Does Working for Free Make Sense?

ID-10022911You’re looking for a full-time job, but what you get offered is an internship, a volunteer opportunity, or some other fancy title that really just equates to you working for free.  Should you take it?  The short answer is…it depends.  Working for free might be beneficial for you, but only under certain circumstances.  Here are some examples of when taking an unpaid position may be appropriate:

You lack relevant experience.

Without experience, it can be difficult to find an employer who is willing to take a chance on you.  Through a volunteer position, you may get the opportunity to develop your skills and prove to potential employers that you are capable of doing the job.

You need to develop your network. 

Knowing people who work in the industry is a huge asset when you’re looking for a job.  Volunteering or doing an internship is an effective way to make connections.  Employers are always more willing to hire candidates that they know, or that were referred by someone they know than they are to hire a complete stranger.

You have reason to believe that it will turn into a paid job.

Some employers will ask candidates to work for free for a short period of time to let them see how you work and whether or not you would be a good fit for the organization.  While it’s a bit annoying to give up your time before you even know if you have the job, it may be the only way for you to get into certain companies.  The employer may feel that your skills are unproven and while they would like to give you a chance, they aren’t willing to take the risk of hiring you without seeing how you work.  While this is valid, it’s important that you put strict limits on how long you will work for free so that you can quickly move on if it’s not a good fit.

It is something that you are passionate about.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t just about the paycheck.  There may be a cause, sport, art form, or something else that you have decided that you want to devote your life to.  Whether it’s feeding kittens at an animal shelter or refereeing soccer matches, if it makes you feel alive, then do it.  As long as you can pay your bills, you can afford to spend time on the things that matter to you.

Accepting an unpaid position may be a good investment, but you need to make sure that it is actually contributing to your career goals.  Don’t let it drag on for too long and make sure that it’s not interfering with your ability to find paid work.  Remember, you are giving up your valuable time, so if you don’t feel that it’s worth the sacrifice, call it quits.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Pixomar at


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