“Work for free?”

Dear Andrea:

I’m trying to make a career change, but no one will give me the time of day because I don’t have any experience in the new field. How do you get experience if no one will you give you any? I’m willing to start at the bottom and don’t expect a high salary. But how do I get someone to believe I’ll do almost anything for the experience?

Dear L.S.:

How about working for free? That communicates your message loud and clear. You don’t have to do it for a long time–anywhere from weeks to months. And when you set up your arrangement, make it clear you hope this leads to a permanent position.
With this type of relationship you: 1) get experience, 2) show an employer you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make their company a success and 3) might end up with a job.
Working for free is different than a traditional internship. Internships are monitored work experiences with specific learning goals. Most are through larger companies. Many are set up through universities. Sometimes you’re paid, sometimes you’re not. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out the National Directory of Internships at the library.
Don’t approach large companies with this working-for-free idea. They’ve got complex bureaucracies that wouldn’t know how to handle a request like this. Most likely you’ll be welcomed you with open arms at these type of organizations:

Non-profit organizations. Millions of volunteers wind up with paying jobs at non-profit organizations each year, says Bob Weinstein, author of “I’ll Work for Free” (Henry Holt.) But you need to understand where they’re coming from. Unlike a profit-making company, their goal is to come up with solutions to social, political and environmental problems. You need to speak their language which is “improving the quality of life.” Call your local United Way office for a list of non-profit organizations. o Entrepreneurial companies. Entrepreneurs are willing to take chances. Show them you too are willing to roll up your sleeves, be innovative and do what ever it takes. That’s what they’ve done. To find entrepreneurs:

Attend a local meeting of entrepreneurs in your area. Check with your Chamber of Commerce or newspaper for their meeting dates.

See if your Chamber of Commerce is affiliated with a venture capitalist group and attend one of their meetings.

Business incubators. Incubators are where start ups and fledgling firms share office space and services. They offer a nurturing environment for mostly light manufacturing and service firms or people developing new products.

Troubled companies. This could be a firm that’s having cash flow problems or trouble staying competitive. “Company heads practically kill for smart, gutsy workers who don’t crumble under pressure,” according to the author of “I’ll Work for Free.” “Imagine what a grateful boss will do for someone who worked night and day to revive a failing company. You could end up with an exciting, high-profile career.”

Tip: The language entrepreneurs and other profit-making companies speak is quite different than non-profits. They’re in it to create cutting edge products and services and make money.
Be creative with all of these approaches. Opportunities won’t jump out at you. Plan what you’ll say. Look for problems you can help these people solve. Then make them an offer they can’t refuse.

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Talking about workin’ for a living with WGRR hosts Janeen Coyle and Chris O’Brien.