🔥 Hot take: stop offering to work for free

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If you’re offering your services for free, it’s time to stop.

You might not agree with me.

But by the end of this article, maybe you’ll understand my perspective.

In fact, I’ve written about whether unpaid internships are exploitative before - and included paid alternatives.

And you voted that although unpaid internships may be exploitative, the good outweighs the bad.

Some of you value experience more than being paid. “I'll do anything for growth right?”

But I don’t think it’s the right way to grow.

So I’ve broken down my reasons below:

  • Why offering to work for free actually sabotages you

  • Why companies don’t want volunteers

  • Why normalizing unpaid work harms future generations

Keep reading as I deep-dive into these reasons.


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Why working for free sabotages you

Asking companies if you can provide free labour for them doesn’t always guarantee you’ll get the experience you need.

But working on a project does.

That’s how Ati, an EntryLevel student, landed a job. She proactively worked on projects that gave value to the company she wanted to get noticed at.

Even if your project doesn’t get you hired, you’ll still learn valuable skills:

  • Pitching to the company you did the project for

  • Negotiation

  • Research

And so much more.

You’ll also get more experience with:

  • Contracts

  • Payments

  • Intellectual property (IP)

  • Client and stakeholder management

This will ensure you work with the right companies and clients - people who aren’t trying to exploit you.


Why companies don’t want volunteers

Offering to volunteer with zero context actually creates more work for a company.

“But I’m offering to work for free, on whatever the company wants! How can it cost the company?” You might wonder.

Remember: time is money.

The time it takes for someone at the company to mentor you, give you tasks to do, give you feedback, and manage your work can be costly.

That’s why I focus so much on proactively doing projects that bring value to the company.

Every company has a problem - it’s your job to research what that is and solve it effectively. Once you prove yourself and get hired as a result, companies should be happy to pay you.

You want to make it as easy as possible to say “yes” to what you’re offering - and get paid for it.

Plus, the fact that they’re paying you may make them think your work is worth the investment.

Like when you pay for something, you’re more likely to value it than if you got it for free, right?


Why normalizing unpaid work harms future generations

We’ve all seen it.

Those job postings that require 5 years of experience for an entry-level role.

But why?

If everyone got years of unpaid internship experience before entering the workforce, companies might think that’s the norm.

And if that’s the norm, then companies will start requiring it in job postings.

But all that does is make it even harder to land an entry-level job.

It’s supply and demand - if more workers are willing to offer their services for free, why would companies choose otherwise?

But not all companies are like this.

That’s why I only apply to companies that match my ideal criteria:

  • Remote (can work from anywhere)

  • Flexible hours (and they trust you to do your work)

  • Good team culture

  • Skills-based, rather than degree-based

This ensures I’ll be happy spending the majority of my day at work - instead of feeling miserable every Monday.


Do you agree?

Despite all these reasons, you might still think doing unpaid work is the best way to grow your career.

And maybe you’d be right - everyone’s situation is different.

But hopefully you’re now a bit more aware of why unpaid work isn’t always great, and why you shouldn’t always offer it.

If you’re looking for ways to get paid for your work, check out this previous article and scroll to the bottom for some websites.


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