Should You Work for Free?

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Your time and your skills have value. Employers ask for free labor simply because they can get it, not because your labor is worthless. Agreeing to work for free devalues your skllls, creates a bad precedent for others with those same skills, encourages employers to exploit their workers, and makes professional advancement more difficult for people who don’t have the option of working for free. 

Maybe (if your answer to any of these questions is yes)

Is an organization whose goals are so important to you that you would be willing to volunteer there under other circumstances?

Is your learning curve going to be so steep that the employer is likely to lose more than they gain by employing you? (Keep in mind that ANY new employee needs some time to learn the ropes, and that most businesses factor in those costs when they decide to hire someone.)

Is the hope of working for this particular organization so important to you that you would rather have an opportunity to prove your worth than be paid?

Is there no other way to get this particular kind of experience–a different job, volunteer work for an organization you care about, your extracurricular activities?

Is it a writing gig that will give you some non-academic work samples for your portfolio?

Does the position have some added value (prestige, filling a gap in your resume, networking opportunities) that you can get no other way?

Yes?

If you DO have a good reason to work for free, then own it.

  • Articulate your reasons clearly to yourself, in terms that will make it possible for you to recognize when you have gotten what you want from the experience.
  • Be confident that this particular opportunity is the best use of your free labor at this moment.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the opportunity in front of you: if you’re going to work for free, it might as well be for an organization that matters to you or that will teach you particular skills you want.
  • Have an endpoint: set a goal or time limit after which you will stop or insist on payment.

 

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