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The Predator – Watch out for Exploitative Internships

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jun 21, 2012 in Career Path, Lessons Learned

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For those who are still in college or just now graduating, the saying, “It’s a jungle out there,” is truer now more than ever. One of the many options that students or recent graduates flock to in lieu of full- or even part-time employment is the unpaid internship. Don’t get me wrong—internships, especially in certain hard-to-break-into industries like journalism, are often the only way to get your foot in the door. But in hard economic times, it’s not uncommon for companies and businesses to offer internships that are either exploitative, technically illegal, or some combination of both. Here’s what you should watch out for to avoid becoming the prey of shady internship programs:

1.      Ask former interns about their experiences; don’t join an internship program blind.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s plenty of information out there about both good and bad internships. Sometimes a simple Google search will suffice. You can also look into websites that rank and review internships, like Whatever you do, try to get in personal touch with a former intern—either through email, on the phone, or in-person—so that you understand from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, what the internship is really like.

2.      You should not be asked to do the same work in amount and kind as a full-time worker.

What makes an internship illegal is getting paid nothing to conduct “essential work.” Essential work is basically a full set of tasks that a full-time employee who gets paid does on a daily basis. Internships are essentially a networking opportunity combined with a few diverse tasks to give you a better idea of what the company or organization does as a whole. If you’re being asked to do essential work, then you’re working for a company that’s breaking the law. For more information about the legality of unpaid internships, check out this article.

3.      Always first seek out paid internships. They do exist.

Of course, the vast majority of internships are unpaid. But you’d be surprised by how many internships are out there that do pay, even if it’s not very much. Paid internships tend to be more serious in the nature of the work you’ll be doing, and they’re more affordable.

4.      There are definite alternatives to unpaid internships. You just have to know where to look.

Although many of my friends and relatives have had internships, and I’ve counseled younger people who’ve participated in good internships, I’ve never done unpaid work in my life beyond extracurricular volunteer work. When I graduated from college and couldn’t find work, I instead took on freelance projects as a writer and consultant. These (paid) projects can be just as rewarding as internships. You’ll establish connections that can lead to full-time work, you’ll learn the basics of various industries, and you’ll be getting paid to boot. So while internships can be wonderful experiences, you don’t absolutely need them to get your foot in the door.

In virtually every industry, there are predators out there. Don’t be their victim. Do your research and choose internships wisely. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Barbara Jolie. Barbara is a full time freelance writer and blogger in the Houston area. She enjoys writing about education and the advantages of online classes for all students. If you have any questions email Barbara at barbara.jolie876

If you have a great idea for a jungle-themed post, let us know! Guest writers or requests are always welcome!

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The Tree Rings – Aging In The Jungle

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Apr 26, 2012 in Career Path, Job Search

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Dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, is a method of dating based on analysis of the patterns of tree-rings. Not only can the age of trees be determined, but other variables can be inferred from tree rings such as past climates. The older the tree, the more knowledge can be gleaned from their unique patterns.

I get a lot of questions from people who are in their fifties needing advice about job search, career change, and what types of jobs are good for people over 50.  We wrote about why companies might want to hire people with more experience rather than less in the past but my husband read a recent article from the Washington Post and that, combined with the 60 Minutes tribute to Mike Wallace, shed new light on this subject for me. 

Did you know Mike Wallace didn’t even start with 60 Minutes until he was over 50?  For 37 years he was a trailblazer of news magazine programming and had an amazing career there, whether you agreed with his style and conclusions or not.  He is a shining example of how to take your experience in a new direction rather than retiring in the traditional way as you approach this part of your life.

Many people who are looking for work later in their careers have become accustomed to traditional employee/employer relationships because that is what they have always had.  Long gone are the days of our parents and grandparents when they were able to retire with a solid pension and live a relatively stress free retirement.   

Becoming a consultant in your field is an excellent opportunity for people faced with unexpected job change at latter stages of their careers. Now is the time where their expertise can lend itself quite nicely to assisting others with their own learning and growth paths while continuing to grow their own rings of experience.

Many start ups are seeking part time CFOs and COOs to help them grow, and local chapters of The Service Core of Retired Executives ( can help.  I have seen many volunteers get snapped up into part time positions, in some cases full time roles, because they made a substantive connection with someone they met through SCORE who found value in their expertise.

Executive coaching is a great business as well but it does require certification to be held in professional regard.  If you are in the DC area and might want to learn more about coaching, the Capital Coaches Conference is an all day event Thursday, June 7th, 2012 at George Mason University and the speaker lineup is impressive.  Before you make the investment and commitment to becoming a certified coach, a one day conference like this is a great way to get introduced and meet many successful people in the industry. 

Remember, full time employment can come in the form of a couple of part time jobs combined.  If health insurance is a concern, consult your accountant about forming an LLC and an insurance broker can help you navigate what plan you need to accommodate your lifestyle.  A coaching client of mine (who is over 50) recently consulted with Business Benefits Group and uncovered a significant savings setting up a plan for himself rather than opting into his cobra coverage. 

So, while I might need a little more Advil to get past my morning aches and pains than I used to, knowing that I can take charge of my own career and find new opportunities to utilize my years of experience helping those with less gives me some relief.

Additional substantive articles on finding work over 50:

In case you missed the Mike Wallace segment, here is the link.

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The Bear – Coming out of Hibernation

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Apr 26, 2010 in Job Search

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Many people across the country have been between jobs for longer than they, or anyone else, thought they would be.  It can be discouraging, demoralizing, and even devastating to your personal well being such as foreclosure, ruined credit, etc…We’ve all seen it on the news and in the blogs.

What we don’t see is how people can recover from something like that.  Many companies have released their hiring freezes this spring and have come out of the economic hibernation. So consider these ideas if you’re looking, or thinking about a new job, to make those sleepy companies wake up and notice you!

First, dust yourself off and get focused.  You CAN find a job if you put your full effort into that search and don’t wait for it to miraculously find you. Make sure your resume is an accurate reflection of your skills and abilities and what you want to do, not just what you’ve done.

Second, create a list of companies that have a need for someone with your skills and experience.   These techniques are discussed in detail in my book TEN STEPS TO FINDING THE PERFECT JOB. Search the internet for companies in your geographic area who hire people with your industry experience and certifications.  Using CareerBuilder, Monster and other websites like LinkedIn to research your former employers’ competition can give you lots of information.

Third, reach out to people who work at those companies directly.  Don’t wait for HR to post a position.  80% of jobs are obtained through networking.  You can contact people by phone or send them a resume and cover letter via the USPS.  Priority Mail gets noticed, and the envelopes and labels are free at

Fourth, get out of your comfort zone and network. Know your 2 sentence “TV GUIDE” pitch.  Quickly conveying who you are and what you want to do projects confidence and makes it easier for people to refer you to employers hiring your skill set.  If you have a target list of companies, make sure you get to events they are sponsoring that will be full of their employees for you to meet.

Fifth, use the Internet to get yourself out there so people can find you.  Post your resume on CareerBuilder, Monster, and other job search websites where it is free to post your resume.  Also, use LinkedIn to connect with former co-workers AFTER you have a fully updated profile that includes your status as looking for a new career in XYZ field.  As you invite people to link with you, they will see your update and may have a need for someone at their new company with your experience, but you have to make them aware of your desire for a new job to get that referral!  Many consulting assignments are obtained this way.

It’s easy to complain about not having a job, or the job you want for that matter, but it’s also easy to do something about it.  You can’t wait for other people to do things for you, only you can control your activity level.  Get up and out there!


Carolyn Thompson

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