My doctor is training an intern and we started chatting and sharing stories. A lot of kids come out of school and are given the opportunity for a free internship and turn it down because they want to be paid. This is tactical thinking because those that have the intern experience, once a job does open up, are in far better shape for that job than someone that has done something unrelated for that same period.\nLet\u2019s talk about interns this week.\nThe importance of experience\nThere are virtually no well-paying jobs that don\u2019t come with an \u201cexperience\u201d requirement. There have been entire classes of kids coming out of expensive schools who are unemployable either because the market is soft or they don\u2019t have the necessary experience (and often both are true). School doesn\u2019t teach how to do a job, generally, it teaches you how to learn and gives you a foundation to learn from.\u00a0\u00a0 And this tends to create a cart and horse problem, you can\u2019t get a job without experience and you can\u2019t get relevant experience without a relevant job.\nPaid vs. unpaid\nNow there are unpaid, and more rarely, poorly paid internships. Because the money paid isn\u2019t that significant it really depends on what your financial situation is and what the internship is. College costs have gone up substantially since I was in school and I many students exit school with debt in the $150K to $300K range, a debt they have to start repaying as soon as they graduate. However, making a choice based on that can hurt you in the long run. The quality of an internship you choose now sets the foundation for a good job, salary and advancement rate for the paying job you will get as a result.\nThere are always choices, a second paying job (which is what a lot of folks do), parental help, extending the loan, and getting a sibling or spouse to pick up the slack are all options to consider. After investing hundreds of thousands into getting a great job don\u2019t make a bad short-term decision by turning down an internship with low or no pay that can offer long-term benefits.\nThe benefits of internship\nA law school graduate came out of school right when the market tanked in 2008.\u00a0\u00a0 No jobs were to be had so he got a free internship at a law practice and had a second job to pay the bills. Once jobs started to open up the law firm hired him. Effectively, the firm created a job that matched his skills and experience, which locked all of the other inexperienced candidates out.\nAnother example, a guy who got an internship when he came out of EMT school. Once jobs opened up he not only got a job but his prior internship counted as experience so he started a grade higher (with a higher salary) and when a management job opened up later that year he was pushed into management.\u00a0\u00a0 This was while the kids that went to school with him still hadn\u2019t found jobs in the field they trained for.\u00a0\u00a0\nThe point overall, this is experience and it counts so that you aren\u2019t treading water or having to explain why the job you held has nothing to do with your degree when you apply. Also, realize your education times out. After 2 or 3 years without a relevant job your job history easily trumps it and while a degree is better than none the value of that degree can drop like a rock if you don\u2019t get hired. Hiring managers just figure there was something wrong with you.\u00a0\u00a0\nStartups vs. established firms\nOne of the advantages to a startup is that they tend to give away stock options to folks that join early and this can pay off hugely if the firm goes public. However, this last step isn\u2019t a given and a lot of the folks I\u2019ve known who worked for a startup for free ended up unemployed.\n\n\t\n\nEven so, the experience can be really valuable and certainly better than nothing.\u00a0\u00a0 An established company is more likely to be able to hire you and will teach rigor and process, things you may not learn from a startup, and it is often easier to go to a startup, and get paid, if you started with an established company than the other way around.\u00a0\u00a0\nThere is a third choice now and that is founding your own startup. This isn\u2019t trivial, but there are a surprising number of folks that have found their way to fame and fortune by taking something they love and turning it into a business.\u00a0\u00a0 This takes a ton of self-motivation, drive and at least some core competence in managing a team and it does look good on a resume as long as this experience doesn\u2019t come with a lack of humility if you eventually have to work for someone else.\u00a0\u00a0\nSometimes folks that were vice presidents in a five-person company think they are equivalent to a VP in far larger firm and they tend to get set straight very painfully.\u00a0\u00a0 One thing a startup doesn\u2019t teach is internal politics and that can be an expensive lesson to learn on the job for someone with ego issues.\u00a0\u00a0\nI\u2019ve done startups and established firms and neither turned out to be significantly more secure than the other and I\u2019ve had fun doing both so a lot has to do with your attitude as well.\u00a0\u00a0 If you buckle down and do the best job you can regardless of the firm size, good things tend to happen.\nInternships can teach strategic thinking\nOne final part about an internship is that it tends to force you to think strategically. Most folks have no idea what \u201cstrategic\u201d thinking is and live from paycheck to paycheck all their lives waiting to retire only to find that retirement sucks and they should have saved more over the years.\u00a0\u00a0 An internship forces you to play the long game and if you equate that into your career planning you\u2019ll choose jobs that lead you to more interesting jobs and you are more likely to realize that retirement isn\u2019t a goal it is a problem to be solved.\u00a0\u00a0\nFind something you love doing and then retirement doesn\u2019t matter, if you hate your work you\u2019ll likely find you\u2019ll eventually hate retirement as well.\u00a0\u00a0 An internship can show you that you really don\u2019t like doing the job before you\u2019ve invested most of your life in it and have huge commitments that lock you into something you hate doing.\u00a0\u00a0\nIf you do an internship right, it sets you up for what should be a far happier life. Just remember you aren\u2019t locked in to anything until you lock yourself in, and being locked in to something you love isn\u2019t a problem.