Work to learn before you work to earn


The best time to learn all there is to know and grow into a true professional at what you do is when you’re fresh out of school. Your creative juices are still flowing and your brain is clocking impressive thought-process speeds. Now is the time to work to learn – focus on earning later!

There’s really only a small difference or two between working to learn and working to earn. When you work to learn, you are still working to earn (unless you happen to take an unpaid internship) but you possess an entirely different attitude – an attitude that employers can sense from miles away. HR staff are trained to pick up on this kind of thing.

Working to learn isn’t just an attitude you possess for interviews, however. It also has to do with the choices you make.

Learning and advancing is the difference between a job and career

For example, when searching for that first career-launching role, you may find that you can make more money at your current bar tending gig than in an entry-level position in your field. It’s hard to leave a job that pays so well, but where will it get you?

Sure, it’s good money right now, but will it be enough to buy your first home and maybe even support a family one day? Potentially more importantly: will you be happy doing this for the rest of your life? Neither is very likely.

If you take the pay cut now, you will be glad you did five years from now. And, you will be a professional nurse, a writer for a magazine, a graphic artist, or whatever you want to do. You will also make more money than you ever could have working behind the bar – it just takes time.

Making tougher choices

If you’re lucky, you’ll have to choose between two or more meaningful jobs. Picture this: after successful interviews with a series of potential employers, two of them offer you a position.

Company A promises tons of great learning experience and provides a modest salary, while the job at Company B is sure to challenge you for the first while, but will pigeon-hole you into doing one thing so you won’t learn much beyond what you do every day. But Company B pays $15,000 more per year than Company A.

It’s a tough decision to make, but keep in mind that the real value is in a job that will give you every opportunity to grow. Take the lower paying job and learn, learn, learn! This is the time to soak up everything you can, so later on in life you can milk it for all it’s worth.

Take advantage of opportunities especially if they’re not paid

There is an important type of working to learn where you don’t earn at all: volunteering. You can get amazing experience through a volunteer position that you may not find through a paying employer so early in your career. While you aren’t getting paid with a cheque, the experiences you earn will prove to be extremely valuable to you later.

It doesn’t have to take over your life – even a few hours each week or month can make a huge difference. The key is to find a volunteer position directly related to your field.

Through a work to learn attitude, good decision-making and maybe a little volunteering on the side, you will set yourself up for a successful career.

About the author

Adam Weitner is an Account Manager with the Consumer Marketing team at Edelman Public Relations. He has been practising in the field of Marketing Communications since graduating from the Algonquin College PR Program in 2008. He describes himself as an energetic practitioner, who strives in a fast-paced environment. He is passionate about life and sees the positive side of every situation. His ultimate career goal is to run his own PR agency serving a wide variety of clients, focusing on new media, but never forgetting about print, radio and TV. You can also find his website and blog at