Author Topic: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?  (Read 521 times)

Scio5

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I'm currently in the "slog" part of FIRE (although whoa Nelly last year's stock market boom shaved a few years off) and I'm at ~20 years worth of my very leanest spend rate. I'm entertaining the idea of taking some time off and then doing a pivot to a different field before I reach a full-FIRE number to try new things. I loved school and the structure of classwork, but I'm not super jazzed about possibly taking out new student loans to try a different field.

Adults with several years of expenses saved up seems like the PERFECT group of people to actually take up an unpaid internship, rather than struggling college kids. Has anyone here done an unpaid internship as part of a career pivot, or even after FIRE just to try something new? It seems like a way to test out a different career path without racking up new college loans.

bloodaxe

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2021, 07:34:22 AM »
Never done that, but one thing I"m interested in doing in FIRE is WWOOF. Which gives you the opportunity to work on a farm in exchange for room and board.


Malcat

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2021, 07:45:43 AM »
Kind of.

I built up several side hustles before I retired, and a lot of that involved doing tons of unpaid work for the sake of gaining experience and building my network. However, it was all intermingled with my non-profit work, so it was really just a giant mess of paid and unpaid work that all fed into each other.

But yes, being able to afford to dedicate my time and energy to developing skills without worrying about compensation gave me HUGE leverage in terms of progressing in my career, and provided TONS of very lucrative job options.

They weren't technically internships, but I was able to approach businesses and suggest pilot projects where I could try out something new, see if I could prove the concept, and then engineer a lucrative role for myself moving forward.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2021, 07:47:32 AM by Malcat »

Scio5

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2021, 07:49:30 AM »
Oh neat, WWOOF sounds really cool! I was looking at doing a stint at [mind is blanking and I'm failing to Google, but you sign up for a week or two and help collect ecology data at cool locations around the world] but you have to pay your own way. Free room and board sounds great!

Scio5

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2021, 07:51:56 AM »
@Malcat Thank you! Approaching it as "I already have a project, can I work for you" sounds a lot better than "can I be a free intern?"

bacchi

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2021, 08:10:08 AM »
Oh neat, WWOOF sounds really cool! I was looking at doing a stint at [mind is blanking and I'm failing to Google, but you sign up for a week or two and help collect ecology data at cool locations around the world] but you have to pay your own way. Free room and board sounds great!

Earthwatch. It's an awesome experience.

Scio5

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2021, 08:16:25 AM »

Earthwatch. It's an awesome experience.

Thank you, that's it! Can you tell me about it? It looks really great, but the price puts it more in the realm of "interesting short vacation" than FIRE vocation. Did you get the sense that there are any opportunities to volunteer longer-term and get your room and board comped? I would love to work with ecology/wildlife without going back for another degree.

draco44

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2021, 08:20:13 AM »
Don't you pay Earthwatch to let you come? Still sounds amazing, though.

No, I haven't done an unpaid internship as an adult, though I have done plenty of volunteering for free. But the volunteering has differed from an internship in that there's rarely a structured development program and I and the organization aren't approaching it with an expectation/hope that I might switch to a paid position at some point.

I have heard of other adults doing unpaid internships as a way to transition into new fields where they have no prior work experience. So it does happen. But it seems to be a rarity. I also knew a guy who joined a new organization way below his previous pay level in order to get in, and then was quickly promoted up to around where he was before.  There's no one true path in life, and different organizations will have different levels of openness to older interns. Just be sure you are moving towards something and not being taken advantage of, however you define that.

draco44

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2021, 08:31:03 AM »
If environmental stuff is an interest and you are US-based, check out the National Parks Service's Volunteer-in-Parks Program: https://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

I'd also encourage you to look for smaller, local opportunities. There are citizen scientists and volunteers doing all kinds of good work, from trail building to running invasive plant removal events to trash pick-ups to wildlife banding and tracking to running educational events at schools and nature centers. Seasonal events counting wildlife populations by recording frog calls or bird watching. Sometimes through independent non-profits or meet-up.com groups, sometimes as local chapters of big groups like the Sierra Club or the Society for Conservation Biology. Or you could become a board member on your town's government working on environmental issues. Planning or zoning groups often deal with environmental issues if there isn't a specific environmental planning commission. Volunteer water quality monitoring is also a big thing in many areas. Marking storm drains to prevent illegal dumping. Tree planting. Start by looking up your town's government page for environmental volunteering opportunities if you don't know where to start. They tend to organize a lot of volunteer things that they can't pay people to do full time.

Edit: One more: You may also enjoy training to become a master gardener or master naturalist.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2021, 08:34:40 AM by draco44 »

Malcat

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2021, 08:37:24 AM »
@Malcat Thank you! Approaching it as "I already have a project, can I work for you" sounds a lot better than "can I be a free intern?"

It was more that I was already networking with tons of businesses through my executive non-profit work, so my value to these companies was already established, and I had excellent relationships with these people already, so it was an organic process of exploring our potential value to one another, and trying things out to see if they would work.

However, yes, I have just cold called organizations and offered to help them with something, or try a pilot project, etc. I've either done things entirely unpaid, or with a clause that says that if we decide to continue moving forward with our work, that I get back-paid for my time. I was almost always an independent contractor, so it was set up basically that if they were satisfied with my provided service that I got paid and if they weren't then I didn't.

There are countless different ways to leverage unpaid work, but high level networking skills will make it a much more powerful lever.
FTR, this is easiest with small and medium sized businesses where it's easier to get direct access to the people who make executive decisions, and where there is more flexibility in creating new roles. Also, smaller businesses have so few staff that it's far more common that they will have a lack of specific skills among their staff, just by virtue of having so few. So it's easier to find a business that could really use technical services, or writing services, or help with logistics, or health and safety, or financial advice, or business development and marketing, or management and training, etc, etc, etc.

Almost every small to medium business I've ever advised could desperately use some kind of consultant for some kind of service, but consultants tend to be very risky because they're expensive and give unpredictable results. Most of my opportunities came up just from shooting the shit with other professionals about how brutal it is managing businesses, and figuring out how to be useful to them.


Scio5

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2021, 08:41:13 AM »
If environmental stuff is an interest and you are US-based, check out the National Parks Service's Volunteer-in-Parks Program: https://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

I'd also encourage you to look for smaller, local opportunities. There are citizen scientists and volunteers doing all kinds of good work, from trail building to running invasive plant removal events to trash pick-ups to wildlife banding and tracking to running educational events at schools and nature centers. Seasonal events counting wildlife populations by recording frog calls or bird watching. Sometimes through independent non-profits or meet-up.com groups, sometimes as local chapters of big groups like the Sierra Club or the Society for Conservation Biology. Or you could become a board member on your town's government working on environmental issues. Planning or zoning groups often deal with environmental issues if there isn't a specific environmental planning commission. Volunteer water quality monitoring is also a big thing in many areas. Marking storm drains to prevent illegal dumping. Tree planting. Start by looking up your town's government page for environmental volunteering opportunities if you don't know where to start. They tend to organize a lot of volunteer things that they can't pay people to do full time.

Edit: One more: You may also enjoy training to become a master gardener or master naturalist.

Thank you, these are all fantastic suggestions! My current day job is local government planning and zoning (so I have to be careful about joining boards myself), but I didn't know about the National Parks Service program. I'm also keeping an eye on when the local groups that do master naturalist programs open back up after COVID.

Sun Hat

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Re: Has anyone done an unpaid internship as an adult/after FIRE?
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2021, 08:54:49 AM »
When I was deemed to be too sick to work in my field in the military and was temporarily sent to the personnel recovery unit (a holding place for people while they recover or before release), I did three placements with workplaces that didn't have to pay for my services.

One was kind of a bust, since they immediately tossed out the agreement as to what I was to be used for, fired their receptionist and cleaner and had me take over those jobs. It wasn't a good experience.

The next was a better fit, where I had done 80% of a qualification to do a form of technical research and policy work. They also started me on work that was far below my skill set, but was at least on topic. Once they realized that the work that they gave me was really easy for me, they got excited at the prospect of having me do both more easy work and a bit of more challenging work. Had I been well enough to stick it out for longer, it would have been the perfect way into a niche field.

The last placement was at a non-profit where I knew the executives and they wanted to hire me to take over their office management. They wanted to pay me from day 1, but I had to talk them in to not paying me until my military contract was up.  Here, they let me dive in and do the primary work right away rather than assisting someone else. Even though I was unfamiliar with the processes, I was happier in this role because I was used to being in charge and working independently. Again, I was too ill to stay with it for long though. 

My take away is that you need to really stick to your guns about what you're there to do and not do, and that you expect it to be a mutually beneficial relationship. Also, that changing fields can involve losing a lot of status and independence, which can be really hard on the ego.

I've also done a lot of volunteering (an archive, food distribution charity, animal shelter) since retiring and have found that most places give volunteers the jobs that they don't want to do themselves. Some places, it frees up the paid staff to do more valuable work, and other places it frees up the paid staff to sit on their butts and get paid to do nothing. The former is far easier to swallow than the latter.