Working for Free Is a Valuable Option to Unemployment

Finding a job isn’t easy these days. We all know that.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate for May was 7.6 percent — a figure virtually unchanged from the previous three months. But it’s an improvement from the 8.2 percent of Americans who were without a paycheck during the same period in 2012.

Despite that progress, there are roughly 11.8 million persons above the age of 16 currently looking for work,  unable to find a job within a month and possibly drowning in debt.

You can enroll in graduate school, but that involves paying tuition when you might not be in a position to incur more higher-education bills or student loan debt. Also, graduate school might be unnecessary to your job prospects. The easier alternative is doing nothing, but that can hurt your chances of employment and possibly bring on bouts of depression.

If you find yourself without a job and your search is taking you nowhere, here are three reasons why you should consider working for free to make yourself a better job candidate:

Long-Term Unemployment Hurts You

Whether you’re six months out of school with no work experience or lost your job and haven’t found work, most employers won’t look at applications or resumes of the long-term unemployed.

A 2012 study done by Rand Ghayad, a doctorate candidate in economics at Northeastern University, suggests that companies would rather hire someone with little to no relevant experience who has been unemployed for a few months over someone with more relevant experience who has been unemployed for longer than six months.

In addition to the negative effects on your job prospects, there are also serious health consequences related to long-term unemployment, according to the April study “Long-Term Unemployment: Consequences and Solutions,” by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

That study shows increased risk of death and shortened life expectancies for those who have experienced more than six months of unemployment. Men in that category are especially susceptible to lung cancer. These problems are especially burdensome if you have high medical bills or lack of health insurance.

Unemployment can have severe effects on your family, too. If you’re a parent, unemployment increases the risk of your child repeating a grade in school. A long period of unemployment also increases the probability of divorce.

Rebuild a Career Without Risk

Whether you quit your job or lost it, or haven’t had the opportunity to working again, your career path may need some adjustment. You might have to update your skill set if it doesn’t fit the job market.

Finding an unpaid internship or volunteer position can help you experiment with a few different industries, positions or companies with no real restrictions or obligations. You are free to test the waters as you please.

While a series of lawsuits against unpaid internships have muddied those waters, they shouldn’t all be discouraged, especially in a tight job market.

Shadowing a top executive or a manager in a specific department won’t cost you anything. Sitting in a lecture hall with 299 other students or listening to a professor lecture from PowerPoint slides might cost about $360 per credit hour.

You’ll learn the industry and what it takes to succeed at the position you want. You’ll be able to identify your skills and then see how they match up to the company and field.

That could save you a long investment of grad school and false pretenses.

You’ll learn how to establish your skill set so you can market them to the executives and corporate world, and you won’t have to pay nearly as much as an undergrad or graduate student would.

Network and Learn

Volunteers and interns, paid or unpaid, usually meet the CEO, president or vice president of the company or organization at which they work.

Getting to know the top people at a company and those who make the hiring decisions is a benefit you have as an intern over those who are applying through the normal channels.

Working an unpaid internship also shows dedication to work rather than getting paid by the company and that goes a long way when judging someone’s character during the hiring process.

Even if the VP of the company doesn’t approach you with a job offer, you’ll have more experience to add onto your resume — at no cost to you — bringing you closer to the job you want than the person who’s still looking for work and doing nothing.

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