People don’t like risk. They usually commit to the option that they trust more, or at least feels less risky.

It takes time to build this trust. Job interviews, social media updates, phone calls, blog posts, demos—all of these are ways to demonstrate that you are trustworthy. 

When you ask a person to get paid for a promise you’ll do good work before they trust you, you’re going to have to jump through those hoops.

There is an alternative path: you build trust before you get paid.

In other words, you volunteer. When you deliver work at no cost, you create a path for the other person that involves less risk. They don’t have to spend anything but their time (and time is precious, so hopefully not much of it), in the hopes that you will make their job easier. That’s a reasonably good offer.

Instead, the risk goes to you. There’s the risk that it doesn’t blossom into a real working opportunity, that it’s not a good fit, or that they’re not trustworthy.

Is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide. Some people believe it’s an effective path because it puts more control in their hands. They’re not waiting for an opportunity; they’re creating one.

  • Consulting companies know this, and often do a lot of free work—or in the industry, pro bono projects—to build new relationships or maintain important ones.
  • The authors of The Trusted Advisor, advise, “Start the project before you’ve been engaged.” This shifts the focus away from the paperwork, and on the delivery of good work and building the relationship.
  • Many people get their first real career opportunity by eating the risk with an unpaid internship.
  • If you’re already working full-time, the same applies to projects inside your organization. If you’re volunteering with a co-worker and still exploring options (and will probably need more of their time), you might even sweeten the pot, like prioritizing your co-worker’s work above your own.
  • If you want to get promoted, you’re probably better off doing the new job for six months before you actually get the promotion. 

When you choose a path that involves volunteering, you’re deciding not to wait.

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