Tip

Work for free?

Work for free?

Lacking in programming experience, and can't get your foot in the door? Why not take the tack that one of my students recently used -- work for free.

Yes, you are reading this correctly. Work for free!

I had been mentoring a Visual Basic student of mine for some time, and when she told me she was going to a job interview that morning, I wished her luck and crossed my fingers. Although a top notch "student" programmer, she had NO real world work experience, and I knew from the sounds of the potential employer (a small VB consulting firm) that she would be expected to hit the ground running on day 1. In short, I judged her chances of landing a job with them very remote.
You can imagine my surprise when I received a call from her that afternoon and she told me she was starting work Monday morning.

"Well sort of," she said. "I'll be working for free for 90 days."

She explained that the interviewer was obviously looking for someone with some work experience. So out of the blue, she had offered to work a probationary period of 90 days. She would show up for work each and every day as if she was a regular employee to work on Visual Basic projects. At the end of 90 days her work would be evaluated, and she would either be hired as a regular employee or told that her `volunteer' services were no longer required. After some consultation with her prospective team members, the interviewer had accepted her offer.

At first I didn't know what to think, but after mulling it over, I realized that her situation wasn't much different than that of the Co-op students from my university who work for my consulting firm for a semester. They receive no pay from me -- but in exchange, they received valuable experience plus 3 college credits, and I'm delighted to get highly energetic, anxious to learn `employees' for a few months.

Am I proposing that you offer to work for nothing for a potential employer? Well, it's a novel approach, and it wouldn't hurt to ask. I'm very curious what some employers would think of the offer.

And what of my student? What happened at the end of her 90-day period?

It just so happens that her 90 days was up today -- about an hour ago I received an excited email from her. She starts work on Monday -- this time as a paid employee!

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Written by John Smiley, MCP, MCSD and MCT, author, and adjunct professor of Computer Science at Penn State University in Abington, Philadelphia University, and Holy Family College. John has been teaching computer programming for nearly 20 years.

John Smiley is president of Smiley and Associates, http://www.johnsmiley.com/smass/smass.htm a computer consulting firm located in New Jersey.

This was first published in August 2000

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