It seems nearly every day there’s a new revelation that shatters our perceptions of the world as we know it. Pluto is no longer a planet, eggs are good for you, eggs are bad for you. You get the idea.
Well, I have another revelation for you: Internships aren’t just for 20-somethings. Yes, it’s true. Even seasoned professionals can benefit from hanging out at the bottom of the ladder, and, depending on where you’re hoping to go with your career, an internship might just be what you need to make a big move.
Not so sure? Keep reading, and let these four reasons convince you that internships can be for everyone these days. Really.
1. You Can Explore Another Career
While internships have traditionally been thought of as stepping stones for freshly minted grads, they can also serve an important transition tool for anyone considering a career change. Internships provide a crash course in what it’s like to work for a particular company, in a particular role, which makes it a valuable learning opportunity if you're contemplating a move.
Take Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo for example. As an avid appreciator of fashion, Rondo decided to take a brief time out from the court to see what life was like on the runway. The fashion industry is notoriously difficult to break into, so even someone as famous as Rondo had to start at the bottom, as—you guessed it—an intern. Rondo interned for GQ during Fashion Week in 2012, working very much off center court (backstage at Lincoln Center, to be exact) doing unglamorous jobs such as carrying bags.
Given Rondo’s presence back on the courts these days, it appears a career in fashion wasn’t the position he wanted to play, but without interning, he never would’ve known for sure. Take it from Rondo: If there’s a career path you’ve always wanted to explore, interning in the industry is a great way to test the waters without committing to a full-time job.
2. You Can Gain Skills and Experience
We all know internships are a fantastic way to gain experience, but it’s not just college students that need it! I often see individuals with 10 or more years under their belt get frustrated, feeling like there’s no way for them to transition to something new because they simply don’t have the skills.
Well, that’s no excuse! A great example comes from a good friend of mine, who had a great gig with a multi-billion dollar company. She made an excellent salary and had great benefits, but was itching to start something new—she wanted to work in production in Hollywood.
Of course, she didn't have that skill set, and she knew that she could only gain it by getting hands-on experience. In Hollywood, that means starting at the bottom, so when she learned her company was downsizing, she decided to take an internship to learn the ropes. And learn the ropes she did: Less than a year after she started, she landed a role as an assistant producer.
Yes, the move was certainly a step back, and leaving a lucrative career path was a huge risk, but taking an internship to gain experience was exactly the right move for her, and needless to say, she hasn’t looked back.
3. You'll Get a Foot in the Door
Some careers take more than just experience to land a gig. Sometimes, you need to get your foot in the door first, before ever having a chance at a real career.
This was the case for one of my clients who was an aspiring writer and editor on the East Coast. The Manhattan media scene is not unlike the fashion world, and she knew that getting “in” with that crowd wouldn’t be easy. But she decided it was worth it to take various internships to help work her way on to the scene—even if it meant she was the oldest person in the office.
Her work paid off. After landing a summer gig with a major publisher, she made new contacts, beefed up her portfolio, and learned the tricks of the trade. It was exactly the foot in the door she needed, and her career as a writer and editor in a highly competitive environment is off to a promising start.
4. You'll Never Have to Say "What If"
The topic hits close to home because I, too, did an internship a bit later in my career. I had a degree and a great job working as a civil engineer. There was always something in me wanting to follow a dream of working in the music business, but I was a bit lost as to how to transition into the industry with no experience or contacts.
I decided to leave my career as a civil engineer and enrolled into graduate program at UCLA that gave me the opportunity to intern at three music companies. Ultimately, my third internship with Warner Music Group led me to getting hired.
Working in the music business was a great opportunity. It gave me experiences that I use still today as a career coach in helping others do the same. I’m glad that I did it, and that I've never had to look back and think "what if?"
Interning isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination (and working for pennies—or nothing—isn't exactly ideal), but, if you’re willing and able, you give yourself the unique opportunity to explore a whole new world of careers you may never have had the chance to experience otherwise. Plus, whether you’re 21 or 41, interning is a fantastic way to learn new skills, gain experience, and network—the keys to making a big career move.
Photo of man working courtesy of Shutterstock.