Higher Salary or Better Experience?

When I was younger, in grad school, I was fortunate enough to have a number of internship offers. These were major companies, Fortune-500 types.  It was one of those things that I somewhat took for granted at the time, though now I look back and can appreciate how a better economy could bring nice opportunities for people.  What would be simply amazing today wasn’t that unusual at all back then.

Anyway, when I was evaluating the offers, I had different variables to consider.  For one thing, each job was in a different city. In fact, the four positions were in three different states.  This might matter, as someone could ultimately try to work for that company, so you might want to think about the long-term fit of that area for you.  Another variable to think about was the industry I would be joining.  The type of business in which you work can have a big impact on your career direction, even if the purported functional experience might be classified as being the same.

The one that I also paid attention to at the time was salary.  Now, of course salary matters for most of us.  Would you go into work every day if they all of a sudden paid you 30% less? Well, maybe – but you would be actively looking to get out and get your market value ASAP.   There is a point in time when this starts to matter more and more.

That being said, when you are in the early stages of your career, I think your salary matters a bit less than quality of experience.  You have the ability to take a few risks, and the latitude to explore what you like and in what direction you want to go.  Of course, you can do this later too, but it’s much easier when younger and new in your career.

I actually should not have focused so much on the salary of the internship at the time.  It really did play a role in my decision, as it felt good to get paid more. Simple as that.  However, that was only a 14-week time period, and certainly didn’t define my career.  It did turn out to be a really good experience that I learned a lot from, thankfully.  But I now realize that salary wasn’t truly important in the long-run.

Later in life, salary does matter more. Sure, it might be because you’re older and have more personal responsibilities.  However, it also matters because your salary is often a basis of how the market values you.

I say this based on what I’ve seen from people looking for jobs.  One question that is asked, of course, is something to the effect of “what is your current salary?”  This establishes, or to some degree anchors in the person’s mind, what your current market value is.  If you get a job offer, they might try to match your salary or perhaps increase by some percentage.

What Do You Think?

At what point do you think that salary becomes more important than experience, or vice-versa?

Have you or anyone you know had to make such a decision in the past?

What things do you look for when considering a potential job?


  1. says

    I think for someone right out of college, starting salary should play a relatively minor role. More important are corporate culture, opportunities to learn and gain experience in different areas, and doing work you love. If you focus on these sorts of factors, you’ll end up making more money over the course of your career than if you don’t, even if the starting salary is not the highest among your options.

    • Squirrelers says

      Kurt – makes sense that one should choose a good path and trajectory, and align with the right situation to grow professionally and personally. A few thousand dollars more isn’t a good tradeoff for potential for growth when just starting out!

  2. says

    This is sage advice and it’s exactly the path I took early in my career. Out of college, I got a job offer at a not very well known IT firm and one at a very well known firm. The ‘not known’ offer was for $6k per year more, which out of school might as well be a hundred grand. I ended up taking the lesser offer, because I realized that getting the pedigree from the better known place was worth more in the long run. It actually worked out as after two years I jumped for a $15k per year increase (and then led to big increases based on that entry point), which likely would not have been as high had I taken the quick money up front. So long story short, I’m convinced that giving up that $6k/year up front more than paid for itself down the line.

    • Squirrelers says

      Lance – salary is a real measure of one’s market value, and future employers will look at it. Yes, that does happen. Of course, it might be worth the risk when just starting out with one’s first job, as investing a bit in the right experience can pay dividends down the line.

  3. says

    Depends on the work environment. We’ve had candidates, in the twilight of their careers, join our team because of the good reputation. Even later in life, money isn’t always everything.

    • Tracey H says

      Even mid-career money isn’t everything. My husband left a very stressful, high-paying job for a fun job that paid half as much. It was an adjustment financially (though after taxes, the difference wasn’t as big as you’d think), but he was so much happier that it was worth it. Eight years later, he’s back up to almost as much as the old salary (due to being recognized as having talents beyond what were expected and doing great things where he works).

      • Squirrelers says

        Tracey – you do make a good point, and I agree that money certainly isn’t everything. While I think that in general the experience vs. salary question is answered “salary” when older, there can be time when one wants to scale back or simply do something different. Our interests, perspectives, and needs can change as we get older, and for some that might even mean going as far as accepting less money.

  4. says

    I’m with you – salary was not at the top of my priority list right out of college. I was looking for stability and benefits. Now it’s been 8 years or so, and I care more about doing something I enjoy than anything else. In another 10 years, I bet I’ll care more about salary since I’ll be making the pre-retirement push. Life is funny.

  5. says

    On one hand, fresh out of university, you’ll be used to living on next to nothing anyway. On the other, it might set you back in the long run starting out on a lower salary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>