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"If you're interested in changing careers, there's only one time you should work for free in the field you're targeting for a career change - if you want to be hired in the future."

Was taping a podcast for Fistful of Talent today with Tim Sackett, and he reminded me of something that causes people to have sharp differences of opinion - working for free.

Our podcast is on nano degree and mid-career pivots - so the topic of working for free naturally came up.

Some people will tell you you should never work for free.  I'd tell you that it's pretty important to find work that helps you build a portfolio of sorts in what you want to do with your career change.  If that means working for free, so be it.  Suck it up and get experience.  You'll look different in a positive way from all the other suckers doing the same things you're doing (degrees, certifications, etc) - and actually have a chance of getting hired.

Working for free is all about you building a portfolio in the field you want to work in.  Here's how it works:

  1. You get whatever nano-degree, training or certification you want/need in your target field.
  2. You seek out non-profits or small businesses you can help in your new field.
  3. You work for free for that organization.
  4. You make sure you capture all of your work product and have an agreement with that org to allow you to showcase it in your portfolio.
  5. You create a portfolio that showcases your work.  Have it in a binder for a leave behind in interviews, but also online.
  6. If you're not getting calls for jobs you apply for, you do some research and figure out who the hiring managers are for 3-5 positions you're interested in.
  7. You figure out how to contact them, tell them about your background, your career change and share your portfolio.
  8. Get a conversation with them, leave behind your portfolio of work, which should include 3-5 work examples that showcase what you can do.
  9. The rest is up to you, homeslice. Interview well.  Get the job.

BTW, portfolios aren't just for artists.  Cost Accountants, Software Developers and yes, HR Pros can benefit from putting together portfolios of their work.  Focus on project work and the communications, analysis and reporting that emulates from your line of work and you're on your way to developing a portfolio of your work - even if your name isn't Ansel Adams


Matt Landrum

I love it when you call us homeslice.

Jackie Hoofring

15 years ago, my CEO warned our team that we would all live a "portfolio" career and urged us to constantly retool. Learned a great deal from that guy...

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