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How Working for Free Paid Off—Big Time

How Working for Free Paid Off—Big Time
Rachel Humphrey

I don’t have to tell you it’s a tough job market out there. Most Americans are well aware! Facing it can be daunting. I know, because like so many others nowadays, I was facing it myself about six months ago. My son had just turned a year old and I was ready to return to the work force after being a stay-at-home Mom. I did eventually find a job (you’re looking at it!), but it came about in an unconventional way – by working for free. Here's what happened for me, and how it can happen for you too.

If I Can Do It, You Can Definitely Do It

I had a teaching credential, but I didn’t want to go back to the classroom and face hours of unpaid planning time, rude students, and being too exhausted to play with my son when I got home. I was pretty much back to square one, career-wise, and I was feeling pretty lost. I started a humorous antiques and collectibles blog in the hopes of keeping my brain sharp and making a little extra money while I was looking for work, and I remembered how much I loved writing (it was my major in college), and how well people responded to my writing. My husband encouraged me to go with that, so I read a few books on freelance writing, and was daunted by how insurmountable it seemed – even the most hard-working freelancers make less than $30,000 a year.

One day, I was looking at Outblush, a shopping blog my friend suggested I check out, and I noticed they had a Personal Shopper feature. I sent in a request, and I got a note back from the editor (now my boss) saying, “I love your blog. Why aren’t you writing for us?” I replied that I would be absolutely overjoyed to write for them. She replied and said that they didn’t have any open positions, but that she’d love for me to write for the blog, and that she’d let me know if any positions became available. Six months of free labor later (just a few posts a week) she gave me a job, and it’s an awesome job. I still write for Outblush, but I also work on UltimateCoupons and The Bargainist, which are both popular couponing websites. I worked for free and it worked for me! Here’s how you can make it work for you.

Get In There!

If there’s a company or a website you’d like to work for, contact them and offer your services. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no, so you have nothing to lose. Once you’re in, do the absolute best job you can do. Next time they have an open position, it would be much easier to just hire you, someone they already know does great work, than to sift through a big pile of resumes. When I finally got my job, I still had to go through part of the hiring process (a phone interview, submitting a resume, etc.) but I didn’t have to do any of the work samples they usually request, because I’d already been working for them. You can be looking for other work while you’re doing this, of course. I found that having something to do made me feel good, and I knew that if it didn’t pan out, it would still be something I could put on my resume.

Take a Turn as an Intern

There are plenty of unpaid internships out there, so go get ‘em! This is similar to the above scenario in that you’re working for free, but an internship is a more formal situation that looks better on a resume. Interns at many offices are very likely to be hired once their internship is up, and if not, you can get a recommendation from someone there when you’re applying to other jobs. If a company you’re interested in learning about doesn’t offer an internship, ask them if they’d be interested in creating one.

Have No Fear, Volunteer!

Look around for volunteer opportunities that have something to do with the jobs you’re interested in. Want to work with animals? Volunteer at a shelter. Want to work with kids? Volunteer as a tutor at a school. Are you a social worker? Volunteer at a homeless shelter. To find something that suits you, check out VolunteerMatch.

One Time Only

If you offer a specific service such as landscape design, music lessons or personal training, offer your services to people for free so they can try you out. If you do a great job, they might like you and decide to hire you. Try putting an ad up on a networking site like Craigslist that say you'll do a free trial session or consultation, along with a description of what you do. You can also offer free labor in return for referrals. Let’s say you teach piano, and you’ve started teaching someone on a regular basis for pay. You could offer to give them a free lesson (or two, or three!) if they bring you another paying client. Do this with all your clients, and pretty soon you’ll be very busy.

How did you get your current job? Did you go the usual applied-interviewed-hired route or did you take a different path? We want to hear about it!

Featured Photo Credit, Photo 1 Credit, Photo 2 Credit, Photo 3 Credit


  1. Brady Lewis

    I absolutely agree that free is the way to go. In this internet-centric day and age, people want things cheap and immediately. Giving away free information or trials is a great way to grab someone's attention, and hopefully their future business. I certainly employ free trials in all of my businesses.

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