Internships: Career Boosters or Financial Suicide?

Do your grandparents ever tell you stories about how they walked ten miles a day to go to school – uphill both ways? How about how they got their first job and the only respectable thing to do was stay at that company for the next 40 years? Both sound a little crazy, huh?

I don’t know about ten miles in the snow, but they weren’t kidding about their careers. Simply put, the times are a’changin – and so is the career landscape. Gone are the days of staying at one job until retirement. Gone too are the days when a college graduate had a near guarantee of getting a job upon graduation (if those days ever existed). So what can you to do when it’s time to switch companies or careers – or if you can’t find that first job? Let’s talk internships!

Internships in Today’s Market

I’ve been on both sides of the coin when it comes to internships. I’ve had some that were a great experience, some that went nowhere, and well, one that led me to the seat I’m sitting in today. (Read more about that here.) No two internships are alike. They can be a great way to break into a new position or a dead end. It all depends on the job, the company, and what you make of it. So before you decide whether taking an internship is the right thing for you, here are a few things to consider:

Signs an internship may be a good option for you

  • You want to get a foot in the door of the company hiring for the internship
  • The internship closely matches what you want to do with your career
  • There aren’t many positions open in your field right now
  • You’ve been applying for jobs but not getting many responses
  • The skills don’t exactly match your desired position, but may help you get closer
  • This company is willing to train you on skills that you may not have which are necessary to break into the field you want

Signs an internship may not be a good option for you

  • There are plenty of other entry-level jobs in your field that you can apply for
  • The skills required and gained at this internship don’t relate to what you want to do
  • You’re getting good responses on your resume for full-time paid positions
  • The company doesn’t tend to hire their interns on full-time (yes, you can ask if this position is one that can grow to full-time)
  • The company has a reputation that you don’t want to associate with

Internships for the New Grad

Now let’s talk about finances. Some internships don’t pay much, and others don’t pay at all, but since you’re just starting out then getting your foot in the door could be more valuable than anything. So if you think this is your best opportunity, then get creative to make it work.

Start off by finding out what hours you’ll work and see if there’s a way to take on a part-time job on the side. There are many jobs that can be flexible, and one that you may still have from college. Look at things like waiting tables or working at a coffee shop so you can take home tips on top of part-time pay (and typically work less hours for the money).

If you really don’t want to go down that path, consider looking for another part-time paid internship to supplement your income. If your current internship is full time, then look into working as a freelancer so you can decide your own hours. There are many jobs that can be done by freelancers and you may find one that helps boost your resume even more!

Internships for the Career Switch

It’s becoming more common for full-time workers to try internships in order to switch their careers, as Farnoosh Torabi mentions in her article on “returnships”. There are many reasons to take these on! Perhaps you’ve been let go and think it’s a good time to try something new, or maybe you moved to a new city and are struggling to find work, or maybe you are unhappy in your job.

No matter the reason, it can be harder to take a cut in pay at this stage in life. If you are currently working, make sure you have a solid emergency fund of 6 months to 1 year saved up before you take the plunge. (That is, unless, you already have a part-time or freelance gig that you know will supplement your income completely.) When doing your budget, don’t forget to account for the fact that you’ll now be paying for your health insurance out of pocket.

If you aren’t currently working, then the main concern should be the odds of this internship turning into a full-time position at this company or a similar one. Internships work best when the company hires you on full-time, but that doesn’t mean the experience won’t help you get another job. Just make sure you know exactly what you’re walking into before you take this over another paid position.

Making Internships Work for You Professionally

Whether you’re a recent college graduate looking for a way into your career or a professional in need of a change, an internship actually can be a great opportunity. Just like anything else, it will be exactly what you make of it. If you want this to be the boost you need in your career, make sure to go above and beyond every day. Are there new projects you can take on or processes you can improve? Talk to your supervisor about your ideas to show that you have creativity and initiative.

On that same note, this is an entry-level position and there could be days in which you spend more time brewing coffee and making copies than rubbing elbows with the head honchos at your company. That’s okay! Keep a positive attitude and show integrity in everything you do. Chances are your hard work will be noticed as you build a reputation of someone who gets the job done – no matter how big or small.

Image Credit: Victor1558

Shannon Mcnay

Shannon McNay is the Community Outreach and Customer Support Manager at ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. Shannon loves to share her own experiences and tips she's learned along her own path to help people optimize their finances for a brighter future. You can follow Shannon on Twitter at @shannonmcnay.