Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

Internship or Job: Is One Better than the Other?


Like me you may have a child in late high school or college, or perhaps you’re a young adult reading this yourself. In either case, you may find yourself debating whether it’s better to find an internship or a job. Most of you will already have set plans for the summer, but this consideration is also relevant during the year. As you move closer to college graduation and a “real job”, it’s important to consider the impact of each.

Will they carry equal weight with employers later on? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?

The obvious difference is that an internship is frequently unpaid, particularly if you have little or no experience in the workplace and are looking to learn while expanding your resume. If unpaid, you may be able to negotiate for school or community service credit. In terms of setting expectations with the organization, there are some good ideas.

The great thing about internships is that you get to test out a work environment and be immersed in that culture, for a limited amount of time. As an intern with little experience you will likely be doing a lot of menial tasks, and whether an employer is willing and ready to train you remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that you’ll really know much upfront; most employers will not spend a lot of time interviewing interns in detail and setting them up to succeed. But you may get lucky. The goal is to show a willingness to pitch in and be flexible while simultaneously asking to do more in an appropriate way. This is a subtle art that is usually developed over time.

An entry-level job is a very different story. On the plus side, it provides a humbling experience that many Gen Y’s have never been exposed to—you are accountable to someone who is paying you and you must deliver according to their timetable and rules. That accountability is there to a degree with internships, but the relationship is different because you are not being hired to provide a specific skill for a particular wage. I have seen many Gen Y’s complete internships that have had an unfortunate lack of impact on their sense of self-importance.

Work is humbling. You have a boss, and he or she may be difficult. You may have to do lots of things you don’t want to do, and you’ll need to navigate different personalities and politics. This is invaluable experience. And you will make some money, which is a great experience for a young person to have.

And let’s not forget that most people need to work. The luxury of not being paid is not available to most people and if it is, it’s typically for a very limited time.

So what is my recommendation? I would say that both internships and jobs have merit, and ideally a combination of the two. You will gain different skills each time. Internships are a great way to add to your experience and knowledge base so that you can find a good job later on. A job at this stage will likely be fairly menial, but you will gain real world experience and earn some money, while getting a crash course in how being humble will improve your career in the long term.