An Intern At 40-Something, And 'Paid In Hugs' Your boss may be younger than you, your fellow interns may be decades younger, and you work for free. For Renee Killian and Danielle Probst, reconsidering their careers meant interning in their 40s.

An Intern At 40-Something, And 'Paid In Hugs'

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Some other news: As the job market improves, people in their 40s or older are trying to restart their careers with internships. Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Here in the basement of the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., the job of making sure the response trucks are properly stocked often falls to Renee Killian.


RENEE KILLIAN: This is a cage where we keep all of our items.

NOGUCHI: Blankets, water bottles and cleaning kits are kept in the event of a fire or disaster. Killian is an intern during the day, and a volunteer who's on call many nights. And she's not earning a dime.

KILLIAN: And right now, you know, I go out and I'm not being paid for anything, but I do get paid in hugs. And so that's a big thing for me.

NOGUCHI: But it's a line of work this 47-year-old adores. Killian is a former police officer and after losing her job managing a marina, she opted to intern alongside George Washington University students less than half her age.

KILLIAN: We have GW student who are in here who are like, teeny bopping around. They do look to me for support and, you know, and I assist them in every way.

NOGUCHI: Killian's boss, Lisa McGee, a disaster program manager, is supportive.

LISA MCGEE: I came in as an older intern myself.

NOGUCHI: How old were you when you did that internship?

MCGEE: Oh, well, 40-something - about 43. (Laughter)


NOGUCHI: McGee says older interns often have more empathy, life experience, and commitment to the job. And it's a commitment Renee Killian wears on her sleeve, literally. In lieu of wedding rings, she and her late husband got matching Red Cross tattoos on their wrists.

Do you always wear Red Cross earrings?

KILLIAN: I wear Red Cross something, so there's something on me that's Red Cross every day.

NOGUCHI: Killian believes the internship will help her get a paying job. She's currently interviewing.

KILLIAN: They were amazed when I told them. I says yeah, I'm a 47-year-old intern, and a volunteer, at Red Cross. And they're, like, really? And I'm, like, yeah. And they respect that.

NOGUCHI: Are you nervous?

KILLIAN: Nope. Nope. I'm 47 years old. I'm not nervous.

NOGUCHI: The great recession and its long-term unemployment legacy have put the spotlight on older interns, including in the movies. "The Internship" features two middle-aged interns at Google.


CAROL COHEN: I loved the movie, and I thought there were moments there that reflected the real world.

NOGUCHI: Carol Cohen is co-founder of iRelaunch, a firm matching companies with people wanting to return to work. She wrote a review of the movie for the Harvard Business Review.

COHEN: Your boss may be a lot younger than you are. That happened to me. My boss was younger than me when I returned, at age 42.

NOGUCHI: Cohen says more than 11,000 people ranging in age from 30 to their late 50s have sought to find work through iRelaunch since it started in 2007. And, she says, it's coinciding with new interests from some big banks and insurance firms that are looking for older interns.

COHEN: There's been an explosion of formal employer return-to-work programs that involve an internship.

NOGUCHI: Danielle Probst is 50. She has a master's in fine arts, but her career in film and marketing faltered during the recession. Now, she's working part-time in the cafeteria at NPR's headquarters.

DANIELLE PROBST: And how many of these sandwiches do I have to make again?

NOGUCHI: Probst says one of her internships did not work out. A little over a year ago, she joined a social media marketing company.

PROBST: The people that I worked with were all young enough to be my kids, which was kind of bizarre for me. That was the first time I was really in a situation like that.

NOGUCHI: Her younger boss didn't take kindly to Probst's mentoring other interns. Ultimately, she was offered a job that paid $10 an hour, not enough to live on. Now, Probst is still casting around for another career steppingstone, but she's less sure of herself these days and not sure where to look.

PROBST: I just never expected to have to redesign my career over and over and over again.

NOGUCHI: Now, she says, it's just a crunch between trying to pay the bills and trying to lay the groundwork for a more stable career.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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