Internship vs Job: What’s the Difference and Which One is Best for You?

Internships are common in college, but should you go straight to "real" work? Learn the differences between internships vs jobs here.

The world may be slowly reopening, but 73% of recent graduates are still struggling to find work in their field. Whether you’re about to graduate or just thinking ahead to the big day, you’re probably asking the question: how can I get the job I need?

Internships are a great way to transition into the workforce. At the same time, they’re not for everyone. You might benefit from landing a once-in-a-lifetime internship opportunity, or you might prefer to find a job right away.

Not sure which one’s for you? Keep reading. We’ll explain the pros and cons of an internship vs a job and how you can figure out which one’s right for you. 


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Internships vs Jobs

Internships are a learning opportunity that takes place in the workplace. They offer a time-limited exposure to your professional field so that you can start learning the ropes of your future job. You’ll get to test your skills, ask questions, and get a taste of the real world.

Some of the differences between jobs vs internships include:

Length of Time

Jobs may have a variety of timelines. Employed positions might be permanent, contractual, or seasonal.

Even time-limited positions, like contractual work, are usually several months long at least. In general, jobs last from years to decades.

Internships have a short, limited time frame. Short internships are a few weeks long. The maximum length of an internship is usually a year or less.  

This means that internships are not an indefinite commitment. If you apply for an internship, you’ll need to keep looking for something else within a short time. 

Learning Opportunities

Internships are primarily learning opportunities. You’ll pull your weight in the workplace, but you’ll also get the chance to ask lots of questions. The purpose of an internship is to give you the chance to learn everything you can about your potential new field of employment. 

The learning opportunities of an internship prepare you for a job in that field. They make the transition to a professional job easier. 

Of course, learning happens on the job too, but the focus is on doing work, not gaining knowledge. As well, if you can’t find a job in your niche, you won’t be able to gain the knowledge you want. 

Is your employment field complex and skill-heavy? If so, an internship will allow you to brush up on the skills you need before you get a job. This makes the transition to the workforce much more smooth.

Pay

It goes without saying that you should expect your job to pay you. With internships, though, the situation isn’t always so clear. 

Many students have to decide between paid vs unpaid internships. Internships without pay are legal in the United States, as long as they meet legal criteria including:

  • Offering orientation and education to the intern instead of monetary compensation
  • Clearly communicating to the intern that no payment will be offered
  • Assigning different work than that of paid employees

For some college students, unpaid internships are the elephant in the room. Let’s just say it: it sometimes feels unfair to work a full-time job without pay. Plus, it can be difficult to add internships in college, especially if you’re putting in time that won’t help you pay off your student debt.

However, it can still be worth getting the benefits of internships, even if you’re not putting money in the bank at the same time. The work experience and exposure you get could set you up for your dream job in the future. 

Paid internships are less common, but you can find them, especially in exploding sectors like technology. Some internships can’t offer the same competitive rate of pay as a job would, but will give you some financial benefits. 

End Goal

Most jobs offer a period of career and financial stability. Your goal is to keep the job, either indefinitely or for a contracted period of time. When you get a job in your field, the goal is to stay in it until it’s time to take a better one.

Internships are not an end in themselves. When you enter an internship, your goal is to move forward in your career. The brief internship helps you gain skills and show proficiency so that you can land the job that you really want. 

Related Read: Co-op vs. Internship: What’s the Difference & Which Should You Choose?

Are Internships Good?

Internships are great — for some! Can the benefits of internships help you reach your post-college goals? Well, that depends on what your goals are. 

Internships have a slew of benefits to boost your career development. Here are some of the top benefits of internships you can look forward to.

Hire-On Potential

One of the best benefits of internships is the potential to turn them into a job.

After all, the company that takes on an intern won’t want to lose a great team member. Many internships are really extended job interviews. If you prove your worth to the company and are a good fit, you may be invited to return as an employee after you graduate. 

Networking Opportunities

Even if you can’t turn your internship into a job, it can still help you in your career path. You’ll meet people in your industry and build your reputation. These networking opportunities may not get you a job right away, but they can open doors in the future.

Resume Building

Many hiring managers say that they look at the work experience section of an application first. Your experience in a field plays a significant role in whether you’ll get an interview — not to mention whether you’ll get the job.

It’s no secret that it’s hard to get work experience in a professional field. An internship gives you experience that you can proudly display on your resume, which will get you much more attention from potential employers when it’s time to apply for jobs

Learning Skills

An internship isn’t just a line on your resume. Spending a few weeks or months in the real world is guaranteed to teach you a whole new toolbox of skills. 

Those skills will be crucial once you land your new job. Instead of asking your co-workers tons of questions to get started, you’ll be able to hit the ground running. (Remember, asking questions is what an internship is all about!)

Plus, your internship skills are transferrable. Say you take on an internship in a marketing position and discover that you don’t like the industry as much as you expected. The hard and soft skills you worked hard to learn can still be put to use in a different sector, and these skills can go on your resume, too!

Related Read: 15+ Best Jobs of the Future: What Jobs Will the World Need In the Future?

Are Jobs Better than Internships?

The answer: it depends. The better question is, are internships the right choice for you?

You may want to choose an internship in college if you’re looking for:

  • Impressive experience to make your resume stand out
  • Hands-on experience to help you decide on a degree
  • A bridge to help you jump right into a professional job after college
  • You want to get your foot in the door of a company
  • You’re financially secure enough to wait before you begin making money

However, the truth is that internships aren’t for everyone. You may want to skip the internship and go straight into the workforce, especially if:

  • You’re completing a professional degree that includes practical work experience
  • You already have the qualifications you need to apply for jobs in your field
  • You want to start making money right away
  • You need other benefits, like health insurance, that come with a job

We’ll be honest: when you are fresh out of college, most of the jobs within your reach are entry-level. They may even pay minimum wage. Many students have a hard time getting hired in their field, which leads to them finding stop-gap employment in an unskilled field. 

Take some time to write down your needs and goals. Then, compare that list to the benefits of internships vs jobs. This will help you decide which path is better for you. 

So, Internship or Job? The Big Question

Your goals, field of study, and financial needs all play a part in deciding what you should do during and after college. Your situation is as unique as you are. There’s no right answer for everyone!

With this guide, though, hopefully you now understand all your internship vs job options. Plus, you’ll understand which one is right for you. No matter what you do after college, you can be confident that you’ll make a smart choice and get the benefits you need.

Need help finding the perfect internship or job opening? Check out these articles below to read more in-depth on both jobs and internships!

Further Reading on Internships

Further Reading on Careers

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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