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Get An Unpaid Internship Or Wait Tables?

January 28, 2010

Annie from Fortune Magazine weighs in on this timely question… which is more important: to get paid or to get experience?     Read her advice to one student faced with such a dilemma in CNNMoney’s  Ask Annie column.    I especially like her advice to look at the substance of an internship before deciding which way to go.    Of course, Annie doesn’t remember to point out an important alternative:  take the unpaid internship AND wait tables as well…. not always easy or possible, but an important option to consider.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Minna Scherlinder Morse permalink
    February 1, 2010 10:08 pm

    I was recently approached by a Master’s student with a similar question–how important is getting an internship, particularly when a student is facing financial hurdles. This is what I wrote him, for what it’s worth:

    Dear X:

    The goal/s of internships are manifold: to get experience in the field, to broaden your network, and to gauge the kinds of roles and work-atmospheres you like and don’t like in a new career niche.

    As someone who needs to work to pay the rent, you’re going to need to do all those things over time, but you won’t likely be able to do the one-stop shopping of a traditional internship.

    So here are a few ideas:
    *If there’s a way to add relevant experience to your job duties, try to do so
    *Network strategically with much of the free time you have. I don’t know what stage of career planning or transition you’re in, and that will dictate what makes strategic sense now, but think informational interviewing and even (once you have some connection with someone doing what you’re interested in) shadowing for a day or two as ways to gain familiarity with types of work, workplaces, and as a way to broaden your network.
    *Take on whatever small projects you can fit in between the other demands of your schedule. Again, what kinds of projects make sense will depend on what your goals are, but something to think about.
    *Is there a way to create a sort-of-internship (i.e. low time commitment per week) with someone doing exactly the kind of work you want to do: i.e., is there anything you can offer in terms of service to a potential mentor in the field, that you can do in your off hours (and only in your off hours), that will help you contribute to a professional project, and gain you access to professionals in the field?
    *Just produce. With whatever time you have. Just do it. On your own. Then share the results.

    Point is–internships aren’t the goal. Products that prove your talent, experience in the field, awareness of the realities of the field, and a beefed-up network…. those are the fruits of internships. But there are other trees in the garden. Go, eat.

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