Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Questions to Ask About Working for Free

To learn more about a career path or to get a foothold in a prospective career, I’ve suggested volunteering to get job skills or work experience in a new field; I’ve done it myself. But be cautious about giving away your time and hard work. In this excellent guest post on the NYT Shifting Careers blog, freelancing expert Michelle Goodman advises how not to give away the store, especially for freelancers in the communications field. (writing, public relations) Her advice can be extended to other career fields and people like you choosing or changing your career.

If you encounter a “free” opportunity, I suggest asking yourself a few questions before making a decision:
  1. Can you get paid to do the same type of work elsewhere? (have you really looked?)
  2. Would you gain skills you could not otherwise acquire? If so, how does the free work fit into your plan for how to get the paid job you ultimately want?
  3. Is looking for paid work a more cost-effective use of your time?
  4. Are the “exposure” and other touted benefits of the free job really worth it? (Can you talk/email with any predecessors to get their opinion?)
  5. Have you talked with people working in the field about where to focus your efforts? What do they think about the opportunity?
Spend your valuable time as mindfully and effectively as possible by carefully choosing your volunteer projects. Information interviewing in your field will help you focus your efforts and hopefully steer you away from known timesinks. Just plan on making a few mistakes that will waste your time and learning from them.

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