This is a thought provoking post originally published by Brooke Allen of International Family Magazine. According to Brooke, it is sometimes worthwhile to work for free or less than your time is actually worth if there is a chance that you may receive a greater salary or more valuable contract based on your proven performance. It is likely that the goodwill on behalf of the future employer/customer also increases the perceived value of your work as well.
Would you work for free in order to land a job?
In 1993 I lost a job in Tokyo and returned to the States with a wife, two young children but no work.
Most of my contacts were no longer at the phone numbers in my book and many were unemployed. It appeared our economy was in a recession. A friend arranged for a courtesy interview at a brokerage firm I’d worked at years earlier.
Let’s call the interviewer “Bob”.
Bob began, “I hope we aren’t wasting your time but we have no jobs; there is a hiring freeze.”
“You have no work?”
“We have plenty of work, just no jobs. We can’t hire anyone except consultants on short-term contracts.”
“I would work as a consultant.”
“Are you incorporated?”
Bob smiled, “Well then, I’m sorry but we can’t do anything. We only hire people who are incorporated. Thanks for coming in, but I have another meeting to attend to.”
“OK. How long will the meeting take?”
“About half an hour.”
“Well, I have nothing else to do today so perhaps we could talk some more when you get back. I’d be happy to help you if I can… no charge. In the meantime, may I use your phone?”
After he left, I called The Company Corporation, a firm that specializes in incorporating people in Delaware: Cost: $240 on a credit card.
When Bob returned I gave him a piece paper with my Federal Tax ID, “I am now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.”
“What? I thought you said you weren’t incorporated.”
“That was then. This is now.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because you said I needed to be incorporated.”
Bob smiled again, “Now I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time and your money. We won’t hire someone unless they are on our approved vendor list and that process takes months.”
I borrowed his phone again and called my friend at Galaxy Systems, an approved vendor. In a few minutes I was his sub-contractor.
Bob began to look worried, “We’re really backed up with work, but how do I know you can do it?”
I said, “That’s easy. I begin doing the work and you decide if I’m doing it as you want it done. At the end of the month, if you don’t think I am worth what I’ve billed, simply cross off my number and write in your own which can be any number including zero.”
Bob seemed shocked, “You would work for free?”
“Not exactly. If it turns out that what I am doing is not worth anything to you then I will ask you what I’m doing wrong. Learning what I am doing wrong is worth a month of my time.”
“How much do you want to make?”
“One hundred dollars per hour.”
Bob sighed, “That’s too bad because we are only allowed to pay a maximum of $87.50 per hour.”
“I would accept that.”
“But I thought you wanted to make $100 per hour.”
“I do. But I would accept $87.50. I would even accept $25 because I would rather work than not.”
Bob was incredulous, “OK, I guess I don’t see a reason not to hire you immediately except that it will take us weeks to get a contract written and approval isn’t certain.”
“No problem. I’m happy to start right away and bear the risk that you are never able pay me.”
I began work immediately. It sure felt better than being unemployed. The contract was approved and I was paid in full.
If someone says they want to do something, remove all their reasons for not doing it and they will see no other choice.
If you know you are worth something but an employer isn’t sure, then work on approval.
When you are stuck, think “What Would My Mentor Do?”
When not reading, working or attending conferences and networking events, I am supporting my favorite charities: Teen Living Programs where I am a mentor, committee member and Executive Board member and YWCA Chicago where I am an Associate Board Member. I am passionate about causes related to supporting youth, women and families. Particularly in the areas of education, employment, violence intervention, social services and housing. With a keen intuition on helping people tap into their brilliance, I am passionate about helping people grow. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about my charities or this blog.