Why Working For Free Can Boost Your Career

volunteerRecently the story came to light that in 2014 when a California nursing home was shut down, two men stayed on working for free in order to care for the residents left behind. Cook Maurice Rowland and janitor Miguel Alvarez stayed at the closed residence for numerous days providing round-the-clock care for senior citizens, doing everything from handing out medication as well bathing, feeding, and tending to them. Eventually, the local fire department and sheriff took over but the actions of these two volunteers led to legislation in California known as the Residential Care for the Elderly Reform Act of 2014, under which nursing home residents are protected from being abandoned in case of a shutdown.

While Rowland and Alvarez felt a moral obligation to remain on the job and work for free, working for free for anyone can be a plus in many ways.

Most people will work for free in order to learn about a new field. ?I took the position to gain more experience working on the Web and managing content. At the time, I had little experience working online and was very lucky to work in the position. It was great for me to run the webpage and learn new skills. It was more beneficial for me to add to my skill set something I was interested in pursuing as a career than receiving a paycheck,? explains Morgan O’Mara, who worked for free as the Web content manager at The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.

Besides learning about a new field, it can also expand your skill set. ??Volunteering can enhance your skill set. Especially for career changers, volunteer work can be a great way to learn new skills and make the transition into a new field. Since most organizations cannot afford to refuse free help, they will usually be open to your learning on the job since they are not paying you,? says executive career coach Cheryl E. Palmer, president of Call to Career.

If you are looking for a job but find it difficult to land one, volunteering is one way to get your foot in the door of a company you want to work for. ?Volunteering can also provide structure for job seekers, which is missing when people become unemployed. As a career coach, I have talked to many people who don?t know what to do with their time. During their work lives, the job has provided structure. Without that structure, they feel lost – not to mention unproductive,? notes Palmer.

And what?s also good is that you can do this at any age. ??I believe you can work for free at any age if you are still able to support yourself financially. I have often checked volunteermatch .com for virtual volunteer opportunities that usually involve marketing. I would consider this as working for free,? says O’Mara.

There are many pluses to working for free. ?Volunteering gives you contacts outside of your regular network. I have found that people in an environment where you volunteer will refer you to open positions that they hear about. This is information that you ordinarily would not be privy to without those contacts developed during your community involvement,? explains Palmer.

There are some downsides, however, besides not earning a salary. ?Volunteer work can become a distraction if you spend all your time on it and don?t spend time on your actual job search. This is especially true if you are volunteering just for the fun of it, and the volunteer work is not related to your profession,? Palmer points out.

You should have a plan and career goal even if volunteering. ?You can end up no closer to your job search goal if you don?t volunteer strategically. I suggest to clients that they volunteer in an organization that is likely to have openings in the near future, or, at the very least, volunteer in organizations where they are in a position to make key contacts who can help them in their job search,? suggests Palmer.

But how do you make sure you are appreciated for your free work? ?When I worked for free, I was working at a nonprofit organization that was working to decrease homelessness in Michigan. Working for a good cause was rewarding in itself. I also gained a skill set that still helps me in my career today,? says O?Mara, who is now the digital marketing content coordinator for Shred Nations.

She adds, ?The only way you can make sure you are appreciated for your free work is to exceed all expectations. Just because you are not being paid does not mean you should be lazy. You must work hard and give it your all to show you are a hard worker and can find reward in your accomplishments and contributions instead of just financial rewards.?

And in the long run, volunteering can really boost your career. “I believe working for free helped me land the position that I am currently in as digital marketing content coordinator for Shred Nations. I am able to work on the Internet and produce quality content because of the time I put into an unpaid position,? says O?Mara.