Should you work for free? Now that’s a tough question! It isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a grad or between jobs, monetary gain may not be your only priority. But your time is still valuable and unpaid work experience or internships should help your career, so if you can afford to do some work without a pay cheque, make sure you’re getting at least one, if not more, of the following benefits before you sign up:
Add valuable experience to your resume
It may just seem like a line entry at first, but being able to add the details of an unpaid work placement to your resume can be priceless. Finding your first role or looking for a role when you’re out of work can be tough. Having no experience or gaps between jobs on your resume can make it harder to stand out when all a recruiter or HR person has to go on is your written application.
Learn new skills or improve existing skills
It may seem obvious that you’ll learn new skills but you’d be surprised how often this is not the case. There are many horror stories out there from people who signed up for experience and found themselves undertaking menial tasks like stuffing envelopes or fetching coffee. Every task is important but it’s worth asking for a position description to make sure there is a balance between the basic stuff and more challenging opportunities you can learn from. And do remember to value the practical skills you can learn, like working to deadlines and contributing to group projects.
Build your professional network
Be sincere, put a small on your face, always offer to help and proactively let people know when you have capacity to take on more. And never, ever burn bridges! You are interacting with a fantastic group of people who could well become referees or let you know when they hear about opportunities within their own professional network. When you get to the final round of the interview process, having a variety of professional referees could push you well ahead of the other applicants, particularly at the entry-level.
Get your foot in the door for future opportunities
There’s nothing like being in the door already when a job vacancy comes up. Find out how new roles are recruited and make sure you hear about everything suitable as soon as it becomes available. The company may have a jobs board on their intranet you can check out regularly. Ask around as soon as you arrive and keep your ears peeled in the lunch room for any chatter about vacancies.
Take the company for a test drive with unpaid work
If the company is not for you, an unpaid internship or work experience is one great way to find out before you formally commit to a permanent role. If you decide to go, there’ll be no hard feelings and no question marks against that role on your resume.
Give back with an unpaid internship
There are some organisations, particularly charities, that need your help but can’t afford it. Just be certain it really is a charity - unfortunately there are some unscrupulous people around - then enjoy both the benefits to your career and the immense satisfaction that goes with giving back.
Unpaid work can be a fantastic way to build up your experience and make your resume more attractive to prospective employers, but it’s something you need to weigh up seriously beforehand. There are benefits, but beware the pitfalls – it needs to work for you just as much as it does for the company. Your time is valuable – donate it wisely and you may find you weren’t working for “free” after all.
What’s the best experience you’ve gained working for free? And what would you warn others against doing? Share your thoughts.
Please check your local regulations before undertaking any unpaid work - such as an internship, work experience or voluntary position.