Temping vs. Interning: Which is Better for College Students?
By Emily Driscoll
January 14, 2011
College students face a double whammy when it comes to obtaining employment; they face fierce competition from unemployed workers looking for jobs in an anemic labor market and have to prove themselves to employers who often want candidates with real-world job experience. What’s a college student to do?
“The days of having no work experience before you’ve graduated college are really over,” says Lindsey Pollak, career expert and author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World.
In order to get necessary work experience, most college kids seek temporary agency jobs or internships.
Temporary agency jobs, commonly known as “temp jobs,” usually consist of part-time clerical work at companies for a short period of time. You can find temp positions through agencies, but be warned: some take a percentage of what you make as a “service fee.” Depending on location and industry, temp jobs can pay anywhere from $10 an hour to more than $10,000 a month, according to the experts.
Internships, on the other hand, are work-related learning opportunities that college students often attain through school, personal connections and job postings. Internships are generally unpaid, but may offer college credit.
While both temping and interning have their pros and cons, experts say employers–especially during a recession–are less concerned about the manner in which you gained past work experience and are more interested in how the candidate’s experience will translate for their business.
“I think that people want to see real work experience, whether that comes from temping or interning, part-time jobs, freelancing or consulting,” Pollak says. “Nowadays, it is the best prediction of past and future performances. [Employers] want to know that you’ve been in a professional environment and you’ve done some kind of real work.”
We talked with career experts to find out the pros and cons of each choice and what to expect.
A temp job provides work experience with a paycheck and could potentially lead to permanent position within the company.
“A lot of people think that temp jobs are for people who are under-employable or who can’t get full-time employment–that’s not the case at all,” says JT O’Donnell, career strategist and author of Careerealism: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career.
Part-time temp work can be a good opportunity for a college student with academics and extracurricular obligations. However, for recent college grads staring down student loan debt and looking for long-term employment, temp jobs may not provide enough stability.
“It’s never a guarantee how long you’re going to have a job–they could tell you a week and after two days, they could let you go,” says Pollak. “There’s no loyalty from the employer, no guarantees, and obviously there’s no contracts.”
Depending on the circumstances with a temp job, you may be able to declare yourself an independent contractor eligible for tax write-offs. Read more about what the IRS considers independent contracting here.
A major part of work experience is making connections with people you work with, and having temporary status may make networking with your peers at the company more difficult.
“You are not integrated into the whole of the work flow and culture–and you can feel like an island,” explains Meredith Haberfeld, executive and career coach. “This can be mitigated by making sure you spend time integrating yourself, getting to know people in different facets of the company, your peers and importantly, those more senior to you.”
Having an internship on your resume used to be considered an added bonus, but now it’s essential, experts say.
“To take on an internship while you’re in school says, beyond getting my education, I want to have an understanding of how to apply it,” says O’Donnell. “That’s going to give you practical experience and give you networking connections.”
That’s not to say students should get just any internship they can find; if possible, students should get an internship in their field of study, the experts say. Cultivating relationships and learning new things will benefit you more if your experience is relevant for your career.
O’Donnell suggests researching your prospective internship in advance so you don’t end up in a position that doesn’t challenge you in some way or that only consists of mundane tasks, like getting coffee and making copies.
“You should try to think about how that company is going to leverage your experience,” she says. “I believe a good internship is a hybrid, where you are providing your experience in such a way that the company in an equal amount is giving you back something by mentoring you and developing you–you’re learning something.”
A large drawback of internships is they are commonly unpaid–which for many, just isn’t an option.
“A lot of college kids can’t afford to work unpaid–they need to pay student loans and for their living expenses,” she says. “While some internships are paid, the majority are unpaid, so you have to take that into consideration.”