Can’t make ends meet? Working for free doesn’t mean you won’t get anything out of it.
You may have heard about how Uber and AirBnB are saving the world and the environment with their contributions to sharing economies. Or you may wax nostalgic for the days when you knew your roommate was the one walking in through the door, rather than his random AirBnB renter. But like it or not, these companies’ success just means they have valuable ideas: sharing services, especially for less than your competition, builds goodwill.
If you’re unemployed or have some free time, you should capitalize on this fact. It’s America! All in the few hours between my day job and when my head hits the pillow at night, I’ve gotten $400 boots, boxes of cupcakes and more from using my skills to help small businesses get ahead. Here ‘s why you need to get off your couch and volunteer while searching for the perfect job.
It makes you connections
80 percent of the interviews I’ve gotten were purely because I networked and somehow convinced people I was competent enough to have my résumé passed on. And if you offer to help small businesses grow (with your art direction, editing, writing services …) for free, you’ll make an instant positive connection with people who could hold the key to your next job, whether in that company or in the field at large. That means you’ll get much more résumé passing-on (and credibility) than if you stayed home and cried about not having a job.
For the underemployed in this sulking economy, it may seem like the only option is to fruitlessly apply for jobs, trudge to unpaid internships or go back to school. When I graduated from college, these weren’t options for me. (Unfortunately, May 2008 seems to have been the absolute unluckiest time for a bright-eyed ex-Hawaiian to graduate as an art major and move to the big city with a two-page long résumé and no experience.) Let’s just say it took a while to figure out I wanted to write for a living. But knowing what I know now, I could have spent so much more time networking and volunteering, lining myself up for the “write” opportunity. (Sorry about that joke, I just had to!)
It gets you schwag …
By far, the most crass reason people volunteer is for schwag. (If you don’t know what schwag is, do not look up the first definition on Urban Dictionary. This will only lead to confusion.) I admit that free stuff has been a motivating factor for me when I consider doing anything, really. There are a pair of pretty jazzy boots from a small brand that I’ve had my eye on for years. Unfortunately, they are $400. So I wrote the designer, and she agreed to exchange some SEO writing for a pair. Win-win for both of us, considering she saved money on a specialist. And if I ever spent that much on a pair of boots, I’d have to eat air sandwiches for a month to make up the cost and tell my boyfriend I withdrew all the money at once to pay the bills, and “can you believe some guy walked up to the street, held a gun to my head and stole the money? What a shame!”
Other things I’ve gotten include faux Hostess cupcakes, clothes and glowing recommendations for my work. But you, my friend, can get so much more if you have tech skills. All you people with the word “developer” on your résumés can just kiss my ass!
… and if you aren’t getting schwag, volunteering fills up résumé holes and eventually gets you hired.
If you are already “too old” for an internship,
dye your hair in a really obvious way think of how much you have to offer in terms of experience! And because people have a much harder time getting hired if they’re not already working, there’s no better way to fill in résumé holes than by showing initiative and a desire to better the world by volunteering. Just make sure this experience is related to the field you want to end up in so if you’re trying to get into art directing, walking dogs at a pet shelter won’t help you, but designing its graphics and marketing pieces will.
So how do you do this, one may ask?
Find the places you’re interested in working for or find the places that offer you the most schwag. Small businesses are a good start, because they need the help and are less likely to have an official internship program that requires school credit or other ridiculousness. Be nice and humble. Compliment their products if you like them and show them examples of your work. Tell them when you’re free and propose the exchange. Be specific, but not creepy. Something as simple as, “I’ll design your logo for a free yearlong gym membership” works. “… for a free massage” does not.
Happy volunteering! Let me know how it goes.
Eve Lampenfeld is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.