Growing up, summer was always a time to take a break and relax. However, with age comes reality and the reality is, summer is no longer considered time off. College students have to grapple with the decision of what they are going to do during those months. With today’s economy, so much is resting on the decision of taking on an unpaid internship or going home to your usual summer job.
Most college students need the summer to replenish their bank accounts and they must find a paying job. However, many internships today are unpaid and instead offer college credit. So what are the students to do; make money at a job that is essentially unrelated to their future or spend their time working at an internship that could potentially benefit their professional plans without monetary compensation? Various experts weigh in on the pros of each option.
The Benefits of an Unpaid Summer Internship:
• Obtain valuable experience - Louis Giordano, a career counselor, stresses the invaluable knowledge and skills gained during an internship. The professional work environment allows the intern to learn about the industry and other types of positions and career paths possible. The intern is also able to become familiar to what it takes to be in a professional office. Jane Horowitz, a career-launch coach and founder of More Than a Resume, points out that many fields and companies will only consider recent grads with relevant experience, which can be taken care of with an internship.
• Establish contacts and build your professional network - As an intern, it is important to take your duties seriously. Giordano notes that if the intern performs well, the contacts made will be excellent resources in finding other jobs or internships and can write recommendations.
• Test the waters - Nikki Trotter, a career coach and workforce consultant, emphasizes the importance of an internship in helping the intern learn about the industry and decide if that particular job is exactly what they want to do. If not, it is much easier for them to change their path when you have barely even begun.
The Benefits of having a Paid Summer Job Irrelevant to your Career Goals:
• Make money – Dr. Christina McCale, a writer/researcher in marketing education, believes that most reasonable employers will understand that you didn’t have the luxury of doing unpaid internships. It is no secret that college is expensive, so most likely employers will be sympathetic.
• Shows responsibility - McCale thinks employers may even take your job history to mean that you are ambitious and organized in meeting your financial responsibilities. In addition, holding a job shows that you were able to maintain a schedule, show up to work professionally and follow directions. Regardless of what type of job it was, you did learn some practical skills applicable to any future job.
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• First step in starting your future career – McCale notes that part of starting any type of career is learning to work with people, to manage expectations of customers and to deal with customers. These are all elements of professionalism that are going to be important no matter what field you end up in.
There are clearly benefits to both having a paid job and an unpaid internship, so wouldn’t it be great if you could do both? Luckily, it is more possible than you might think. Many internships only require a commitment of a couple days out of the week, or a few hours a day, leaving room to find another paying job for your free time.
Karen Mishra, a business school professor, suggests offering to work for the internship 10-15 hours per week and explain that you must earn money for school with a paying job as well.
Another good option that leaves time to make money is utilizing a service called SpringTern. Run by Ben Wise, SpringTern helps connect students with volunteer work projects that are generally much shorter than a traditional internship so that they can gain relevant work experience. Wise, along with many other experts, notes that in the long run, gaining work experience through in internship is the best thing one can do over the summer. That being said, take a look at the pros of each option as well as look into the possibility of doing both and hopefully you can create a plan for the summer that guarantees success.
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