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The ‘minternship’ might be a fix to your mid-career woes

If you’re feeling unfulfilled at work, a mid-career internship can help you change your career track or find a job that’s a better fit.

The ‘minternship’ might be a fix to your mid-career woes
[Photo: Luis Alvarez/iStock]

Feeling stuck or unmotivated in your career? You’re not alone, especially if you’re a millennial. A 2019 survey by Deloitte found that job dissatisfaction is high among millennials, and 49% will quit their jobs within the next two years.

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Instead of jumping right into another job, you might consider a “minternship.” Once a way for students to get real-world experience, internships—or “minternships” as some call them at this career stage—are becoming increasingly popular with people in their thirties. Taking a step back and becoming a learner again can help you change your career track or industry or find a job that’s more personally fulfilling.

“Many professionals arrive at their thirties and wonder how they got where they are,” says Sue Hawkes, CEO of YESS!, an executive business coaching firm, and author of Chasing Perfection. “You may be asking what it’s all for, who you are at a fundamental level, and questioning your career path going forward. Is it what you’d hoped for, or did you make commitments based on the ‘shoulds’ that eclipse our twenties?”

A minternship can be a window of time to test and try an opportunity to see if it aligns with the life you truly want to live.

“Taking a minternship is a pause from the busyness of life to offer space and time to observe yourself, your patterns, how much joy and meaning your career offers you while learning, growing, and testing something new,” she says. “Without perspective, people can continue on a hamster wheel of life wondering why burnout, boredom, and complacency result.”

Minternships let you “try before you buy,” says Ronni Zehavi, CEO of HiBob, a people management platform. “Part of the benefit of a mintership is experimentation,” he says. “Someone may think, ‘Maybe I’m missing something,’ or ‘Maybe there’s something out there that’s more rewarding.'”

A chance to learn

Many of today’s employees aren’t looking for career tracks; they’re looking for job experiences, says Zehavi. “Learning and development is the number-one reason to choose a new job,” he says. “Gen-Zers and millennials care less about traditional learning and development, like online courses, and more about mentorship and coaching. They look around an organization and find who is the person they look up to and they would like to be in that position.”

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Minternships represent the values of millennials who are open to change as well as challenge. “A Gen-Xer in the 1990s would have found it insulting to be called an intern, whereas millennials find value in having mentors teach them new skills,” Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising, said in an interview with BBC.

Benefits

The benefits of any work-based learning opportunity are plenty, says Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University. “The employee gains hands-on learning experiences that are directly relevant to the individual’s career,” he says. “In addition, the relationships the employee forms with the employer and colleagues can often be an important source of networking for future career opportunities.”

Internships can be an easier way to get in the door with an employer, since it’s a temporary position with no guarantees. You’re trying on the position while the company is trying you out as a potential employee.

A mintership offers benefits to companies, too, when the employee sticks around. “Being open to an existing employee who wants a minternship can help you retain workers,” says Zehavi. “An employee gets to test a new position or department. You make them happier, and in the end you keep the employee working for you. From a retention perspective, it’s a win.”

Minterns also bring previous work experience, and a company may benefit from their existing knowledge and may find areas where qualities overlap. Zehavi hired a former CEO and small business owner in an entry-level sales role in the company’s New York City office. “The ‘minternship’ ideology is present in giving people a chance to start over their careers and redevelop new skills while taking advantage of their rich expertise in their past lives,” he says.

Drawbacks

Starting over with younger colleagues may cause feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome, says Nicolette Degrassi, partner and team leader at the talent acquisition firm WinterWyman. “These individuals may also find it challenging to work for a manager who is younger than themselves,” she says, adding that the setback is temporary. “You are starting a new career and have positioned yourself to learn new skills, therefore those situations are inevitable.”

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Another downside is that taking a minternship sidelines you from your current career track. “If you decide to make a significant career change, you will inevitably reset the clock in title, compensation, and progression,” says Tara Flickinger, vice president with executive search firm ON Partners.

Of course, you’ll also likely take a financial hit. “Be prepared to swap out your mid-career salary for an internship stipend,” says Degrassi.

However, a pay cut may be cheaper than returning to college, says Michael B. Horn, author of Choosing College: How To Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life. “[Minterns] can learn in an environment that is relevant to what they are doing with no extraneous academic courses,” he says. “And the internship has clear tangible value of being able to show prospective employers that the individuals are capable of actually doing the job. Internships and on-the-ground experience can be a strong competitor to a college or university’s various programs for adult learners.”

Finding a career you love will ultimately make the drawbacks worth it, says Flickinger. “It will make up for those resets, and you’ll be much happier and fulfilled,” she says.

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