- Many young people are asked to work for free.
- Not everyone can afford to do this, and it’s important to ask the question, should you work for free.
- Here’s 5 questions you need to ask before you say yes to working for free because exposure doesn’t pay the rent.
So, we’ll need you to write 2,000 words, and you won’t get a writer’s credit or payment for your time. Are you keen?
You may laugh, but that’s an offer that came into my inbox this week. What’s worse is that this company makes money from those articles given to them for free so they can afford to pay people. They just choose not to.
Not paying young people means that we effectively work for free.
Young people are a target because we have limited experience of the workplace. We are looking to build our experience as this credit on our resume or addition to our portfolio will show we can get a job. That can mean we at times need to work for free. However, working for free is not an option available to all young people.
Remember that a good reference does not pay the rent.
If you don’t pay young people, they need money from other sources to pay for their essentials. Only some of us can afford to work for free, which is why unpaid internships are problematic. It’s also why organisations like the United Nations are labelled hypocrites by treating young people as if they are disposableble.
The fact is however that working for free can be unavoidable, particularly for young people without experience. In addition, unpaid internships are judged as acceptable if it’s a vocation placement rather than an employment relationship. So when should you consider working for free, and when should you walk away?
Here’s 5 questions you need to ask before you say yes to working for free:
1. How experienced are you at what you do?
If you’re just starting out in your career, you may need to gain experience to get your first job. This is particularly true of creative industries where you often need a showreel. That’s why so many journalism students intern at community radio stations or write for student papers, all without getting paid for their time. The trick to this is to gain the portfolio examples to then ask to be paid when you have the required skills to freelance.
2. Do you speak to people at work about your salaries?
When I moved to Australia as a teenager and started working, I was underpaid. I didn’t know that there were standard rates of pay or that I was entitled to overtime. Companies pay us different amounts of money for the same work when we fail to talk about salaries. This is why it’s so important to talk about money with friends to normalise these conversations. Likewise, if you are being asked to speak at an event for free, ask other speakers what they are being paid. This ensures you can argue to be paid what you are worth and support other speakers to have conversations around equal pay.
3. Will this exposure pay your rent?
I love this saying because I’m sick of being asked to work for exposure. As a self-aware individual who cares about the state of the world, I will do some work for organisations or initiatives that don’t have the budget to pay me. I have a set amount of time dedicated to that purpose because it’s important to me. But if you are a business that makes money and generates revenue from an event, part of your budget should go towards speakers. Exposure rarely pays the rent and if you are going to work for an organisation for free, have a plan for how you could capitalise on that exposure to translate it into dollars.
4. How much time will the task take?
Time is one of your most powerful assets. If you are being approached to work for free, consider whether it’s worth your time. Quantify the amount of time you are paid at your day job per hour, and based on this, calculate the amount of time it will take for you to prepare, travel to and undertake the commitment that is being asked of you. This enables you to put a value figure on your time to help you make an informed choice when considering whether you should work for free.
5. Is this a cause you want to volunteer for?
There are multiple ways to give to charity, including donating your time and skills. We are motivated to give to charity for different reasons, including being passionate about an issue or cause. Identify the skills you contribute and be clear on the time you want to commit to the cause. Doing this will help you purposefully build a legacy with your time.
Asking the question, should you work for free, forces you to value your time.
Your time is valuable, and no one is entitled to it. You trade your time to employers for money, and if someone asks you to work for free, it’s important to own that decision. Consider whether it is worth your time, and if it isn’t, you have the right to say no and move on.
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