If you’ve attended college or have tried to break into a new career at any point within the past five years, there’s a good chance you’ve been faced with the difficult decision of choosing between gaining invaluable experience or an equally valuable paycheck. Unfortunately for many students and recent graduates, internships that offer both of these things are few and far between.
The world of un-paid and underpaid internships has continued to grow as more and more young professionals are on the hunt for the no-longer-optional experience they need for their future careers. Of course, this phenomenon is more prevalent in certain industries, but there’s no question that young people today are competing for gruelling positions that too often include little or no compensation.
On the other side of the equation, many new graduates and twenty-somethings, who are planning on going back to school, don’t have the luxury of working for minimal income, even if it’s required for their chosen career paths. This has forced many young people to find alternative work that they’re often overqualified for, whether in an entry-level or service job, simply to pay off student loans or save for future studies. This lucrative but often minimally rewarding work does little to boost people’s resumes or fuel career goals.
So, how does one make the decision to pursue hands-on learning over financial incentives, or vice versa?
First and foremost you’ll need to decide what your next steps will be. Are you going back to school? Do you have a mountain of student loans? Are you ready to start your career? Where are the holes or weaknesses in your resume? Based on your answers, it should become clear which of the two is more important to you.
Despite many people’s ambitious goals, money is not something that many of us have the luxury to go without in the long run. However, if you’re making your entrance into the job world, experience and networking is probably vital to success and may be worth the financial sacrifice in the short-term. There is no one right answer for everyone, and whichever path you chose will ultimately depend on your individual circumstances.
Regardless of which path it is you choose, here are a few additional things to consider:
1. Know your industry—If unpaid internships are something your bosses and colleagues have all done, it’s probably a necessary step of the process.
2. Go with your gut—If you’re completing an unpaid or stipend internship, make sure you’re not being taken advantage of by any employer by listening to your instincts and asking for a second opinion by people in your field.
3. Mark your calendar—Set a personal limit to how long unpaid experience will take precedent over a paycheck.
4. What else can you do?—If you’re compromising on experience for more money in an alternative industry, consider other ways to build your resume through volunteer work or community involvement.
5. Keep looking—Continue to seek out opportunities where you don’t have to compromise on either experience or pay. They may be few and far between, but they do exist!
When given the choice, would you choose money or experience? Why? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Bozoma Saint John, Director of Music and Entertainment Marketing at PepsiCo, about her own internship experiences!