Should you work for free?
I stumbled upon designer Jessica Hische’s awesome “Should I work for Free?” flow chart yesterday and it really got me thinking.
I had thoughts and thinks like:
“Where would I be in my career without all of the unpaid internships and gratis gigs I’ve performed over the years?” (answer: not nearly as far along as I am now)
“If I quantified all of the ‘volunteer’ work I’ve ever done (excluding charitable stuff), How much extra money would I have in the bank?” (answer: not much more, since I have a tendency to spend everything I make. That said, I might have by now traveled back and forth to Egypt three times or bought myself a Beamer. Or at least a garage for my Protege.)
“Where can we draw the line between ‘valuable experiential opportunity’ and flat out ‘exploitation’?” (answer: see the flow chart.)
When you work in a practical field (culinary, hair styling, electrician…ing) they’re called “apprenticeships”.
When you seek to work in the creative and news industries, they’re “internships”.
When you’re being pressured to skip classes and crank out work for that a company bills clients specifically for your hours or profits directly from your efforts, it is called “dirty”.
Personally, I do see the value in unpaid internships – Lord knows I’ve had my share. For the most part, the skills, experience and connections (and perks!) I gained have been absolutely invaluable.
And yet, I have been in and have seen friends get into roles that make my blood boil.
Free work is acceptable when you honestly enjoy or benefit from it, when it helps someone you care about, when you do it for school credit – heck, even when you do it for STREET credit if that’s what you’re into.
Standing at a trade show booth to promote a charity or help a friend is good kharma – and rather cool of you might I add.
But standing at a trade show booth in skimpy clothes, freezing your butt off to promote some trashy merch line because your supervisor’s buddy needs a hot girl to bring in customers should never be part of your role as a copy writing intern.
Like the chart says – just because a business isn’t profitable, that doesn’t make it a non-profit. Capiche?