50-Year-Old Interns at Nonprofits? Is This a Trend?

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June 2, 2013;N.Y. Daily News

This article suggests that there is a trend in New York of 40- and 50-year-olds applying for unpaid internships but we would like to hear from readers on the topic. Is it really a trend, and is it for good or for bad? Is this the wave of the future?

“You’ve got to put your ego away,” says Michael Gonzalez, 52, who works part-time as an extern at KIND, a nonprofit that provides legal services to children in lower Manhattan. He earned a law degree two decades ago, but has been doing sales and running his family’s carpet business since. “You may have had a corner office before, but your new office will now be the conference room, and you’ll be sharing it with 23- and 24-year-olds,” he says. Pace Law School’s New Directions Program is helping him to make the switch.

Mindy Berkower, 52, is a former lawyer who now interns at iRelaunch, a nonprofit helping adults return to work. “An internship—or ‘returnship’—is a really good investment in yourself and a way to get a foot back into the workplace…It’s resume-worthy experience, and at the very least you’re learning new skills, brushing up on old skills, and getting a good current reference.” Berkower was on hiatus for 18 years to care for her kids.

 Suggested Article:  Reflections of a 40-Year-Old Intern

Samar Kharouba is also a New Directions participant. Now 45, the former assistant district attorney in Queens resigned eleven years ago to raise triplets. She interns 20 hours a week at the Westchester Human Rights Commission researching and preparing court cases.

“I feel confident again,” she says. “It’s hard to convince an employer to hire you after you’ve been out of work for 11 years, and programs like this reinforce the fact that I do have some valuable experience to share.”

Gonzales says that internships—often unpaid—do take a toll. “My friends are very well established, making tons of money, and it’s humbling when they’re talking about vacations and second homes,” says Gonzalez, whose wife is supporting their family. “But I wanted to get back into law, I had no idea how to do that, and New Directions and this internship are a godsend,” he adds, “because who would actually hire someone who’s been out for so long otherwise?”

NPQ is interested to hear if this is happening elsewhere to any great extent. We would appreciate hearing from you about whether you have seen this or not.—Ruth McCambridge


  • Dawn Aquila

    There is a clear trend toward mature adults taking unpaid internships–because despite having extensive skills and experience (even if it’s recent), they can’t find a job. Multiply the current job desert by widespread age discrimination, and multiply that by nonprofits that are struggling to get by and therefore redefining demanding jobs as “internships”– you get a lot of highly qualified individuals who are seriously underemployed. And let’s be honest, UNemployed, because if you are doing work that’s beneath you, for no pay, in the desperate hope that it will someday get you a job (any job, please!)–you’re unemployed. How do I know? I speak for myself and 8 of my peers. None of us knows anyone who’s taken an internship unless they resorted to it out of desperation. While there are folks out there who want and/or benefit from unpaid internships, they’re by far the minority.

  • Carol Fishman Cohen

    Internships allow people to update skills, refresh their networks and have a recent, relevant experience on their resume. Talking about the experience is a great conversation starter with practitioners in one’s chosen field and ultimately with hiring managers. One big mistake people on career break make, whether their career break was intentional for eldercare, childcare or other reasons, or unintentional due to a layoff, is that they conduct their “relaunch” from behind their computers at home. Internships force people to get out of the house, a key component of a successful return to work effort. This is not to say a person can’t also be pursuing other return to work strategies concurrently.

    As for whether internships are happening elsewhere to any great extent, consult this iRelaunch Research Report on Returning Professional Internships https://www.irelaunch.com/sites/default/files/Sept27%20Returning%20Professional%20Internships%20Cover-TofCnts.pdf and this Harvard Business Review article “The 40-Year-Old Intern” https://www.irelaunch.com/sites/default/files/The%2040-Year-Old%20Intern.pdf. The report includes coverage of a relatively new program at ThinkFlex matching women returning to work with internships in non-profits run by Subhadra England. See http://www.thinkflex.net/internships.html for more information. Also check the ” Using Strategic Volunteering to Relaunch” section in iRelaunch’s Success Story Gallery here: http://www.irelaunch.com/success-stories.

  • DG

    This is appalling. It’s bad enough that companies expect the minimally-experienced to work for free, but now a break in your career means you’re suddenly not worthy of pay? Even minimum wage? A more junior position than your last is nothing to balk at but this is just obscene.

  • Corey Madden

    I wrote about my experience as a 50 year old intern at a network television show in an essay called That Bitch, Corey Madden.

    You can read it at–


    I’ve since had an original screenplay optiioned and have successfully transitioned back to full time work in the non profit arts

  • Sandy Hathaway

    Have not seen this on the West Coast (SF Bay Area). Do you know of similar programs out this way (not just lawyers but other professionals)? Sounds like a good idea. Often they have in addition to previous work experience lots of life skills. Especially those who have been involved with their children’s schools – lots of fundraising, organizing, working with volunteers – great skills for a non-profit development department.