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Better Pay vs. Better Experience: What To Choose When Afforded The Option

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Nathan Nguyen-Le
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Published on September 15, 2014

This is a guest post by Matt Hudgins for Contributor Platform. 

Having options is a luxury in this job market, but if you are resourceful and proactive as an applicant, you should be able to find more than one employment opportunity. You may even find yourself with multiple offers, something that happened to me at the start of the summer.

During the school year, I was interning part-time at a small consulting firm in an industry that I’m passionate about, but in a role I was not. The pay was competitive so I felt compelled to stay. As summer approached, I knew I wouldn’t find another opportunity as lucrative, but I applied to positions more aligned with my interests anyway. When decision time came, I was faced with a tough choice: stay comfortable at the consulting firm and rack up savings, or take a 60 percent pay cut to experience something completely new, exciting, and more aligned with my vocational goals. What to do?

After some soul-searching, number crunching, and consulting with loved ones, I decided to take a risk and accept the offer from the new company. Before I tell you about how great my decision was, I should emphasize that my situation is not reflective of everyone else’s and that you should always consider personal finances when making career decisions. I was fortunate enough to be in a place where I could accept an offer to work for less, and I realize many people may not have that option. If you do however, I highly encourage accepting work based on the complete value it will provide you, not just the fiscal. Here’s why:

When your work is more fulfilling, your life will be better. Period.

The most rewarding work experiences I’ve had have never been the most lucrative. In some cases, they haven’t paid at all. But when I’m excited to go to work and have excitement about my projects, work doesn’t feel like “work.” It feels like a part of my life that I can be proud of, passionate about, and interested in sharing with others. I wasn’t fulfilled with the work I was doing at the consulting firm, and my life reflected my emptiness. The new position may not be my dream job, but it is one that plays to my interests, challenges me to grow as a professional, and leaves a positive aftertaste everyday I leave the office. You will likely spend more time at your job than with family or friends, so make sure you’re doing something fulfilling.

Happiness is Priceless.

It sounds like a given, or like something you’d read in a Hallmark card, but it’s true, more money doesn’t mean more happiness. I felt compelled to accept the extension from the consulting firm because I equated the higher pay with more opportunities to travel, hang out with friends, and make investments towards my future. What I failed to recognize at that moment was that the stressful and uninteresting work was actually preventing me from enjoying those opportunities. Working in a position that interests and excites me has made my whole attitude better, thereby increasing my happiness and allowing me to better enjoy life. I may be making less, but ultimately, I’m happier.

The time you spend interning is an investment towards your future so use it wisely.

It’s easy to pigeonhole yourself in an industry or role that doesn’t play to your strengths or interests. Experience is the most valuable thing you can take away from an internship or entry-level job, so make sure the experience is something you want to continue doing. I didn’t want to work in consulting, so I changed paths and chose to pursue something I do want to do in the future. The consulting internship was a great experience and equipped me well to explore other opportunities, but if I had stayed much longer, it could have been difficult to translate those skills to another job or industry. If you have the opportunity to work in your preferred industry, take it, even if it pays less than another opportunity. That experience could be the launching pad to a more successful, engaging, and rewarding career down the road.

Obviously any experience can be a good, especially for someone just launching his career. But when you’re living off ramen noodles and Easy Mac, a well-paying position can be a very attractive, even when it lies beyond your interests. If however, you find yourself in a position with multiple offers, try to consider your future rather than your current situation. Is upgrading to brand-name macaroni worth the years of un-interesting work, precious time wasted detouring from your ultimate vocational goals? If you’re lucky, the best experience will also be the highest paying. If not, take some time to think about what you really want, and what you truly value as an employee. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

Nathan Nguyen-Le

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