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Internship: The art of designing smart career comebacks!

Internship programmes, for the last several decades, has been a viable bridge between the industry and its talent-pool.

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Breaks and comebacks, are fairly common phenomena in an average Indian Woman Professional’s career path. Maternity, motherhood, elder care, sabbaticals for other pursuits – over 50 per cent of Indian women end up taking at least one break in their careers! Over the last two decades of my experience working closely with over 8000 intentional second career women, I have witnessed several variants of comebacks – smooth and jittery.  And the researcher in me would subconsciously look out for patterns of success, dissecting and analyzing the smoother SEGUEs, the successful comebacks. Standardizing, what I have been able to conclude is that behind every successful comeback - is planning, is intentionality and aspiration, is networking, is an effort towards creating a strong support system and in very many cases, comeback pilots –internships!

Internship programmes, for the last several decades, has been a viable bridge between the industry and its talent-pool. In its various hues and shades, an internship is the “testing the waters” phase, where the employers gets to assess potential recruits, across talent dimensions and where the potential recruits gainhands-on experience. A definite WIN-WIN in the context of second career women, I would say! Internships thus lay the path for sustainable second innings for women. In a day and age where the technological landscape is extremely dynamic, it exposes a potential returnee to current technological expectations on her. It allows her to bridge confidence gaps, that her break might have imposed on her. It infuses in her the spirit to once again prove her mettle, at the same time, giving the second career woman a “time window” to assess how logistics of support – for child care/elder care etc. are functioning. Virtual internships, a high-in-demand offering today, also guarantee flexibility – the ability to work from home/work remotely incentivizes the opportunity for second career women.

Taking a 360-degree view, let us also look at second career internships from an organisation’s stand point. The conviction around the potential of the second career women talent-pool is picking up in India Inc. Over the last 17 years, my team at AVTAR has carefully curated second career programmes for many such discerning organisations, across sectors. And we are delighted at the ripple effect this conviction is creating! In 2017, 40 per cent of the Working Mother & AVTAR 100 Best Companies for Women in India, had structured hiring programmes to recruit second career women; 59 per cent offered short-term projects/internships. In my discussions with the policy makers of many of these organisations, I have seen how they view Internships as an affirmation of their conviction, evidence that their second career recruits had it in them and were there to stay! Internships, they say, help void the shadows of corporate apprehensions on ROI on the second career talent pool. In fact, sometime back when we surveyed the managers/supervisors of second career women, we found that over 55 per cent of them rated their engagement with career returnees, very pleasant. Line managers felt that women making comebacks after a break came with greater resolve, discipline, and intent, facts they established while interning. And when it comes to internships translating to full-time offers, AVTAR’s recruitment metrics indicate that 56 per cent is the average conversion rate, for some organisations the rates were as high as 80 per cent- a testimony to the effectiveness of the internship model!

I have a second career story, too – so I know first-hand, what it takes to account a career break in your resume. If one has been a high performer, over-achiever, the process becomes all the more painful. Internships can come to the rescue here – they help a woman aspiring for a comeback make up for her time-away of corporate dormancy, also so in the .doc version of her CV. An ‘aha moment’ is also the discovery that apart from up-skilling and re-skilling, internships actually may help one in “new skilling” – explore a new area, pick up new skills – those that one might have shelved in the earlier years of professional rat-race.

I loved the movie – “The Intern”, I have taken several leadership lessons from it, specifically around inclusion. It beautifully showed how the diversity of thoughts, diversity of styles can add nuanced layers to our businesses. While I would save my thoughts on retiree internships for another day, I quote Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) from the movie, “I read once, musicians don't retire. They stop when there's no more music in them. Well, I still have music in me, absolutely positive about that”. So let us be all ears!









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