The Job Hunt

Why Free Work is an Advantage to You

Morgan Von Gunten
April 2019

It’s time to take advantage of what free work offers.

I never thought I’d see value in free work.

But then I did it.

I researched a company I liked, saw a few ways to create value, built a new website design, put together a pitch, and said, “I’d love to work for you. Here’s what I did for your company.”

I never got paid for it.

But it gave me an advantage.

Is free work bad for me?

I hear a lot of people say, “Free work is exploitation.”

Yes, working long-term for free isn’t helping you. But if you carry that idea to the other extreme and say, “I won’t spend a minute doing work for you until you pay me,” you’re not taking advantage of something that’s going to give you more than you bargained for.

But why is free work so advantageous?

Free work is the best personal advertising campaign.

Imagine there’s a company that’s got a great product. The quality of their work rivals the best.

But then their marketing team has an idea.

It’s not a good one.

As you see this company’s campaign show up on Facebook, on their landing page, you get one message:

We don’t do demos.

No one can look at our product.

We won’t show you anything that proves the value we can create for you until you pay us.

I doubt they’re going to make a lot of revenue.

I probably wouldn’t try their product. Even if they’re given a stamp of approval, even if they have a landing page listing all the awards they have. 

There’s no way of knowing they can actually create value for me. The information cost is too high. Instead, I’d Google other companies that let me see what they do first.

Whenever a company advertises or markets their product or goes out of their way to show you the ways the product creates value for you before you pay them, they’re doing free work for you.

You’re not exploiting them. In fact, they’ve just got a good marketing campaign.

The whole point is to let people see and feel and test-drive.

The same goes for hiring.

Free work shows the value you can create for the company. It builds a powerful signal of your skills, of your ability. It shows what you can do.

In much the same way a company does “free work” for you before you “hire” them, free work for a company before you’re hired shows you’ve got a valuable “product” to sell them.

It’s the best advertising campaign you could run for yourself.

Free work creates value for you, the one who does the work.

When I created that landing page for the company I liked, I didn’t get hired. I didn’t land an interview. 

But honestly, it wasn’t a loss.

That project gave me advantages I’ve carried into my everyday.

I taught myself new software to add to my tech stack. I learned how to pitch my skills to companies. Then I got a better idea of what companies find valuable.

I used that advantage to build a second project for a separate company. Then another.

That one piece of free work is still valuable to me.

It gave me experience. It helped me recognize what my abilities are, and how I can leverage those abilities to provide value for someone else. So I grew from it. I learned what not to do, how to do something better.

If you ask, “What can I get out of this?” and get nothing besides a better understanding of the field you want to move into, that’s still valuable. If you can grow your network and become better at pitching your skills to companies, that’s valuable.

Often, that project isn’t going to be so valuable to the company that they use it and make a ton of money and rip you off. That fear shouldn’t rule your decision to make something for free, because often, you’re the one who gains the most from it.

The value isn’t that you made something for them. The value is that you created something that grows you, that lets companies know what you’re capable of.

It’s not exploitation to create value.

Companies aren’t trying to steal from you. You need a good way to show you’re worth hiring. Free work is a win-win. And because there’s so much information needed before someone can make a good hiring decision, free work makes it easier. It lowers the information cost.

Create work that shows what you can do. Show you’re ready to handle responsibility. That work can create value—even if you’re not paid for it. 

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