Is unpaid work experience worth it

Volunteering to get a head start in your chosen field is not a new concept by any means. But the landscape of unpaid work experience has changed in recent years to resemble less of a walk in the park and more of a stumble around a minefield.


It used to allow the opportunity to demonstrate an aptitude for getting the tea-to-milk ratio just right and, in return, you had your ‘in’, but today jobs are hard to come by, volunteering numbers have boomed and now you’re up against great candidates for an unpaid gig. So is it worth it?

Work experience in the right field for you is the start of your career, simple as that. But working for free has to be with a view to taking you where you want to go. Here are a few tips…

Be discerning Know your end goal and only apply for the roles that suit your needs. If you’re aiming to develop your IT skills, an admin role might be perfect. However, if you’re looking for project management in heritage, you need to narrow your search field. Invest some time finding what’s right for you.

Treat it like a job hunt Finding the right opportunity takes time, effort and initiative. From trawling job sites to writing an application, nothing less than your best effort will fly. Be half-hearted in your approach and you’ll hit the ‘no’ pile before you know it.

Make an application that demonstrates how your skills and experience meet the criteria and you’ve bagged yourself an interview. Turn up well-prepared, looking professional and answer concisely, positively and honestly, and you’re a contender.

What should your expectations be? You can expect to be offered mentoring, professional training, performance reviews and a reference in exchange for meeting challenges, achieving targets and performing tasks.

Since it’s voluntary, it isn’t necessarily constrained to a defined job description; it can evolve to allow your strengths to shine and fill in the gaps where your experience is lacking. Make the most of it!

Translate it into a job… Unless asked, it’s not necessary to point out that your experience was voluntary. As long as it meets the job specification, it’s relevant, and that’s all they need to know. Volunteering is your opportunity to tailor your CV to where you want to go. If you’re a would-be journalist for example, get work experience with your student magazine before applying to a national paper for an internship.

All careers start somewhere; make sure yours starts somewhere you would be happy spending your free time and you’ve already begun a career you’ll love.