Will Work for [Practically] Nothing

by Rich DeMatteo on October 1, 2013 · 7 comments

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Veronica Park is an author, journalist and world-traveler of many different past and future vocations. Keep an eye out for her first published novel, which will hopefully be announced soon. In the meantime, you can read about her exploits in the Caribbean and find out her opinion on pretty much everything by following her on Twitter (@VeroniKaboom) and checking out her website.


In his iconic role as The Joker, Heath Ledger famously said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

However, if you think you can live by this phrase, you’re either a.) already gainfully employed, b.) a stripper, or c.) kidding yourself. The sad but factual thing is, in today’s rocky employment landscape, working for free – at least in the beginning – is often the best way to prove yourself worthy of being paid for what you do. Especially if your talents happen to lie in a creative field, like: writing, photography, graphic design, etc.

Sometimes, it’s going to feel like you’re letting yourself be taken advantage of. That’s because you ARE getting taken advantage of. The question YOU have to ask yourself is, how might this opportunity help me accomplish [insert actual, money-making career goal here]? If you’re still not sure, here are some questions you should ask yourself before you agree to work gratis.

  • Will this job/project give me field-specific experience to include on my resume?
  • Will the person who is offering me this job/project provide a glowing letter of recommendation or even agree to be a reference for future job opportunities?
  • Will this job/project potentially lead to an offer of employment?
  • Is there a chance I could leverage this job/project into a better/paying job or project in the future?
  • Will this job/project help me develop my skills in any way, or does it offer any training/education that could strengthen my career profile?
  • Do I have enough time/money on my hands to spare that none of these things really matter?
  • Is this job/project fun for me? (i.e. Would I be blogging about making macramé bracelets, painting myself gold and pretending to be a statue in my spare time anyway?)
  • Will this job/project fit into my current lifestyle and schedule, without putting too much pressure on other things I’m supposed to be doing?
  • Is this job/project something I really believe in and want to support? Does it make me feel warm and fuzzy inside?

If you can answer yes to two or more of these questions, this job/project might not actually count as working for free. True, you aren’t being paid for your time, but you are getting something valuable: a positive experience. In my experience, that usually translates into money – or, at the very least, confidence – in the long run. And THAT’S practical.

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How are you able to find internships without having previous contact with a company? @veronikaboom  I have a company I would like to work for but can't find a way to infiltrate the system. What is the best way to approach this problem?