Home » The 40-Year-Old Intern: Carol Fishman Cohen at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

The 40-Year-Old Intern: Carol Fishman Cohen at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

We did that already. We have fewer spousal or partner job relocations. We’re in a more settled time of life. We have great work experience. We have a more mature perspective.

We’re not trying to find ourselves at an employer’s expense. Plus we have an energy, an enthusiasm about returning to work precisely because we’ve been away from it for a while. On the flip side, I speak with employers, and here are two concerns that employers have about hiring relaunchers. The first one is, employers are worried that relaunchers are technologically obsolete. Now, I can tell you, having been technologically obsolete myself at one point, that it’s a temporary condition.

I had done my financial analysis so long ago that I used Lotus 1-2-3 I don’t know if anyone can even remember back that far, but I had to relearn it on Excel. It actually wasn’t that hard. A lot of the commands are the same. I found PowerPoint much more challenging, but now I use PowerPoint all the time.

I tell relaunchers that employers expect them to come to the table with a working knowledge of basic office management software, and if they’re not up to speed, then it’s their responsibility to get there. And they do. The second area of concern that employers have about relaunchers is they’re worried that relaunchers don’t know what they want to do. I tell relaunchers that they need to do the hard work to figure out whether their interests and skills have changed or have not changed while they have been on career break. That’s not the employer’s job.

It’s the relauncher’s responsibility to demonstrate to the employer where they can add the most value. Back in 2010 I started noticing something I had been tracking return to work programs since 2008, and in 2010, I started noticing the use of a short-term paid work opportunity, whether it was called an internship or not, but an internship-like experience, as a way for professionals to return to work. I saw Goldman Sachs and Sara Lee start corporate reentry internship programs. I saw a returning engineer, a nontraditional reentry candidate, apply for an entry-level internship program in the military, and then get a permanent job afterward.

I saw two universities integrate internships into mid-career executive education programs. So I wrote a report about what I was seeing, and it became this article for Harvard Business Review called “The 40-Year-Old Intern.” I have to thank the editors there for that title, and also for this artwork where you can see the 40-year-old intern in the midst of all the college interns. And then, courtesy of Fox Business News, they called the concept “The 50-Year-Old Intern.” And just last month, a movie came out, called “The Intern”, that brought us the 70 year old intern.

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Robert De Niro plays the role of a 70 year old retiree who comes out of retirement to become the intern for the CEO of a fast growing company, played by Anne Hathaway. I haven’t seen very many 70 year old interns. But these non-traditional internships are not just in the movies. Five of the biggest financial services companies have reentry internship programs for returning finance professionals, and at this point, hundreds of people have participated. These internships are paid, and the people who move on to permanent roles are commanding competitive salaries.

And now, seven of the biggest engineering companies are piloting reentry internship programs for returning engineers as part of an initiative with the Society of Women Engineers. Now, why are companies embracing the reentry internship? Because the internship allows the employer to base their hiring decision on an actual work sample instead of a series of interviews, and the employer does not have to make that permanent hiring decision until the internship period is over. This testing out period removes the perceived risk that some managers attach to hiring relaunchers, and they are attracting excellent candidates who are turning into great hires. Think about how far we have come. Before this, most employers were not interested in engaging with relaunchers at all, but now, not only are programs being developed specifically with relaunchers in mind, but you can’t even apply for these programs unless you have a gap on your résumé.

This is the mark of real change, of true institutional shift, because if we can solve this problem for relaunchers, we can solve it for other career transitioners too. In fact, an employer just told me that their veterans return to work program is based on their reentry internship program. And there’s no reason why there can’t be a retiree internship program. Just like in the movie “The Intern” Different pool, same concept.

So let me tell you what happened with Tracy Shapiro Remember. I told her that she had to tell everyone she knew about her interest in returning to work. Well, one critical conversation with another parent in her community led to a job offer for Tracy, and it was an accounting job in a finance department. But it was a temp job. The company told her there was a possibility it could turn into something more, but no guarantees.

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This was in the fall of 2011. Tracy loved this company, and she loved the people and the office was less than 10 minutes from her house. So even though she had a second job offer at another company for a permanent full-time role, she decided to take her chances with this internship and hope for the best. Well, she ended up blowing away all of their expectations, and the company not only made her a permanent offer at the beginning of 2012, but they made it even more interesting and challenging, because they knew what Tracy could handle. Fast forward to 2015, Tracy’s been promoted.

They’ve paid for her to get her MBA at night. She’s even hired another relauncher for work for her. Tracy’s temp job was a tryout, just like an internship, and it ended up being a win for both Tracy and her employer. Now, my goal is to bring the reentry internship concept to more and more employers, but in the meantime, if you are returning to work after a career break, don’t hesitate to suggest an internship or an internship-like arrangement to an employer that does not have a formal reentry internship program. Be their first success story, and you can be the example for more relaunchers to come. Thank you.

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