4 Advantages of ‘Working for Free’ to boost your career

‘Work for free?’ Hmm, is that the right title? Volunteering?, Work Experience?, Internship?, All these terms can be synonymous with finding a job after uni. But what about this thing I am doing? How do I qualify it at my point in life? I am not sure, but it’s one of these things I have pondered of late as I go through the job hunting process.

This is a first article in a series, where I will explore some of the issues and questions arising out of my current job hunting experience after a 10-year career break building my family.

Before I begin sharing my view on how beneficial the notion of ‘working for free’ can be, a learned friend pointed out there are some legal parameters set by Fairwork around it, as some unpaid work arrangements are lawful and others are not, depending on the nature of the arrangements.

I’ll attempt to explain those so everyone has a clear understanding and can make up their own minds. I have included a PDF link for more information.

Fairwork states: ‘Unpaid work can occur in the workforce in different forms – from vocational placements to unpaid job placements, internships, work experience and trials. These include:

  • to give a person experience in a job or industry
  • to provide training and skills and/or work experience as part of formal programs to assist people to obtain work
  • to test a person’s job skills, or
  • to volunteer time and effort to a not-for-profit organisation.’

Taking that further, Fairwork states: ‘Unpaid work experience, job placements and internships that are not vocational placements will be unlawful if the person is in an employment relationship with the business or organisation they are doing the work for. People in employment relationships are employees of a business and entitled to:

Right, that is quite confusing – where does that leave me? And other mums on or coming back from career breaks, participating in their communities or in activities where no money is exchanging hands?

Solution? It is a matter of working out whether the arrangement involves the creation of an employment contract. That contract does not have to be in writing; it can be a purely verbal agreement and is looked at case by case.

To work out the nature of an arrangement, Fairwork outline the following questions:

  1. Reason for the arrangement – If the person doing work to help with the ordinary operation of the business or organisation it may be an employment relationship arises. The more productive work that’s involved (and not just observation, learning, training or skill development), the more likely it is that the person’s an employee. This can exclude work experience, internships and work placement.
  2. Length of time – Generally the longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee.
  3. Significance to the business – Is the work normally done by paid employees? Does the business or organisation need this work to be done?
  4. What is the person doing? – Although the person may do some productive activities as part of a learning experience, training or skill development, they’re less likely to be an employee if they aren’t expected or required by the business or organisation to come to work or do productive activities.
  5. Who’s getting the benefit? – The person who’s doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement. If a business or organisation is getting the main benefit from engaging the person and their work, it’s more likely the person is an employee.

For me, we talked a lot and drafted a working arrangement we believed was helpful to both parties, in other words, a collaboration. There is no pressure on me (financial or otherwise) to produce any work other than the work driven by my self-motivation, passion for the purpose and yearning for personal development. We keep coming back to the draft and tweaking it so if necessary. And I can say hand on heart, the benefits are paying off and my self-confidence has taken off.

So what are my 4 advantages?

  1. Personal Development – Never underestimate opportunities that stand to improve your awareness and identity. Your talents and potential can improve to no end and make your employability higher. Curiousness can go along way!
  2. Exposure – People talk and word of mouth still resonates with businesses. Think of all the networks you are connected with in your life and online. Someone spreading the word about your work could pay dividends and bring you opportunities you may not have envisioned.
  3. A ‘cracker jack’ of a résumé – Working for free can boost your résumé, whether it’s volunteering or something else. It can hone your skills, you gain real-life experiences and maybe help others in the process and find out things you didnt know about yourself.
  4. It’s something you believe in – This is a big part of the process for me. I believe in the purpose of what it is I am doing. Giving your time can pay off as long as you know your worth and are convinced of your intentions.

Fast forward from that first post, I believe I am finding my job ‘mojo’. I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge and skills, I have been exposed to heaps of technical jargon and different technological platforms, I continue to meet a great bunch of women, been privileged to be part of their lives and share their stories (and mine) and nurture and grow an online community with a sense of purpose and recognition.

Now that I am looking for paid employment, I feel empowered to showcase what it is I am good at, even if there are times I feel awkward and stumble. Can things only get easier right?

As always, we welcome any thoughts and comments on our Facebook page.


Author: Emma McEnery

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