3 instances when it’s okay (and recommended) to work for free

SOURCE: Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP
In some cases, offering to work for free will not only help you gain experience, it could also take the pressure off until your confidence has grown.

By U2B Staff 

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You’ve probably heard many times that you should never work for free. Interns, who used to work for free, are now being paid a decent wage. Some might tell you taking on extra work without proper, or any, compensation will undermine your credibility as a useful employee, however, there are times where it can be extremely useful. 

Some unpaid opportunities could help you get into your dream university or even launch a career. For example, universities love volunteers. For those applying to universities, business schools, or scholarships in 2021, adding various initiatives to your personal statement could help convey why you would be the perfect fit for their institution. Listing volunteer work will help admissions officers understand your interests and skills. If you have little to no experience in the workforce, even more so.  

A seasoned volunteer exudes awareness of the world’s problems and highlights their capabilities to act on them instead of doing nothing. Someone with volunteering experience is often viewed as someone who cares about the futures of others and not just their own. What university wouldn’t want to have someone like this representing them?


For graduates, some opportunities that entail working for free could give you real-life, hands-on experiences you might end up wanting to pay for. For example, if you’re an aspiring writer with little to no experience –to get your foot through the door, wouldn’t you rather offer your services to your favourite magazine for free instead of sending countless emails and waiting for a response. Only once you get the exposure you need should you start charging for your services. 

Especially if your work will be exposed to a large audience, offering freebies to an established company could be the way to go. Of course in these cases, it is important to request credit. It is also crucial to ensure the company has the audience, reach and influence they claim to have before agreeing to give your time for free. The best part is that unpaid gigs such as these can be listed on your CV or resume. 


This additional information can come in handy especially since changing careers in a competitive talent pool can be tough. When you lack practical experience or the key skills needed to carry out the tasks of a new job, the experience is crucial.

If you’re in this situation, working for free in a position that will allow you to learn new skills can be invaluable. Remember that if you were to do a course or degree to learn those skills, it’s likely you’ll need to pay for it. Furthermore, the exposure could help you network with experts in the industry you wish to infiltrate at full-force in the future.

However you decide to take on an unpaid role, never let a company take advantage of it. Working for free for a few weeks or for a day or two per week for a few months is acceptable. Working from nine to five, five days a week, and never seeing a penny is completely unacceptable. 

Always remember to set clear boundaries about how long and how often you will be able to offer your services in a week before accepting the role. Never accept a vague and ongoing arrangement.