I came across this question on Quora – Should anyone work for free for good exposure and at what stage do you stop doing free, but awesome work?

1. Should anyone work for free? Yes, everyone should at least consider to work for free as an option.  I think it’s important to realize that wasting time also costs money in the long run.  As you alluded to, you could be paid doing mediocre stuff and not learning.  In this case, you are losing time building experience and therefore you may not get promoted fast or get a better job with higher pay easily.  On the other hand, you can work for free and in exchange get great experience on your resume, new skills, or even a chance to turn it into a good paid job.  I think the right free work could very well be a great investment of your time.  It’s like getting free education without paying for tuition.

2. At what stage do you stop doing free but awesome work? It’s important to set up an agreement up front before you start to work for free as to when and under what condition you will stop working for free.  This way you can set expectations up front.  For example, I know job seekers who have offered to work for free for start-ups to gain experience and both parties know they will stop either when they find a job or when that start-up got enough funding to pay them.  For more examples, see my other article Radical Ways to Find a Job

At the end of the day, whether to work for free is an individual decision.   You have to consider three factors before doing it.

  • A) available time – if you are looking for work but it’s taking awhile, it’s a good time to consider working for free to get experience.  Or if you work a 9 to 5 job and has energy to work some more on top of that
  • B) financial situation – if you have a job already, can you afford to work for free instead?  If not, then do it on the side first.
  • C) type of free work opportunity – most importantly, only work for free for the right situation – one that can teach you new skills, great experience on your resume, good brand name company, provide more connections, or can lead to a job.

Good luck out there!  I am always in your corner.

– Lei

2 Thoughts on “Work for Free – Who Should do it and Why?

  1. Lei Han on April 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm said:

    Great Example, Martin. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Martin on April 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm said:

    I saw this work once. A salsa acquaintance knew where I worked. He wanted to change careers from astrophysics to bioinformatics. I provided an introduction to the Bioinformatics group leader. He worked for free for 6 months for the experience. He was hired on and is now one of their top performers. He was obviously a smart guy.

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