When to Work for Free

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work for free, work for no money, build connectionsWorking for free is a good way to  make connections and build your resume.

Working for free can be a path to starvation, homelessness and debt, but it can also be a way to reach your goals, make connections and build your resume. How do you know when you should work without pay? The deciding factor is what you get out of it. 

You should work for free if… 

  1. There is a path to payment.
    Companies often offer unpaid internships in highly-competitive fields in which there is a clear path to payment. If not being paid for filling Starbucks orders and making photocopies leads to a job later, it is worth it. Beware that some companies promise unpaid interns future work but never deliver. At that point, interns often feel like they cannot leave because they spent so much time in the job and desperately want that time to pay off. To avoid getting stuck, decide how many months of the unpaid position is worth your time. Stick with the position for three to six months, then move on if it does not lead to paid work.
  2. You want to build your resume or portfolio.
    If you just graduated, are new to your field or changing careers, working for free is a great way, and often the only way, to build your resume or portfolio. Again, if the experience will pay off one day, do the work now to be rewarded later.
  3. You want to build references.
    A great resume means little without fantastic references to back it up. Use your unpaid time to build strong relationships and prove yourself to potential references.
  4. You want to network.
    Building a network of colleagues is essential to thriving in today’s business world. Working for free gets your foot in the door to potential networks and gives you the opportunity to meet new people in your field. 

Before accepting an unpaid internship or other unpaid work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want professionally?
  • Will this position give me the skills I need to reach my goals? 
  • Could I reach my goals without this position or internship? 
  • Can the position possibly give me the connections I need to leverage a paid position in the field I want? 
  • Will the job give my resume the credibility I need to get my targeted position? 
  • Will I gain insider status in the industry? 
  • Will I be mentoring someone with the career I want someday? 
  • Can I really afford to not get paid? 

Have you ever worked for free? What did you learn from the experience? Share your story with our readers in the comments below!