Working “For Experience” Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Working for free in specific industries is a fantastic way to build one’s brand

Many students take on unpaid work as a way of gaining relevant job experience, while sacrificing financial compensation. (Adapted: flickr/cswalken)

Many students take on unpaid work as a way of gaining relevant job experience, while sacrificing financial compensation. (Adapted: flickr/cswalken)

Students should be paid for the work they do, but certain fields require them to spend an extended time working for free in order to gain experience or help grow their professional reputation.

Many people feel this isn’t fair. Why should a person provide free labour just because they’re still earning their education?

When trying to gain experience in a field, I believe students have a unique opportunity to take advantage of internships and practicums that may not pay them, but still offer them a taste of the career path that they are about to embark upon.

For example, my partner completed a practicum with a B.C. government ministry to help gain the skills she needed to progress in her degree and to solidify where she wanted to work. She didn’t receive any payment for this, but was perfectly okay with that. Now she has a job with that same ministry and has had nothing but positive performance reviews from team leaders because of the time she put in.

This is just one example of how an unpaid position can benefit students. However, to make sure that they’re not being taken advantage of, they need to take the time to look over all opportunities that are available to them.

Too many students will take the first opportunity to “gain experience,” and that’s just settling. Students are worth more that that—we’re sponges for information. We’re willing to work hard to learn and contribute, and we’re more capable than some employers are willing to believe. If a photographer were to walk up to a person, with little to no experience or portfolio, and then say that they are going to charge them money, what do you think the reaction would be?

Still, working for free in specific industries is a fantastic way to build one’s brand. Internships, practicums, and all other areas of pro-bono work are the proving grounds, a way for students to prove that they can contribute to the workplace and that this is the right area of work for them.

“For experience” or “for exposure” are not phrases that anyone wants to hear, but if we take the time to understand our opportunities, acknowledge the value of working in specific areas, and know that it won’t last forever, working for free is not such a bad thing. Never settle for a second-rate opportunity and I promise that working for free is worth it.

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