Early in her career, Patty supervised a team of traders at a well known investment firm. Once the financial crisis hit in late 2008, it wasn't long after that Patty was laid off. Her skills were specialized so the only experience she had to offer was in a field that was not only on a hiring freeze but still laying people off at an alarming rate. (To learn more, check out How To Get A Job On Wall Street.)

Without many options, Patty applied for an internship with a small New York-based startup firm where she learned internet publishing. Since her lay off left her with few options, she decided to use this time to explore other career opportunities.

A Growing Trend
Patty's not alone. Many job seekers, frustrated because jobs in their field have all but dried up, are revisiting their college roots and taking on internships. Companies like Sara Lee and Goldman Sachs have mid-career internships available as well as many other companies, and the amount of internships available to those in the middle of their working years is quickly rising.

Unfortunately, the new normal is that jobs, much like credit, are much harder to find. If you were one of the nearly 10% of the American workforce who were laid off in 2010, finding a job in your field that pays well is difficult, if not impossible. With very few options available, some people are taking on mid-life internships. (To learn more, see Internships: Find The Best One For You.)

Getting the Most Out of It
Before her internship, Patty had gained 22 years of experience in the financial services field and a healthy salary. Taking on an internship where she started over at the bottom of the career ladder with no money coming in was both a shock to her self esteem and an investment in to her new future.

Life is much more complicated than the glory days of college. With families to support, bills to pay and retirement plans to make, it's a gamble working full time for no pay and only the hope of landing a new job - so how can you optimize your chances of making this investment pay off?

A Successful Mid-Life Internship
First, make sure you know exactly what you're doing before you accept the position. You're giving up a substantial amount of money-making time for this so make sure your job is something that will result in valuable experiences. If you're looking to be an executive, doing an internship that is based on data entry in a corner office probably isn't the wisest investment of time.

Next, build up your professional contacts. According to an article from mainstreet.com, career coach and co-founder of the Institute for Coaching, Meredith Haberfeld, advises, "If you're savvy and disciplined about cultivating genuine relationships within the company and more widely in the industry, among the most useful outcomes of mid-career internships are the contacts you develop."

Gain some quantifiable resume-worthy results. If you're an intern in the sales field, keep track of your sales numbers. Every field has quantifiable metrics. Find them and aim to impress with these numbers.

Finally, on your resume, list it as a role you performed rather than an unpaid internship. Of course you shouldn't lie about it, but don't highlight the fact that it was an unpaid role. Remember that what you did was a job with many of the same responsibilities as your paid coworkers, so don't downplay or diminish your accomplishments. (For more tips, see The 10 Commandments Of Resume Writing.)

The Bottom Line
It's tough out there right now. Jobs are hard to come by and if you're laid off, use this as an opportunity to learn and grow in your career or learn a completely new one. It may feel like a step back to embark on an unpaid internship, but remember: regardless of our age, when we enter a new field, we all start at the bottom. However, with drive, determination and the know-how to get the most out of your internship, in no time you could be working in a career you've always dreamed of. (For more, check out The 10 Coolest Internships.)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: G20 Leader Spats And China Fakes It.