How to adapt when you’re a 40-year-old intern

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It has been a little over a year since I began the full-time MBA programme at HEC. A decision that fit my professional and personal desire for new challenges, and renewed perspective. I also wanted to bring new and innovative solutions to the work environment.

Nonetheless, the decision had a catch: the average age of an MBA applicant in Europe is about 28.

I was last a student 10 years ago – a MSc in sustainable energy engineering – and since then I have worked on several continents, started my own business, changed functions and sectors, and started a family.

When you are turning 40, with more than 15 years’ work experience and want a career boost, an executive MBA is the logical step. I considered it, but it was not viable given the specific work, geographic and family context – and a part-time programme was discarded for similar reasons. Thus, the only alternative was to plunge into a full-time MBA, aware of the pros and cons of doing it at an atypical age. Atypical, but then again, it is part of embracing a growth mindset.

As the programme advanced, I made sure I learnt from everything and everyone, setting aside the overconfidence that more than a decade of experience might bring. One such experience was the search for an internship, and developing a way to approach it successfully.

Fast forward to now and I am half way through a six-month internship at Schneider Electric, which is at the heart of one of my passions: energy management. So, I took some time to think about the experience from a personal and professional view point. Here are some insights worth sharing:

  • Reinventing yourself is ageless. It feels natural to go through transformations in your teens and twentysomethings, but some think it stops after a certain age. This is far from the truth, in today’s fast-paced world, reinvention (in learning, approach, etc) is very important.
  • Networking remains key, and self-awareness makes a difference. The ability to connect with people, get an interesting conversation going, which sets the tone for a long-term relationship (professional, friendship, business or other), is the true networking. It is not enough to go through the motions. Immerse yourself in understanding people.
  • Make the most of lunchtimes. Groups will form, colleagues sit together, friends sit together and interns will eat together (for the most part). It is the time personal conversations and internal jokes happen, while everything else, including job application stress, fades into the background.
  • Future uncertainty feels larger and perspective is a daily mantra. The thought that “I will have time in the future” disappears; age, family and economic context make today’s decisions feel critical. Nonetheless, putting things into perspective becomes a daily sanity check to appreciate the new experience with the future in mind.

While writing about this topic I watched The Internship (2013), a comedy about two “older” interns and their adaptation to a younger high-tech environment. It had its critics but there were moments where I related to the main characters. In particular, the acceptance that change is needed to find fulfillment at any stage in life.

In any case, during the internship, the expectation, eagerness to learn, uncertainty and motivation to have an impact are the same whether you are 28 or 40.

Every MBA programme has its couple of “way older” students, do you have an anecdote to share on this topic?

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