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Is it a good idea to work for free?

Published: Friday 16th November 2018

Nowadays, most employers expect applicants for job vacancies to have some experience. The more experience you have, the more chance you have of securing the role. But getting that initial work experience isn’t easy – especially for young people trying to secure entry-level roles. For these candidates, it’s a catch 22 situation… Roles require a certain level of experience but how can you find work if you need experience in the first place? There is a way around that, but it might involve you doing work for free.

Metal cogs with different words on them

Doing work for free is an investment in your career

Trainee employee being mentored

For some roles, such as accountancy jobs or nursing jobs, having the required qualification could be enough to get you an apprenticeship or trainee role where you’ll gain practical experience, but for others, such as civil service jobs or even developer jobs, you will ideally need to demonstrate that you have had some form of relevant work experience to stand any chance of securing the position.

Working for free not only helps you gain that experience, but it can also help you get exposure to other sides of the industry that you’re interested in and build a network of contacts that could lead to job opportunities later on. In a sense, working for free is an investment in your career, in the same way, that students pay to study for a qualification.

Most important of all, even unpaid work should go on your CV and this could be enough to secure a paid job.

Getting your foot in the door

Certainly, for industries that are particularly difficult to get into, such as fashion or marketing/PR jobs, working for free, or for little financial reward, may be the only way of getting your foot in the door. A good example of this can be seen in construction jobs. Labouring to a tradesperson for a small wage can be an avenue into an apprenticeship to learn a trade. But there are several options available for those looking to gain work experience by working for free. These include:

Get your foot in the door by doing work for free

Work experience – This is generally short-term or part-time, typically as part of a study course. But it can be very useful when it comes to building a CV while you work towards a qualification.

Internships – Increasingly, these positions come with some form of payment. Sometimes it’s just travel expenses, but they can be hard to secure in certain industries. Competition can be high but many interns go on to be fully paid employees.

Volunteering – According to a study by Deloitte, 82% of hiring managers prefer applicants with volunteer experience on their CV. It’s also an excellent way to network.

Freelancing – It can be incredibly difficult to secure those first few freelancing jobs. Trying to build a reputation and reach new customers is another catch 22. Doing work for free to build up a portfolio can be enormously helpful. Just make sure that ‘exposure’ doesn’t become the only currency you work for.

Get looking

Of course, even getting an unpaid job isn’t easy if there are other candidates thinking just like you. You’ll have to convince an employer to hire you. Many companies have their own schemes such as these examples, but often the easiest way is to send out your CV and say that you’re looking to get experience and would be willing to work for free. At least that way you shouldn’t be competing with too many others.

While we don’t have many unpaid work opportunities on our books at Zoek, we do have entry-level jobs as well as part-time jobs for students looking to gain general experience in a real working environment. So Zoek might be a good place to start your job search.

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