When you are exploring a potential career or working on transitioning to one you’ve selected, gaining experience in the field of your interest can help you in many ways.  Internships are one of the best ways to get this experience.  If you are exploring a career field, an internship is a relatively low-risk, low-cost way to try it out and see if the reality of the work (including the culture of the field, the day-to-day work,…) matches your expectations.  If you know this is the field for you but are trying to figure out how to transition to it, create a network of contacts within the field, or meet the “previous experience” requirement many employers have, an internship can give you relevant work experience, people who can serve as references in your new field, and might even lead to a position with the very employer who is hosting your internship.  Internships are also a great way to try out a company you may be interested in.  It could confirm your interest in that particular organization and your view of who they are and how they do the work that they are engaged in.  Or, it could help you realize they are not really a good fit for you (in which case, much better to find this out as an intern!).

Luckily, regardless of economic conditions, employers do host interns (in paid and unpaid capacities) and continue to consider proposals from potential interns who wish to bring their qualifications to the organization in exchange for the opportunity to gain new skills, knowledge, and experience.  At a human resources and recruiting presentation, I recently heard an expert verify that many small to medium sized companies are eagerly welcoming interns who are experienced professionals interested in contributing to the employer while gaining new or additional experience.  Remember, many skills and qualifications can transfer across fields, so will provide immediate value to the employer who is hosting the intern.  Now, I’m not suggesting getting an internships will be effortless, just that is it possible and very much worth the effort.

Before approaching the employer about a possible internship, create a plan and a set of marketing documents — résumé, cover letter, etc. — that allows them to see why you wish to intern at that particular organization, what you would bring to them, and what you’re hoping to gain from the experience.  Treat the internship search (and the internship itself!) as seriously as you would a paid employment opportunity.

Are you thinking “this all sounds good, but I don’t think I can afford to do an internship”?  Many of us may not have the time or financial resources to intern for free or for a small stipend.  My suggestion, rather than assuming an internship is impossible, is to consider interning part-time while you continue to work (or seek employment).  There are employers who will understand the practical considerations of your situation and will likely even appreciate your commitment and passion, demonstrated by your willingness to seek such an internship while fully engaged in another career.

So, think about the field you want to try or the organization you want to learn more about and consider whether pursuing a related internship is right for you.  As you begin thinking about this resource in your career development toolbox, I’d love to hear about your experience and any thoughts you’d like to share.  Please share your comments on my blog or drop me a line if you’d prefer to reply privately.

Shahrzad Arasteh, M.A., helps people create and pursue their career search plan using 10+ years of experience and a holistic approach to career counseling.  She is a Certified Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Practitioner, a Master Career Development Professional, a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, and a Certified Global Career Development Facilitator.  If you are ready to create your career search plan and find your meaningful work, visit http://www.careerconsultmd.com or contact her shahrzad[at]careerconsultmd.com

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