The Debate Between Paid Versus Unpaid Experience

Posted August 22, 2013 by Lauren McCabe Herpich in Career Moves
Portrait of young woman in graduation gown holding dollars

For any of us who are in college or have ever been a college student (has it been 10 years ago already!?), we’ve all been there. Do we take that part-time job that can help pay for books and food or that unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity that may help us open doors? It’s a tricky situation that has certainly garnered a lot of attention in the news recently. With student loan debt at an all-time high and now lawsuits being filed by former unpaid interns, the financial prosperity of post-collegiate life is certainly at risk.

As a student who did a total of seven unpaid internships during my time in college, I am certainly know how this feels. Unlike what many people think of students who can take unpaid internships, I was certainly not privileged. However, I did believe in the value of gaining professional experience long before I graduated … and I still do. That said, I still have student loans and would love to have more cash to put toward savings versus Sallie Mae.

But no matter what your situation or your view of it all, there are still plenty of benefits of gaining real-world experience, no matter if it’s at in a corporate meeting room or deli counter. Here are some things to think about:

  • Can you work well with others?
  • How do you handle high-stress situations?
  • Are you prompt and deliver on time?
  • Do you take responsibility for mistakes or errors?
  • Do you show initiative? Are you willing to offer up ideas?

These are all things that you can learn at either a part-time job or an unpaid opportunity. Experience is experience, no matter how you package it. Anything is better than sitting on your parents’ couch watching reruns of Saved By the Bell in the middle of the afternoon. Therefore, definitely think about what you need to do in the short- and long-term financially.

But in terms of how to make the most of your experience, highlight these traits on your resume and be able to talk about situations during your interview. Now that I’m in more of a hiring manager’s shoes than before, I’ll say that I’d rather bring on someone who can show they can do these things more so than one who just knows a certain computer program or system. Companies can teach a process, but they can’t teach good, professional manners.


About the Author

Lauren McCabe Herpich

Lauren's life has definitely consisted of a series of adventures, or as she would like to call them: Why Nots! She recently left her digital marketing position at a Fortune 100 company to take the risk of entrepreneurship and start Why Not Girl!, a website empowering women to try new things, live life as an adventure and say Why Not! Lauren holds a Masters of Integrated Marketing Communication from Northwestern University's Medill School and Bachelors in Journalism and Media Arts from the University of Arizona. You can get inspired to say Why Not! in your own life by visiting Why Not Girl! at