Don’t panic! You’ve graduated, you’re job hunting, and you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Or you’ve been in a job you don’t enjoy for the past couple months, and you’re looking for a major career change, but you have no idea what that career change is. These are scary thoughts, but many young adults ask themselves the question, “What should I do with my life?”
Some of you might be thinking, “I’ll just go to grad school,” or “I’ll go back and get my MBA until I figure things out,” when you feel like you lack the passions to drive you in the right direction. I grew to despise a job I held for 6 months before having these thoughts. I began going to information sessions for graduate programs and teaching credentials, rushing into the thought that I needed more school to find out what I wanted to do. But if you’re going to go to graduate school, be sure that you already know what you want to do.
Instead of going to graduate school, I decided to find an internship at a small startup. Graduate school not only required a major time commitment, but also a major financial commitment. If you don’t know what you want to do in life, an internship is a cost effective way to learn what you want to do. Here are 3 reasons why I decided to do an internship instead of going back to school.
1. Wear Many Hats
As a graduate student, there’s a good chance that you will–for years–only learn about whatever your degree is in. Which begs the question, what if you don’t know what you want to do yet? You’ll be committing thousands of dollars and a couple years towards a master’s degree, so be sure you’ve picked the correct one for you. On the other hand, with an internship, you have the opportunity to wear many hats, gaining access to several different departments and employees. Even more importantly, you get to try new things, finding out what you enjoy doing and what your strengths are. The opportunity to take on different roles and responsibilities may help direct you in a career path that you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. Graduate programs can be very tunnel-visioned, depending on what program you pick, so there may not be an opportunity to expand your horizons.
2. Learn By Doing
My alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, has the motto “Learn By Doing,” and the hands-on approach of an internship gives you just that. As an intern, I’ve learned more than I learned in the classroom, developing and improving my skills in a number of different areas. The hands-on experience you can get out of an internship is extremely valuable in developing yourself early in your work career. I like to say, to learn to swim, you have to get in the water. In disrupting the recruiting industry with SmartRecruiters, I’ve learned things as diverse as how to promote and cover an event, how to optimize a blog post, and how to write a kickass email. Depending on your graduate program, you may not have to opportunity to try the career you are working towards, knowing if you actually like it or not.
3. Build Your Professional Portfolio
Whether you’re a business development, accounting, or design intern, you can build a portfolio of your work. At an internship, you’ll work on several projects, all that can be used when job hunting and interviewing in the future. Your portfolio doesn’t just have to be tangible works, but can also be achievements that you accomplished as an intern. No matter what your project or work was, if it has quality, it can show a future employer that you would be a valuable asset to their company. Many graduate programs have you work towards one large project which is beneficial to your area of study. But say you go to graduate school for English, only to find out that you really want to do graphic design. That concentrated project may not help you in the short term.
So before you rush into graduate school simply because you don’t have a career direction, consider taking on an internship. If you are still undecided about what you want to do with your life, the tunnel vision approach of a graduate program might not help you find your passion. And remember that grad school is not cheap, so if you’re not sure about it, think about what you’ll get out of it. You may find that hands-on learning and work experience brings out an unknown passion and sets you on the right career path (which may or may not include graduate school).