Remember the “Friends” episode where Chandler gets an advertising internship and feels out of place because of his age? I could be wrong, but I’m getting an image of him on roller sneakers, running into walls while “researching” the product assigned to his intern team. Turns out there are a lot of Chandlers out there.  

That’s based on a CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive survey of more than 2500 hiring managers in 2010. Among the findings: nearly a quarter (23 percent) of employers reported interest in internships from workers with more than ten years of experience.

“Internships are no longer just for college students and recent graduates,” notes a U.S. News magazine article on the survey. “Experienced workers are increasingly applying for internships to network at a desirable company or change careers.”

I thought of Chandler again on the last day of a continuing education program I’d enrolled in, a University of Washington certificate program in advanced interactive marketing. Each of our five student teams had consulted for a client over the past six months and now we were presenting our final marketing plans to the executives of “our” companies. And Chandler would have fit right in.

Unlike Chandler’s fellow interns, we were all working adults with years of professional experience. We ranged in age from about 25 to 50 with the bulk of us in our 30s and early 40s.  UW program advisors say that students in its certificate courses often learn as much from each other as they do from the instructors and that was true in our class.

Take my group, team Moving Comfort (Moving Comfort is a Seattle-based supplier of women’s fitness apparel for national and international markets). We were united in our interest in the company and its product line but as individuals brought different skills and knowledge to the table.

Two of us had direct marketing experience in the outdoor industry, a great jumping off point. Thank goodness for the teammate who shared her expertise in search engine optimization. I profess undying gratitude to our resident MBA—not only did she perform needed quantitative analysis, she patiently taught us some of the basics, too. And bless the designated project manager who kept us on track. Experience in PR, blogging, client relations…the list of our aggregated skills goes on.     

Even so, Chandler with his expertise in statistical analysis and data reconfiguration would have contributed another dimension to the marketing plan we developed. (No, I didn’t remember what he’d done for a living either—I read it in an episode plot summary.)

Perhaps the best part? Chandler wouldn’t have had to quit his day job—our class and team meetings were scheduled nights and weekends. No strange looks from acquaintances or former colleagues to make him doubt himself. No roller sneaker projects here, either. Other clients included an upscale grocery chain launching a catering service and a startup quality apparel company targeting tall men.

My experience is far from unique. A good number of certificate programs accessible to working adults in the Seattle metropolitan area are built around a practicum or “capstone project.” Read course descriptions carefully to identify them. For example, offerings from UW Professional & Continuing Education range from a course pairing IT professionals with clients seeking cyber security strategies to a fiber arts program that culminates in mounting of an exhibit.     

If you’d like to pursue a traditional internship experience at mid-career, check out InternsOver40, a website that reports more than 500,000 visitors in 2011.  But remember that there’s an excellent alternative for adults with career and life history to build on.