When you're changing careers or trying to work freelance, getting a paying job is often difficult. For every paying gig that comes along, you're bound to be offered several jobs, ranging from simple to extremely complex, that don't offer any pay at all. Typically, these jobs are offered by start-up companies or non-profit organizations, but more and more frequently, larger companies are looking for people who are willing to work for free. Of course, they don't call it working for free – typically it's packaged as an opportunity to work for exposure or for the opportunity to have something to add to a resume or portfolio.
Although these jobs are traditionally in the fields of writing or graphic design, computer programers, coders and other professionals are also encountering these lucrative, work-for-free opportunities. But are the jobs worth the investment of time and energy, or are they simply the product of companies attempting to get something for nothing?
A recent article at The Atlantic delved into these controversial waters and discussed the reasons why someone would be willing to work for free, and why it's not always a bad idea. As a freelance writer myself, I have also been offered these “for exposure” opportunities. Although they certainly aren't always a scam, and many people find that they make sense for their situation, I can understand the reasons why a professional would choose not to work for little to no financial compensation.
When you are trying to establish yourself in a new career field or launch your freelance career, job experience, even experience that doesn't pay, can certainly help you find your next job. However, if you get the reputation as someone who works for free (or for very little), it can be tough to charge clients in the future. Before accepting a “work for exposure” gig, here are some things to think about:
Will the company be making money from your work? Personally, I would have a very hard time donating my work to a company that would be using my work to make money. However, if I were writing articles for a non-profit organization, I would consider my work to be volunteering. Before deciding if you're willing to work for free, take a look at the organization and find out if they are going to be profiting from your work – and if so, how much? If they will be making a great deal from it, there's no reason for you not to be compensated.
How much exposure will you be getting? Working for exposure can be a great idea, especially if your work will be getting a ton of exposure. For example, if Time Magazine asked me to write a short column about something I'm passionate about, and they weren't able to pay me, I would accept it. That sort of exposure is payment enough and being published in their magazine would be a huge addition to my professional portfolio. Before making a decision, find out exactly how much exposure you would be getting and what sort of difference that would make to your resume.
How big is the project? Doing a small job for no pay is a whole lot easier than an involved project. If the work is minimal and the rewards are modest, then it's completely reasonable to accept the job. However, if the company is asking you to do weeks worth of work for free, you might want to consider passing.
Where is the company headed? If you're being offered work by a start-up company, look at their business plan and where they are headed. For every successful internet start-up, there are hundreds of companies that aren't much more than a person with an idea for “the next Twitter.” If you don't think that the company is going to be successful, you probably don't want your name or your work involved with it. However, if you believe that they are really on to something, you could attempt to negotiate a small percentage or royalty fee when the company becomes successful. David Choe, a graffiti artist (featured in the above image) made almost $200 million for his work creating a mural for the Facebook office after the company went public. Because they weren't able to pay him at the time, he opted for a .25% of the company.
Can you afford to work for free? If you have a full-time job and have the time to do the work, then it can make sense to accept a work-for-free opportunity. For those who are trying to break into a new field and who want a chance to show off their skills, this could be the best way. In addition, these types of jobs are a great way to practice meeting deadlines and creating work for others. Although it can feel as though you're being taken advantage of, the experience can be worth more than cash.
Deciding whether a work-for-exposure opportunity is right for you is an extremely personal one. Don't allow outside pressure to influence your decision. People have been offering work for free since the beginning of time, (think editorials, street art, etc.) and it can be a chance to try out a new career.
Have you been asked to work for exposure? How did you feel about it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Image Source: DavidChoe.com