Revel In co-founder Scott Newman also had reservations initially. "But she was really clear about the fact that she wanted to immerse herself in the kind of New York documentaries we specialize in, so we were willing to give her a shot," he said.
People like Gibney are common at workplaces across the region.
Nearly a year after being let go by a Web development company, Nick Reilly, 36, landed an unpaid internship in the editorial department of Newsweek.
On top of transcribing notes and setting up conference calls with editors five days a week, the aspiring scribe also juggles a full course load at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
"The most difficult part is that I'm not making any money and I don't get enough sleep," said Reilly, of Hoboken. "Plus, I barely have time for a social life and I had to sell my Yankee playoff tickets this year."
Reilly said the sacrifices have been worth it. So far, he's had two articles published and he's able to study during his downtime.
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"I think this whole idea of internships - whether or not you call it an official internship or volunteering - is a great way to get your foot in the door no matter how old you are," said Betsy Werley, executive director of the Transition Network in Manhattan.
"Particularly now for people who have been in corporate America for many years and are looking to make a radical change for whatever reason, it's a way for them to get to know what the work is about and for the organization to get to know them."
Some experts say the tradeoff might be a bad bet.
"I think taking a nonpaying position when you're not in school even in a tough economy is exploitive," said Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of NYU's Wasserman Center for Career Development.
"To network and volunteer in a community service setting is one thing, but to put yourself in a situation with a potential employer where you basically say, ‘I'm at this age and I'm willing to do this for nothing for an extended amount of time,' is asking for trouble."
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