Carol Fishman Cohen: Author of “The 40-year Old Intern”


This week I’m doing interviews for a feature in a U.S. benefits publication called In Praise of Older Workers. I had an opportunity to talk to Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO of iRelaunch and author of the acclaimed Harvard Business Review “40-Year-Old Intern” article series.

Her company iRelaunch has evolved to become a comprehensive U.S.resource for career re-entry information and services for individuals, employers, professional associations, and universities. The iRelaunch Return to Work Conference for individuals looking to return to the workforce has been the company’s flagship event since 2008.

In many cases her clients and conference attendees include women who have taken a career break to raise a family. However, Fishman Cohen says, “We also have older workers in their 50s who are on, what we call unintentional career break. They might have been laid off or lost their jobs one way or the other, and our strategies are also effective for them.”

What I found most interesting is her work with organizations to develop paid internships for older workers. “The idea is that to the extent the employer views hiring someone returning from career break or who might be older as a risky proposition, by bringing them on in a short-term, nonbinding work arrangement, then the employer has the opportunity to evaluate the person, based on an actual work sample, before having to make a permanent hiring decision,” she says.

In her article “The 40-Year-Old Intern” Goes to Wall Street,” she reports on how in the space of only a few months Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, and the Onramp Fellowship for Lawyers were implemented by iRelaunch clients. Statistics collected from this group reveals that depending on the program, between 50%-90% of these internships were converted into full-time positions.

While the primary focus of iRelaunch activities has been employees and companies in the financial services, she is currently involved in a joint initiative with the Society of Women Engineers creating the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) re-entry task force . Five major global STEM sector companies who will commit to piloting reentry internship programs over the next year and a half will be announced in the next month.

Fishman Cohen says it’s up to older workers to ensure they have the subject knowledge, the energy and enthusiasm so when they meet with prospective employers, they can make a good case for the value they can bring to the organization.

Nevertheless, she says more companies are beginning to appreciate that older workers can bring a mature perspective. “We also feel that the older worker is in a more stable life stage, so there will be fewer maternity leaves and fewer spousal or partner job relocations,” she notes. “Plus, people who are returning after career break have an energy and enthusiasm about returning to work precisely because they have been away from it for a while.”





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