What’s Better?

@LeLee092 is a faithful Tweep and retweeter. She asked: “what’s better-an internship, work experience (related or unrelated) or being active in college (sga/rso)?”

To state the obvious, doing any of these activities is better than doing none of them. You want to show prospective employers what you know, what you can do, and that you are passionate about something. It is also important that you not see these opportunities as a “check list,” but rather as vehicles for identifying and satisfying your true passions (i.e., they need to be real to you). You will get much more out of the experience and impress far more people by following your dreams.

The choice among the alternatives you list depends on your goals as well as your progress in identifying a career. Participation in registered student organizations can be very helpful in identifying a potential career. Many RSOs focus on the transition from college to employment. They regularly feature guest speakers who talk about what they do and the type of lifestyles associated with their careers. Attending these sessions and asking questions can help you decide whether a given career holds promise for you.

Holding an office in a RSO or being elected to student government is a good way to develop your team-building, negotiation and leadership skills. It gives you an opportunity to show you can mobilize resources, direct the work of others and get results. If you are going to put the time and energy into this activity make sure the group is going to do something consequential–something you would be proud to share with a prospective employer because it showcases your skills. You are unlikely to be able to demonstrate these same skills in an internship or entry-level job, so I wouldn’t view work experience as a substitute for these student leadership activities.

Unrelated work experience can pay the bills and does demonstrate an ability to juggle a busy schedule while in college, but it is unlikely to help you decide where you want to go in life. Internships, if done right, can be a great way to sample a job and get some mentoring from a more established professional. Employers who have structured internship programs that regularly take in students tend to offer better learning experiences than smaller firms that have a more unstructured approach. A good internship program is a lot of work for the employer. They are willing to do this and pay their interns as part of an overall employee recruitment and selection strategy. Companies that want to “one off” projects in the name of educational opportunity for unpaid student interns should be avoided. If you want to do an internship, start early and consult the internship coordinator associated with your major.

Paid work experience at what you want to do after college is best. This assumes you know what you want to do and can handle the workload while attending school. Related work experience offers advantages similar to an internship, but is the most difficult opportunity to secure without having a degree. Being someone’s assistant is a reasonable goal here– you can experience the job vicariously and hopefully gain a valuable mentor to help guide your career.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the time to do it well and that it won’t sidetrack you from getting your degree. A focused, long-term strategy is most likely to get you where you think you want to go….it is a marathon, not a sprint.


4 thoughts on “What’s Better?

  1. This question & response is spot on! May I also share three other tools my students report as very helpful in identifying career paths: 1) Informational interviews – the student interviews someone in a field s/he is interested in. 2) Job Shadowing – the student requests to shadow someone for a day in a field s/he is interested in. 3) Externship – similar to an Internship, the project is limited to 1-3 weeks, usually during the winter/spring/summer break.

    • @ Mari: I can definitely agree. In a program called Competitive Edge offered at Broward College, I had the opportunity to shadow a state representative up in Tallahassee back in 2011. It definitely gave me the most realistic perspective on how politics “actually” work. I also did an Externship with Orlando Regional Medical Center, and discovered my talent and leanings towards the medical field and the future opportunities from an investment and management perspective. These experiences will definitely get students outside the “lecture, study/cram, test, forget, repeat” mindset that we can unfortunately become accustomed to in our college courses.

  2. This was a great post!

    I wish someone had told me this my freshman year of college, luckily I figured it out on my own by working several jobs and doing a number of internships. It is my senior year now; I work for one of the top 5 best companies in the world. Below are some of the things I have learned along the way:

    1. Try new things to figure what you love to do then find a way to make money doing that
    Example: If you want to be an accountant then find a firm to be an accountant at, paid or unpaid. With that experience then you can determine if accounting is right for you. One does not need to go out and get a CPA to find this out.

    2. Think nontraditional
    If you are willing to put in the effort you can find an internship all year around, businesses don’t run on an academic calendar. The best internships are not advertised online so you may need to find some creative ways to either negotiate one or find the right people to talk to in the company.

    3. Create value before expecting value
    This is probably the hardest one because it requires learning skills outside of what one can learn in any class. No one is going to hold your hand either to make sure you learn these skills; it’s all you. This is what I have found that separates the average from the above average. Those who are above average wake up early to learn more, fine tune their skills, and those who are average just sleep in.

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