands-on experience you need, to learn the tools of the trade, and to start networking in a new industry. There’s also the strong possibility that if you perform well as an intern, you might be kept on as a permanent employee, or your employer might put you in touch with someone else who is hiring. There’s no guarantee your internship will lead directly to a job, but in any case you’ll have boosted your CV.

Although returning to the bottom rung of the ladder might be galling, it will feel worth it if the internship gets you through the door and into your dream industry. And although employers generally expect to hire graduates, they are often willing to take on a more mature intern who has experience in a professional environment.

A Returnship

The term ‘Returnship’ was trademarked by Goldman Sachs in 2008, and described a programme aimed at helping professionals who taken a significant career break re-enter the workforce. Since then many other employers have launched similar programmes, which are often particularly aimed at women returning to work after taking two or more years off for childcare reasons.

Returnships are typically short-term and project-based. They offer a chance to rebuild your confidence, ease back into work, and polish up your skills – or to learn new ones. Given the rapid pace of technological development, gaining new digital skills might be essential to a successful transition back into working life.

Beyond the skills formed by the work itself, return to work schemes can have wider career benefits. For example, Deloitte runs a part-time, 20 week Return to Work programme in the UK, which includes coaching sessions, skills workshops, and networking opportunities. The professional services firm hopes to retain as employees at least 80% of participants. Although retention rates aren’t always as favourable elsewhere, returnees can often find themselves employed, and at a senior level reflected their previous experience.

The benefits for employers are equally apparent. Returnships help companies address the lack of women in senior positions, allowing women a clear path back into work after a career break rather than seeing many talented professionals fall by the wayside.

A New Lease Of Life

And what about Robert De Niro’s character in The Intern? There are indeed those who choose to take internships at much later stages in life. Some do so for much the same reasons that might drive a young professional – to learn new skills or to change career paths. Given the increase in average life expectancy, some older people seek to extend their working lives, needing to support themselves financially or to fend off boredom; frustrated with or tired by their former profession, they too might seek pastures new.

In 2015, Barclays launched a new apprenticeships scheme, open to those who have taken a career break or who are new to banking, which has no upper age limit; by September, a third of those enrolled in the Bolder Apprenticeships scheme were over 50. By hiring new employees in this age group, the banking giant hopes to ensure diversity in its workforce, and to tap into their experience and knowledge.

However, there are those who reach an age and stage at which they no longer expect to build a career out of their internship, who nevertheless choose to complete one. 67-year-old Robert Brown embarked on an apprenticeship in funeral operations and service in early 2016, joining around 300 people in their late sixties and beyond who joined the ranks of apprentices between August 2015 – January 2016.

Brown’s life-long love of learning fuelled his decision, rather a belief that he will use the qualifications he gains from the apprenticeship. The travel company Luxury Escapes, which advertised in May 2016 for an intern over 60, recognised the fact that older applicants might not wish to re-join the workforce, but said it was open to the senior internship leading to a permanent position.

Ultimately, whatever your age and levels of experience, it seems that an internship could offer more opportunities and satisfaction than ever.