Whether or not to work for free, that is the question


Should you or shouldn't you work for free? It's a question you almost certainly will face at some point in your career. Sometimes the answer is yes.

I just interviewed a plastic surgeon who told me when he's at a party or in the men's room, he regularly gets asked for free advice No big deal, he says. Sometimes, giving out free advice results in a client. But then he also gets asked by friends to do nips and tucks for free. He's had to make a rule — no freebies, no exceptions. 

When is working for free a good idea? 

You may have to face the decision to work for free early in your career when deciding if you want to take an unpaid internship. Or, the dilemma may come later in your career when you must decide whether to take on a project that means more work hours and no additional pay. Of course, it most commonly comes when you own a business and are asked to provide your services for free.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. WIll it pay off in the long run?

I just asked someone to make a DVD montage for me for free. It was actually for my child's school. She did an amazing job and said she enjoyed it. I know I can send lots of paying business her way. So, doing it for free was probably a good choice for her. It almost certainly was a path to payment.

2. Who is asking?

Blogger Penelope Trunk  says  you should consider whether the person asking is well connected and could send business your way. "If you do a good job, they are likely to pay you for the next one—or recommend that someone else pay you. Either way, you’ll get paid," Trunk says.

3. Will it build your resume?

You might not get paid for what you do, but taking an unpaid internship or more managerial responsibility without a raise can pay off later when you are able to use the experience on your resume. Penelope says, "When you start working for free, you need to have a very clear idea of how you are going to describe this work in your resume." 

4. Will you be learning new skills or exposing yourself to new experiences?

Unpaid work for personal growth is a tradeoff some people are willing to make. I recently offered to host a panel discussion on work life balance at a TV station. I didn't get paid but I did learn more about how television journalism works and met some amazing women.  I consider it a win-win.

5. Have you done the gut test?

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself whether you will hate yourself for saying yes to working for free. Most of the time, you know the answer in your gut.


The Work/Life Balancing Act

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