Posted August 21, 2014 by

Internship or Summer Job? 3 Tips to Help You Make the Decision.

Thoughtful man

Thoughtful man. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

This summer may be flying past, but if you’re about to begin the last year of your high school career or if you’re already in college and you’re getting ready for the semester just ahead, you’ll need to start making next summer’s plan before long. And you’ll probably face a seasonal question that’s been haunting students for generations: should you look for summer work behind a retail counter or in a restaurant kitchen? Or should you skip wage labor and prioritize experience by taking a low-paying (or non-paying) summer internship? Here are a few considerations that may influence your decision.

1. Don’t be mislead about the nature of “experience.”

No matter what you do with your summer, or how you spend your days, you’ll be gaining experience. And this experience will be valuable. It WILL help you navigate the working world further down the road, despite what your parents and guidance counselors may tell you. A few months spent serving customers or moving shipping boxes will definitely offer invaluable exposure to workplace life, financial reality, and professional politics. Even if you plan to spend your adult years in a law firm or an operating room, this summer will teach you something important, and if experience is the capital you’re seeking, no job will waste your time.

But keep in mind that your resume won’t reveal this to future employers; the connection between your experience and their needs will have to be drawn for them, and you’ll have to do the drawing. If you hold an internship in a clinic and later look for a job as a clinician, no explanation will be necessary. But if you seek a clinical job with a background in food service, you’ll have to explain how your months in the restaurant gave you the people skills, attention to detail, independence, and sense of responsibility that will help you succeed in your chosen business.

2. Money in the bank is money in the bank.

At the restaurant, you’ll make about 10 dollars an hour. Which means that at the end of a 40-hour week, you’ll have 400 dollars to put away (minus taxes). On the other hand, your internship will pay zero dollars an hour—only the promise that someday, some future employer might be impressed by this detail on your resume and might pay you 20, 30 or 40 dollars an hour, which will quickly make up for the months you spent in the red. If you believe the promise, take the internship. But check your sources and take context clues into account before you make this gamble.

3. What would you actually like to learn?

Your internship represents a golden opportunity to learn something. But what will this be? And is it something you have a burning desire to know? Put your hunger for knowledge into clear questions, and if your internship isn’t likely to answer these specific questions, search for answers elsewhere. A few days or weeks into your program, you’ll know if this internship is taking you where you need to go and providing you with the information you’d like to have. If it isn’t, and you aren’t being paid, walk away and put your time to more constructive use.

LiveCareer (, home to America’s #1 Resume Builder, connects job seekers of all experience levels and career categories to all the tools, resources and insider tips needed to win the job. Find LiveCareer on Youtube and visit LiveCareer’s Google+ page for even more tips and advice on all things career and resume-related.

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Posted in Advice for Candidates, Career Advice, Getting Experience, High School, Internships, Job Search | Tagged Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,