Sara Sutton Fell answers questions on mid-career internships

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO of FlexJobs, a leading site for finding a job that offers some type of flexibility, including telecommuting positions, flex/part-time hours, freelance, etc. FlexJobs was recently named a Top Career Site by Forbes and is the official job board for Working Mother. I  recently exchange emails with Sara, after reading about the site.

(via email)

Stowe Boyd: I am interested in learning more about your thoughts in mid-career internships. I’ve read a few articles but wonder if there are organizations or web sites that could make it more accessible to people. And of course, the hurdles involved in finding meaningful mid-career internships.

Sara Sutton Fells: Most internship sites are geared towards college students or recent graduates, so it can be tough to find the more professional opportunities that don’t require you to be a matriculating student or recent grad.  Having said that, ANY internship is a foot in the door and an opportunity to learn new skills and to prove yourself, so using sites like are certainly an option, and focusing on the jobs that are for “recent grads” and asking (or even just applying) to find out if they’ll consider not-so-recent grads.   I would also recommend people check out FlexJobs’ Internships category as well.  For example:

  • Development Intern with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  • Pharmacy Intern with Tufts Medical Center
  • Family Resource Coordinator with Second Harvest Heartland

One main strategy I recommend though (which is in the same ballpark with mid-career internships) is volunteering or working with nonprofits.  Since nonprofits are often looking for skilled volunteers, it’s a great way to keep your resume active, network, and possibly rise within the organization or your field (especially if you’re looking for a way to get experience to help you with a career change). Nonprofit and Philanthropy jobs are very popular on our site, and cover hundreds of different types of job titles.  I would recommend and our Top 100 Companies for Nonprofit Jobs as resources.

SB: A second question: what about the legal side of unpaid internships?

SSF: Well, it’s much more restrictive than people might think.  There is a set of guidelines set out by the US Dept of Labor for Internship Programs that falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act which has strict criteria about internship programs in the private sector.  For example, the internship is “for the benefit of the intern” rather than the company, and they even state that the company “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities to the point that “on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”  So internships are really for training purposes, which is why they are geared mainly towards college students and recent graduates, to supplement or complement their educational process.

SB: I’ve written a lot about open business (see In an open business people will just show up and start working,  for example). How does that relate to midcareer internships? More new connections = more opportunities for work, right?

SSF: I’m a big believer that the perception of a straight career path (aka “climbing the ladder”) is damaging for most people.  The simple fact is that it doesn’t happen that way anymore for most people, and the expectation that it should causes self-doubt, disillusion, and a ridiculous amount of non-productive pressure.  Instead there are sidesteps, steps backwards, and occasionally leaps forward.  So I believe that the mid-career internships are a possible way to expand your professional path and learn new skills.  You get your foot in the door with a company and are theretofore considered an “internal hire” if a job does become available, and you meet and connect with colleagues to grow your professional network.

Sara’s thoughts on more flexible work situations are certainly in line with what I think the market needs, but may run aground the polarization that animates a lot of the discussion around remote work (see The polarization around remote work comes as no surprise), perhaps one of the most divisive issues today in the workplace.