Internships for Elders

Laid-off baby boomers are taking internships to find new jobs and transition into second careers.

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[See The 20 Fastest-Growing Jobs for Aging Boomers.]

Accept your new role. After 20 or more years in the workforce, it can be difficult to downshift to a junior position with fewer responsibilities. "It feels to many older workers as if their authority is being undermined and that they are not as successful as they should be or as they have been. It's kind of scary to older people," says Schlossberg. "The experience needs to be reframed that it's a wonderful opportunity to learn from and teach the younger people." But not everyone is comfortable taking on a smaller role. Martha Finney, president and CEO of Engagement Journeys and author of Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, cautions that internships aren't for all baby boomers. "You want to make sure that you won't be treated as a junior member and if you are treated as a junior member that it won't damage your self esteem," she says. When you do have a job interview later, be prepared to explain why an internship is at the top of your high-powered résumé. "You need to be able to tell the story of how this internship is part of your strategic plan," Finney says.

[See why Career Changers After Age 50 Are Permanently Worse Off.]

Transition to a paying job. Of course, many interns hope this experience will help them land a new paying job. "The most valuable part of the internship is networking with the other interns," says Gualtieri, who found his current position at the Smithsonian through a person he met while volunteering in Washington, D.C. The contacts that an internship, consulting, or volunteer experience provides are invaluable. Nigel Ball, 51, a former marketing executive for Hewlett-Packard, knew he wanted to shift into a second career working for a nonprofit, but initially he had some difficulty getting hired. "I thought, as a 26-year senior manager at Hewlett-Packard, there was going to be a line at the door to hire me, but there was clearly a learning curve to go through and a degree of suspicion in the nonprofit world about people coming over from the for-profit world who thought they had all the answers." Then Ball signed up for a Silicon Valley Encore Fellowship, a new program that offers a $25,000 stipend to experienced retired employees interested in six- or 12-month assignments at nonprofits focused on education and environmental improvement. The project is managed by Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, and funded by Hewlett-Packard and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. After interviewing with three nonprofits, Ball chose to begin an internship with Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) in January, an organization that provides support to San Francisco Bay Area teachers. "If you are transitioning from for-profit to nonprofit, you have to check your ego at the door, particularly if you come from a senior position," says Ball. But after just five months interning part time at RAFT, Ball was offered a paid position. He will become RAFT's executive director of marketing this week. "There's no way I would be where I am now in a nonprofit without this fellowship experience," he says.