Why College Grads Should Consider a Strategic Internship Over a Job

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Vacasa CEO Eric Breon

With employment and student debt on the rise, too many grads are focused on securing their first ‘real’ job. Be careful. Pressure from parents and anticipation for your first adult paycheck can result in short-sighted decision-making. While less financially rewarding up front, the right internship can offer growth potential that will take you further than almost any entry-level position.

Accepting the right internship over a job is a short-term sacrifice that will pay long term dividends. For example, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. Growing up, I wrote business plans for fun. After I graduated, I could have pursued a real job or attended graduate school. But the best option for me, the one that offered the biggest opportunity for accelerated career growth, turned out to be interning with a small venture capital firm.

I determined my target VC firm and sent them an unsolicited email to offer my services as an intern. They accepted, and let me take on responsibilities far above my experience level. If you’re passionate enough about doing something, and people believe in you, they will create opportunities for you to do it. My bosses at the firm eventually grew tired of me leaving for my part-time job at Olive Garden, which paid more. They made me an offer to entice me to forget about grad school and stay full time. Looking back, it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.

If you’re choosing an internship over a job, prioritize your potential for growth over optics. Pursuing an internship at a major firm might be the right move, but consider the level of impact you’ll have there. Are you one of dozens of interns on a single team? Will you be able to contribute to meaningful projects? Consider what you want to get out of your internship. Growth creates opportunity, so look to the growth potential of the company.

Before you get started, make a game plan. You’ll be in control of more than you might think. Be respectfully ambitious. Make a list of the skills you hope to learn and types of projects you’d like to get in your portfolio. If you’re a reliable contributor and show depth of thought, the team will repay you by doing their best to deliver the experiences that you want.

Business leaders value and reward intuitiveness. Early on, prove your resourcefulness and dependability. Be thoughtful. Offer a unique higher-level perspective. Don’t spend your time with other interns. Inform yourself about the business by having lunch with different leaders every day.

An entry-level salary might enable you to switch from ramen to restaurant once in awhile, but it can be short-sighted. Be sure not to miss an opportunity to shape your experience and build a foundation for future growth. Making your debut into the workforce by way of strategic internship can put you in a position to command higher salary and pay off student loan bills sooner.

By our CEO and co-founder Eric Breon