I was inspired to write this post after reading Seth’s blog post, “Free work vs. Internship. I am not going to review Seth’s post, as profound as I think it is, but rather share with you my own thought and personal experience using this type of strategy.
Shortly after my graduation in 2004 (maybe an hour after) I faced the obstacle that most of us faced, and that is finding a job. There were a few ‘walls’ standing tall in front of me. 1) I was clueless of what job title to search, 2) my OPT visa was only good for a year, and time was running out, 3) my professional experience was based solely on work I have done in Israel (and not the USA), and 4) I had no substantial experience other than a few case studies in class.
I was stressed, and did not know what to do. On one hand I needed to find a job, and on the other hand I knew no one will hire me with only 10 months work visa left, and no job experience in the U.S.
I needed a strategy, so I used the one model every business college student use when the answer is too complicated to use in words, the SWOT analysis.
This is what I have concluded about myself at that time:
1) Good strategist
2) Enjoy solving problems
3) Fast learner
4) Eager to work hard
1) No substantial experience
2) Visa issues
3) No professional network
1) I lived in the country of seizing opportunities.
1) Every single college student who has an American citizenship, or a green card.
2) Everyone else who were more connected than me (which was not a big problem at the time)
It was clear to me that using hours in front of the computer sending resumes and cover letters to companies who can only see the “WOT” part of the analysis will not do me any good. It is then that I decided I needed to use a different approach, a different strategy that is unconventional.
Define what I wanted to do? –> Network with the appropriate people –> Promote my skills –>Offer my services for free.
The latter part was a bit tricky to explain my wife (at that time my girlfriend), but somehow I knew it was the right thing to do.
The “free” part of the strategy was the best part of the strategy, because the way I looked at it, it was the fastest way to gain the experience I needed to climb up.
Let me explain:
Let’s say you start an entry level position (most of us did after college). How long do you think it will take you to reach a level that you can even dream of talking to a client and make some novice decisions? 1 year, the answer is 1 entire year.
Then, how long will it take you (after that 1 year) to make some senior novice decisions that can actually make some impact on your client’s budget? The answer is 3-5 years.
You see where I am going with this. So far you spent 6 years of your life sitting in front of a desk (complaining to your friends how frustrated you feel), and waiting for an opportunity to use your brain.
I did not have 6 years, and in fact I only had a few months before the expiration date for my visa was due. Furthermore, I really thought it was a waste of time and did not think it should take 6 years to learn how to make this type of decisions.
Back to the strategy:
I already defined what I wanted to do. I wanted to solve business problems to companies, and strategize creative solutions. Quite simple to say, but very hard to implement with out the second part of my strategy, Networking.
I enjoy listening and talking to people, so networking was the most enjoyable part of my strategy.
I managed to ‘land’ an opportunity with a friend who had a new wedding filming company. She had just started an innovative business, and needed someone to help her with the marketing. Her husband and her were in debt, and thus could not pay me a dime for my services.
I offered to help them with the marketing for free, and in returned I will get to add the experience to my résumé. We worked out a nice marketing strategy plan to better promote the business in its first stages of operation.
That was my first job as a marketer in the U.S, and it only took a week! What should have taken 6 years to reach in the corporate world, took me only 2 minutes to ‘land’, and one week to complete the job.
I went back to Israel shortly after I completed this job, and decided to use the same approach. I came back to the States in 2006, and (you guessed right) used the same strategy over again, this time more aggressively networking with people using SMM as the main self promotional tool.
To cut a very long story short, I used this approach to build my résumé, and if you look at my résumé now, there are only 3 jobs that I actually got paid for. The rest of my experience I have done merely free of charge.
If I were to start it now, I would have done the same thing all over again.
I worked with many different interesting people, different industries, and different problems that I feel I have 10 years of decision making and strategizing experience, but I only have 4 years.
In sum, I think that working for free is not a waste of your time. On the contrary, it is probably the best strategy you can use to build yourself up.