Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Working for Free: When? why? and for how long?

Working for free?
This post derives from a personal reflection after following a brief debate generated in a Facebook group in which I participate. Someone posted an offer for unpaid work through which the applicants would have an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field and promising that, once business had positively taken off, economic benefits would be divided between those who decided to take the offer.

As usual, an offer of this kind generated an interesting discussion. On one side were those who disagree with a proposal like this, and on the other side, those who, having taken an offer like this before, maybe even more than once, don’t consider such a proposal out of this world, and even think it does makes sense for the time being.

When can you say it’s worth working for free?

The only time in my life I had to work for free was when I did my internship at an advertising agency back in my country. My internship as an account executive for the agency lasted for several months and allowed me to gain very valuable experience in my department’s operation, meet other people who were working on different areas of the agency, put into practice the knowledge that I was acquiring in college and stretch my muscles starting to work in my professional field.

A few months after completing my internship, I got a job as a paid-employee and, since then, this has been my employment status: working for a third party which pays me a compensation for my time, experience and knowledge.

Working as an intern for free, when finishing my studies helped me get involved in the professional area in which I was to play upon completion of my career. At that time in my life, had its full justification and it was totally necessary for me. It was worth working for free!

Back then, I did it because it was necessary for acquiring a preliminary experience on my future work and it went on for as long as it was required to. Neither more nor less.

"Make sure at least you get paid enough to put new soles on your shoes"

One of the lessons my father taught me was on this sentence: "When you work for someone, at least make sure you get paid enough to put new soles on your shoes when they get worn out from walking"

And since then, unwittingly, it has been a position that I have attached to all the times I've had the chance.

When I have participated in staff selection processes, I’ve always advocated that the company commits to pay at least the minimum wage established by law and according to the company’s financial possibilities or, in the worst case, offer a compensation good enough as to cover basic expenses of the candidate, especially when it came to hiring sales people, as they were supposed to spend most of their time on the street, making phone calls, eating out, fuel, etc..

Why have I always advocated for it?

I do believe that every person working for a third party is bringing to the table, at least, two things: it’s time and knowledge.

Even in the case of a person without any kind of experience, or credential proving she can properly do the job, or without any academic preparation, is using her time to do the job, and that must be valued somehow. If anything, why would you want to hire someone like that?

And if it’s a person with academic training, previous experience (even if only in a related field), relationships, and other things, then the more reason to agree on a financial reward for their work. It’s evident.

Why would that person want to be your partner?

One thing I can’t keep myself from thinking, when I read about jobs that offer something like "if the business prospers, you will be paid a salary," is about a partnership: When two people come together to start a business, each one is  bringing what he or she has in the hopes that, when business grows, both will  enjoy the benefits. And many times it has worked extremely well, so much indeed that many large companies existing today were born in the same way. Facebook being one of them, for instance.

But there is a huge difference: That person you're hiring without paying a salary or remuneration is not (and won’t be) your partner. And when your business grows, that person will simply receive a salary, not a share of your company’s profits, as it would correspond if that person were indeed your partner. Therefore, the question you should ask yourself  is: "Why would that person want to be my partner?"

If you want to be demanding, you’ve to accept the other side being demanding too.

In my experience, if you bid to recruit staff for any area and do not offer anything in return, you will have very little or no right at all to claim or demand the best results, and even not to require from the person a specific time commitment or working schedule.

It's different if you offer some kind of compensation, no matter how small it might be, than if you don’t offer anything at all. When you offer a little something, you're saying that there is a commitment on your side and you’re really giving value to what that person can offer you, even if your company has some financial limitations, to some extent, understandable.

It would be easier to trust you when you say that "if business takes off, things will get better for you" because from the beginning, at least, you're doing an effort on your part.

The economic crisis has made room for many things.

On one hand, with the large number of jobless people, job seekers do need to (and sometimes are almost obliged to) accept whatever it is thrown at them, no matter what, even if it’s far from being the best or even something they wouldn’t accept on a different scenario. It’s a sad situation, but we are all living it day after day.

But on the other hand, companies making such offers are doing it for one of two things. It’s either because they really need to hire people and don’t have the money to pay for salaries, or they’re simply taking advantage of the situation and the opportunity the crisis offers to hire qualified personnel at minimal rates.

If you are an entrepreneur, try to show some commitment on your side and offer something that at least shows your confidence in the person you're hiring and the value that you give to their time and dedication. If you are a person looking for a job and are willing to do it for free, always think about those three questions: When? why? and for how long?

In any case, it’s a subject about which I would truly like to share your opinion with me.

Related articles: Company reputation and the salespeople responsibility.

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