Work for free to find your next dream job

LOS ANGELES For Kim Lacapria, the career field is like a box of chocolates - full of choices. So when an opportunity opened up at Chocri, a chocolate company, she was quick to bite.

"I really wanted to work with a company that had a really cool brand and a really interesting concept," said Lacapria.

But there was a catch: the job didn't pay, at least not in money. But this mom of two was OK with that.

"I'm 31 and I have some experience, but I wanted to get some more varied experience," said Lacapria.

Grant Harris, who is an image consultant, felt the same way about the unpaid internship he took on last year.

"I looked at it as an opportunity to work with someone that was more knowledgeable, had more experience and could guide me," said Harris.

Typically, internships are considered ideal for the college set. But career consultant Barbara Safani says spots for older workers are now popping up in everything from human resources to health care to advertising to law.

"It can be difficult to get your foot in the door somewhere where you have no previous experience," said Safani. "So what some people are trying to do is work unpaid for a certain period of time so that they can get the skill set that they need and beef up their resume. Then they can apply for a paid position."

Before you start, you should know that there are guidelines. Companies are not allowed to take advantage of eager interns. Certain criteria have to be met to make the internship legal.

For example, it has to be educational. The work you're doing shouldn't displace regular workers, and you can't expect a full-time position based on your unpaid work.

If it works for you, helping out could lead to new connections or even a paid internship. That's what happened at Lacapria's company.

"As a start-up, we weren't able have a paid internship right from the get-go, so Kim actually helped us get to the point where we were able to turn this into a paid internship," said Chocri CEO Carmen Mager.

Harris used his experience to launch his own company. He recommends this kind of hands-on-experience for anyone.

"It doesn't matter age level, age range, professional track. You can do it," said Harris.

A recent poll indicated 26 percent of those asked said they would consider an unpaid internship to gain the right experience.

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