When is it OK to Work for FREE?

Will Work for [Practically] Nothing
By Veronica Park

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.


Note: this editorial piece was written by Veronica Park and originally published by CornOnTheJob.com on 10/1/2013. Here is a link to original article. For more great information on how to search for a job (and GET one), please check out the archives at CornOnTheJob.com.

One thought on “When is it OK to Work for FREE?

  1. Great advice Veronica. Due to a health condition I’ve only ever done voluntary work, but it’s given me a lot of confidence and I’ve met some great people. I would ideally like a little paid job, but as my husband says I’m picky and I want to get the right paid job, not one that’s going to be detrimental to my health.

Comments are closed.