I’m a fan of working for free when you’re a new professional and have little to offer or when there’s sufficient enough long-term opportunity at a growing company that can’t currently pay you. I wrote an article here about how to “pitch” an unpaid work opportunity to someone with whom you’d like to work.
The editor chose not to publish the letter…because I’m not a student there! I guess there are downsides to dropping out…Enjoy!
The author of The value of unpaid internships is absolutely correct.
Young people today often graduate college with few skills and experiences that make them desirable as paid entry level employees.
What critics of “free work” don’t understand is that many companies are already spending thousands of dollars per new hire in recruiting costs, training time, taxes and opportunity cost. It is expensive and risky to bring new people on, especially when they have no relevant work experience. I’ve personally worked with companies that were offering $2,000 referral fees to anybody who sent them somebody they hired, and this was a company that already had hundreds of applicants.
Internship programs likewise cost companies time, energy and money far beyond the costs of an intern salary. In other words, if you think “free work” is “free,” you’re mistaken.
Temporary unpaid work is a fantastic way of sidestepping these costs and risks as well as making yourself more competitive over people who might have a leg up on you in experience.
I write from personal experience. I started my career working for free — every freelance client I got when I first began in marketing consulting and every job opportunity I had started after an unpaid internship or offering them a “free trial of Derek” during which I could prove I was valuable and gain good experience.
Those almost always turned into paid work later. I’m now the Director of Marketing at a startup called Praxis, I’m compensated well for my work, and I absolutely do not regret working for free when I had little else to offer an employer or a client.
Paid internships are great, but young people should not be taught to avoid unpaid internships when they’re young and still learning their field. Instead, they should be taught how to create more value at companies than they’ll take out in salary and how to turn unpaid internships into full time paid jobs. Ironically enough, they can only do this by first taking a chance on an unpaid internship.