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Working for free. Are Employers exploiting people or is the experience worth it's weight in gold?

Updated on June 11, 2014
Are we exploiting ourselves and others by working for free?
Are we exploiting ourselves and others by working for free?

The benefits of Free Labour

Charity organisations aside, there is a lot of valuable work experience up for grabs if you offer your labour for free. Volunteer work will help you win credibility hands down; your employer will certainly admire your hard work and dedication. Not many people would be willing to put themselves out for nothing.

Quite often, you will be offered paid employment once the company realises how valuable you are. If you come across a gem, you want to hold onto them with both hands, right? Imagine being offered a fast track into the career of your dreams! Although this isn’t guaranteed, it will certainly open doorways to other paid opportunities.

You will discover a new found confidence you never thought you had… You will make friends and network with many industry professionals who you wouldn’t have met otherwise. All because you offered your services for free! In many ways, voluntary work prepares you for paid employment because you will be under less pressure to learn.

Talking from a personal perspective, voluntary work experience really helped me to establish my digital media career; the digital media industry is fierce and everyone is tripping over themselves for an opportunity like I had. If you want to learn about my experiences, please visit my website and blog – you can find the link at the bottom of this article (I can’t link to my site more than twice due to the nofollow rules of Hubpages). Checking out my website could really help you make some informed choices about your own career.

If you find yourself working for free and absolutely loathing the job you initially thought you’d love, you can walk away at any time. Isn’t that great? Imagine spending thousands on a university education to find out you hate the industry!! An employer can’t expect you to stay if they are not being paid to do the job. If they did, that would be morally wrong on so many levels.


Positive Summary

In most cases, voluntary work:

  • Proves your dedication
  • Allows you to learn without the pressure
  • Allows you to meet important contacts
  • Gives you great opportunities
  • Builds upon your skills
  • Offers insight into the industry and the expectations of employees
  • Improves your confidence


The Ugly Aspects of Free Labour

It’s a sad fact that some companies exploit hard working voluntary staff and take advantage of their free labour. It’s the worst feeling in the world to be ‘replaceable’. It has happened to me a few times. Why do companies do this? Quite simply, because they know full well, that people rely on experience in order to get a job.

The question is, how does a person get experience without being given the chance in the first place? That is why voluntary work becomes the easy option in most cases - if you can afford to work for free that is.

Some companies have absolutely no intention of offering you paid employment. In my case, I was promised it and lead down the garden path then told they couldn’t afford to take me on (after I helped win them a BAFTA award). If you are unlucky and find this happening to you, please don’t accept this abuse. Somewhere, someday you will be appreciated for the work you doand mostimportantly, treated with the respect. Just because an employer has no morals, doesn’t mean to say that everyone is like that.


Negative Summary

In some unfortunate cases, voluntary work:

  • Can result in slave labour
  • Emphasis on helping the company as opposed to helping you
  • Can involve jobs you dislike or are overqualified for
  • Will make the lives of overpaid people easier (at your expense)
  • Does not guarantee paid employment at the end of it all
  • Can make you feel easily replaceable due to high demand job role



Most jobs these days make it mandatory for applicants to have several years’ industry experience. If you don’t have the experience, it is unlikely you will be shortlisted for interview, regardless of your qualifications... shot down in flames before you have even had the chance to show off your skills. There is nothing more disheartening.

The question is, how do you get this valuable experience unless employers give you a chance in the first place? Do employers expect you to work for nothing or is there an easier way that won’t cost you your home, food and clothes on your back?

If you are trying to get a job in a competitive industry, it might be worth trying a paid internship like I did. Check out my website and blog for details (link can be found in my related articles below)– it has lots of information for graduates in particular, looking for ways to break into the digital media industry.

Personally, I don’t have anything against voluntary work – in fact I do it all the time. The secret is balance. If I am asked to do a job that I feel is unreasonable, I will say so and request extra help if needed. I try to do my voluntary work part time so that I can earn some money whilst I learn. In summary, don’t under sell yourself. Your labour is priceless.



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