This week I ventured into downtown Longmont, CO and went job hunting. I walked into three businesses and told them I was looking for a job. They all said the same thing at first – our manager or owner isn’t here right now. They offered me a card in exchange and said to get back in touch with them. I didn’t bother telling all of them I was filming a documentary, I wanted to remember what it's like being a person looking for a job.
I said something different at the third business I walked into. I told the guy working behind the counter that my wife and I are traveling across the country working a different hourly-wage job in every state. This time I did tell him about the documentary.
"Would you mind letting me work here for the day tomorrow?" Still no answer..
"You don’t have to pay me anything."
"Yes, we'd love to have you. Let me put you on the schedule for tomorrow."
Bam. I found the magic words when I said, "You don’t have to pay me a dime".
I know it’s not realistic to always work for free. That sounds like a poor way to spend your life, literally. But I’ve found that if you’re struggling to find a job, one of the best things you can do for yourself is offer up your services to a business, for absolutely nothing.
Think about it, what do you have to lose? If all you’re doing is sitting around job hunting, your time might be better spent actually working for a business. If you show them you’re worthwhile, after a week or so of working they may start paying you something. Worst case scenario is you do a good job and then add another bit of experience to your resume. This will likely increase the chances of you being hired somewhere else in the future.
When I worked as a barista and dishwasher at La Vita Bella Coffee this week, I wasn’t the only one working there for free. Micah, another employee of the #1 locally ranked coffee shop, also started working there for free. Micah had been living in the woods with cats and dogs for seven years before his family convinced him to join the real world again. He walked into the coffee shop, with no resume and no experience, and offered up his services for free.
As a new business, Chris the owner, wasn’t going to turn away free help. He immediately put him to work. Several months later, Micah now works closely with Chris and is compensated for his labor. They are even working together to open up another location.
Yes, Micah’s case was unique in the sense that he was used to not making any money. But the point of the matter is, your chance of being hired to a business increases tenfold when you’ve already given them a trial run of your talents, skills and personality.
Think about how often you’ve done a “free 30 day” trial for a subscription like Spotify or Netflix. At the end of the thirty days you’re so hooked on the service that you are now willing to pay in order to keep it around. It’s the same concept with getting hired from a business. Give them a "free trial" of your best skills and then when you're ready to leave and go make money somewhere else, they'll have no choice but to hire you on board. They've gotten used to having you around. You're indispensable.
If you lack experience, the only way to gain some is to go out and create humble beginnings for yourself. Volunteer. Find a job making nothing at all. Walk into local businesses and tell them you're a really hard worker and that you're willing to work for free until they can pay you something.
Sometimes experience in the beginning pays more in the long run than immediately making a decent paycheck.
Written from a guy who is used to doing a lot of working for free. I could have gotten a lot of jobs making a small, decent amount. Instead, I've chosen to gain a lot of unique experience now in order to cash them in for a much larger paycheck later in life. If nothing else, my resume is piling up with more jobs than most.