Need a Career Do-Over? Consider an Internship

Last Updated Jan 11, 2011 7:04 AM EST

You've been out of school for awhile and have one or two paid gigs under you're belt, but after learning more about your own preferences and the options available to you, you're starting to think you might be on the wrong path. Maybe you started in sales and finance now seems more appealing, or maybe you thought you just had to work on Wall Street but are now thinking you'd find non-profit work more fulfilling. Are you out of luck without shelling out for more education?

Entrepreneur Mark Babbitt, writing on Classroom to Cubicle, says no, and offers another route to a career do-over -- internships. Usually thought of as an experience-building tool for those with no paid work behind them, Babbitt argues that internships can actually be a great way to propel your career in a new direction, even if you're not fresh out of school. He offers three ways to use them to get out of a rut -- and not all of them involve being broke:

  • Intern in a Small Team Environment. Get away from the traditional perception of an intern. Consider an internship at a start-up company where you work directly with C-level executives and decision makers. Or a change-oriented nonprofit where you'll immediately contribute. As an intern with a smaller team organization, you'll often be directly responsible for project management or execution â€" and rarely bored. A small team organization is also a great place to expand your personal network. Colleagues, mentors, vendors, and customers all get to witness your passion and work ethic first hand â€" and can become champions for your career.
  • Explore Different Roles Within Your Career Choice. Internships are a great way to learn what you like -â€" and don't like -â€" about your chosen career field. Especially at start-ups, nonprofits, and smallbiz, you'll wear many hats while you contribute. Take note of which activities were best suited to your talents and goals, and which failed to pique your interest. Volunteer to assist for tasks that are naturally enticing to you, even if they aren't on your "to-do" list. Many employers will recognize your appetite for the subject â€" and make adjustments to accommodate your passion.
  • Mix in a "Virtual" Internship. Try your hand at a virtual assignment. Rather than reporting to work in a traditional office setting, a virtual internship allows you to complete your assigned tasks from anywhere, and around your existing schedule. The best aspect of virtual internships, however, is the self-direction and "rush" you get from being solely responsible for a project, without someone looking over your shoulder. Of course, a certain amount of self-discipline is required -â€" but most interns thoroughly enjoy their virtual internships.
Obviously, the internship route won't work for those weighed down with serious expenses or with a schedule jam-packed with personal responsibilities, but for a twenty-something in need of a career face-lift, an internship might be worth considering.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user B Rosen, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.