5 Things Adult Interns Should Know

A lot has been said about a mini trend that has adults who graduated from college 5 or more years ago working as interns, or externs, to ride out the recession.  The trend was born of the fact that the job market has been slow to add all but entry-level jobs.  Many experienced workers have found themselves unable to land jobs similar to those they lost, and over-qualified for what’s available.  Rather than settle for just any low-paying job or sitting at home, the careerists among us dug up the term “externship” and started marketing themselves as better alternatives to inexperienced, immature undergrads.

These scrappy folks drafted externship proposals, networked with purpose, and convinced leery employers to take them on as paid/unpaid interns who would trade their expertise, experience and labor for the opportunity to learn new skills and be first in line when better-paying jobs open up.  Many employers, chiefly startups, have taken them up on their offers–low-cost talent in exchange for new skills.  But, is this arrangement working for externs?  What can you expect if you are considering an externship?


  1. This is not your old job.  Don’t expect to be treated with the same reverence you were afforded by your old job title and status.  That’s not to say that you’ll be mistreated or disrespected, but getting used to not being the boss will take time, courage, and healthy self-esteem.
  2. Pay is low but expectations are high. Don’t expect to be treated like an undergrad intern.  Yes, you are working for little or nothing, but, by proposing an externship, you are saying/implying that you are a star worthy of an exceptional business arrangement–a portion of your assets for a portion of theirs.  Expect to hunt down and ask for your own opportunities and assignments.
  3. This is uncharted territory. Like you, most employers are new to externships.  Expect to work hard at shaping your arrangement into something mutually beneficial.  You and your new employer must iron out the details–shifts, duration, projects or responsibilities, rewards–from the start, and you’ll likely have to manage the process throughout.
  4. Profit takes planning. Don’t expect every externship to end in a job with the employer.  Some will not, and that’s not always a bad thing.  To ensure that you get something of value from the experience even if you don’t land a job, draft a set of requirements, or things you must get out of the externship in order to consider it a success.  Examples might include work samples to add to your portfolio, recommendation letters, connections or job referrals, cash incentives for completing a high-priority project during your externship, training, access to employee perks (gym memberships, free meals, flu shots, or reimbursement for certifications/membership to professional organizations).  Share and negotiate these requirements with your employer at the start.
  5. You’ll still need to ask for the job. Don’t assume that your good work is being noted.  You will still need to actively monitor your employer’s hiring activities and job opportunities, and beat your own drum to be considered for upcoming opportunities.  But, via your externship, you have the advantage of being able to demonstrate your value and effectiveness, and of having existing relationships with hiring managers and co-workers.  Work them!

Leave a Reply