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A New (Older) Take on Internships

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- Summer is intern season in corporate America, when college students descend upon offices across the country in the hopes of getting resume-worthy work experience -- and ideally a job offer.

Traditionally, interns have been students in their teens or early 20s who get educational credit in exchange for their unpaid labor. But that demographic may be changing. Older, more experienced workers who want to move into a new industry are finding that internships are the key to getting a foot in the door, and some businesses have begun to alter the terms of their internships to widen their pool of applicants.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive of 2,500 hiring managers, about 10% had received internship applications from workers over 50, and almost 25% reported that they had seen interest in internships from workers with more than 10 years of experience.

For small businesses, offering internships to people who are long past their college years provides a low-risk way to test out talent at low or no cost. Business owners can see how a prospective employee meshes with the rest of the team and performs day-to-day before taking on him or her as a hire.

There are benefits to the interns as well, especially those who are looking to switch careers. Interning gives them a chance to try out a new field with no long-term commitment, learning what it really takes to succeed in a particular industry.

The restaurant chain Moe's Southwest Grill recently created an internship program as a way to broaden its pool of potential franchisees. The company, founded in 2000, has since expanded to more than 450 locations in 33 states, a rate of growth that President Paul Damico credits to strong interest in fast-casual dining. So far this year, same-store sales are up 9% this year over last.

While much of the growth comes from franchisees who are already active in the fast-casual sector and are looking to expand, the company is also open to newcomers, with one catch: Anyone wishing to buy a franchise must have restaurant management experience, no matter how great their financials or impressive their previous career.

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