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by Caroline Ceniza-Levine | October 14, 2009


Two different reporters covering different geographies and different demographics recently asked me about volunteering, unpaid internships or otherwise working for free.  Jobseekers anxiously want to know:  does working for free pay off? 


You already work for free if you manage your career proactively.  First of all, if you are a jobseeker without a full-time salary, you are (hopefully) doing a lot of work to find your next job, all of which is free.  A proactive job search takes 20-40 hours per week, and the payoff is not guaranteed.  Great jobseekers thoroughly research prospective employers.  Jobseekers offer proposals and share insights – free consulting, free ideas, free market information to employers. 


Secondly, even if you have a job, career advancement requires that you go above and beyond.  You don’t just do the job for which you’re paid.  You do more – for free – in terms of mastering the next level up or a broader scope of responsibility.  You come up with a new idea to generate revenue or a better process to save costs.  The best career managers engage in regular and systematic networking.  This is the work that you do outside your paid job to expand and deepen relationships, cultivate mentorships and stay connected to professional groups and associations. 


Free work is necessary and beneficial, but not in the guise of any one specific volunteer opportunity or these adult internships I’ve been hearing a lot about lately.  Don’t undermine your value by offering to work for any one employer unpaid.  Instead, invest in yourself and your overall career by staying connected to a broad network.  Give a little to a lot of people.  You are worth more than you think and don’t need to give it away for free.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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