Filling Resume Gaps: Part 6 – Adult Internships

Jun 20 2012 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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This is the sixth part of a series explaining how to fill gaps on your resume. Today, we’re going to talk about using internships to fill gaps.

You’ve read it and if you’re in career transition, you’ve experienced it. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is the harsh reality of today’s job market. Employers discriminate against the unemployed, because work gaps represent risk, including:

  • Risk that you haven’t kept your skills sharp
  • Risk that others have felt you’re not a good candidate
  • Risk that you really don’t want to work
  • Risk that you’ve been in jail – yes, recruiters/HR reps really do screen for this

So what do you do about resume gaps?

Why not fill them?

Internships can be a great way to fill gaps if you’re in career transition. For years, recent college grads have used internships to gain on-the job experience that they can translate into a paying gig.

In today’s job market new college grads realize that internships are the new mailroom – the way into many companies. In some careers (including medicine, law, government, education, traditional media, non-profits, trades among others), internships are expected as the way to bridge the gap between education and experience.

But more senior workers, especially managers, tend to shy away from internships. Many senior workers don’t want to feel like they are moving backwards, feel they don’t have to accept unpaid/low pay work, or are just plain embarrassed to be taking an internship they feel is for someone early in their career. Many senior workers who have spent many years working their way up the ladder just aren’t so excited in feeling like they are starting back at the first rung.

But internships make as much sense for senior workers as they do for rookies today, when you take the emotional issues out of it. Internships make even more sense the longer your employment gap – if you’ve been a stay at home Mom or Dad or on an extended family leave, internships can be an ideal way to get back into the workplace.

Internships give more senior workers and new grads alike the chance to pick up valuable new work skills – Senior workers who have spent many years managing may not be current in the hands-on skills today’s managers and staff require. Even more compelling for senior workers seeking to make a career change into a new job function or industry, internships can give valuable experience in that new job function or industry. This experience, when combined with the knowledge the senior workers has in either management, project management or specialty skills, can make you uniquely qualified to fill the new role you’re aiming for.

Another reason senior workers may be reluctant to take internships is that they are typically either unpaid or low pay. This can be a tough nut to swallow for senior workers used to higher salaries (and the higher expenses that come in mid-life with families, mortgages, car payments, college tuition). Even for those in transition who aren’t currently earning a salary, it can be difficult to work for free, rather than devote yourself full time into your job search.

However, internships can be one of the very best ways to job search.

In today’s job market, if you’re in transition while trying to make a career change, internships could very well be your quickest path to a new job – even quicker than a full time job search. In today’s job market, hiring managers look for candidates who meet all their criteria … not just some. If you’re missing important criteria for the jobs you want, one of the fastest ways to close both your employment gap and your experience gap is by picking up the specific skills needed through an internship.

Even if your internship won’t lead to a job (or the right job), if you’ve done good work, your manager should feel a bit indebted to you – because you’ve been working for free, remember? Intern managers, especially managers of senior worker interns are highly likely to help you find your next job through introductions to industry leaders, glowing and personalized recommendations and mentoring.

One challenge for the senior worker seeking an internship: You’re probably not going to find them advertised, so you’ll probably have to create internship opportunities yourself.

Here are 5 ways senior workers can find internships to fill transitional and experience gaps:

  1. Network: Just like in job search, finding an internship is easiest through people you know. Just like in job search, you probably don’t know enough of the right people to offer you an internship that will provide a stepping stone to your next job. You’ll have to meet and get to know hiring managers, understand their problems, demonstrate that you’ve solved similar problems in your past job function/industry, so that you lessen the perception of a learning curve. Few hiring managers have the time to handhold interns – hiring managers are looking for people who can figure it out on their own.
  2. Notice I used the term hiring managers, when talking about internships. That’s right, the same decision maker who might hire you is likely also the same person who would decide to take you on as an intern.

  3. Interview for a job: This works best when networking your way into a job interview through the hiring manager, not so well with job boards, HR or recruiters (especially if you don’t meet all of the minimum criteria, you probably won’t make it past the ATS). When you’ve networked your way to an interview, candidates will often try to gloss over experience gaps, hoping the hiring manager won’t notice – but when you’re competing against an average 1,000 candidates for each job, the hiring manager is bound to notice the experience gap.
  4. Instead of glossing over the gap, why not be brave, forthright, and admit it. Draw the hiring manager into a discussion to understand why that specific experience is critical to the job, asking for advice where to pick it up. At that point, you have nothing to lose by volunteering to intern for free, picking up the experience on your own time, not on the employer’s dime. You’d get valuable experience, get the chance to prove yourself to the hiring manager, have the chance at an extended interview, and the hiring manager gets free labor.

  5. Alumni, church, community and government resources: Don’t count these resources out – Employers with internship needs often first reach out to organizations that help people in transition.
  6. Job boards: If you absolutely can’t bear to search for an internship without cutting the job board umbilical cord, use Craigslist. Craigslist often draws smaller companies that are more likely to try out older interns.
  7. What if the hiring manager bites?: What if the hiring manager agrees to an internship for you, what then?
  8. You’ll want to get a written informal understanding, so that you and the hiring manager are on the same page about work content, hours, duration, flexibility for job interviews, resources (desk space, PC, phone, network access), hiring manager expectations and your expectations. In addition, it would be awesome if you could get the hiring manager to agree to specific next steps if you meet/exceed the hiring manager’s expectations during the internship. These next steps could include a job offer or mentoring/introductions/glowing recommendations to help you find your next job.

You’ll want to realize small to midsize employers are more likely to take on older interns – Fortune 500’s … not so much.

Then again, if you network to the right person, have superior information about that hiring manager’s problems, translate your past experience to show you’ve solved similar problems, you never know.

Readers, please comment – how have you seen success with internships in closing transitional and experience gaps?

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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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