Inviting yourself in for some unpaid work experience is one of the best ways to get a foot in the door.

Next time there’s a job, why would an employer spend a load of time advertising and interviewing if there’s a keen person right there who has shown promise?  And if they have to go through a formal process you have all the advantages of an internal appointment.

It’s really hard to know if a person has likable qualities or reliability from a CV and interview, but these things shine through in a work trial.

But there’s a fine line between exploitation and opportunity.  There’s a fine line between a forced work trial as a benefit sanction and a genuine chance to try your hand or watch a master at work.

I regularly include work trials, internships and shadowing opportunities for psychologists and coaches and I use the following points to guide my integrity and make sure that the process is two way.

  • Reimburse costs – internship might be unpaid, but it shouldn’t cost money
  • De-brief the experience after each event and give feedback – let the person know how they are doing so that they are gaining valuable learning
  • Limit the timespan and get a contracted agreement, don’t let it go on forever
  • Only take people onto internships that I would consider for a paid role so as not to waste their time
  • Pay “honorariums” where appropriate (small fees in recognition of effort expended)

My advice to young professionals, career changers and people needing to get back in the game, is to seek work trials.  It’s easy –

“I know you don’t have a current vacancy, but can I please come and do a few days shadowing or work trial? 

It would really help me get up to date experience and I’m sure I could be useful while I watch and learn”

Protect yourself as follows:

  • Treat it as work. Be on as on time, helpful and thoughtful as you would in a paid job
  • Have clear boundaries. Agree up front the time limits and job role so that you are sure you can commit
  • Ask what job opportunities are coming up and how they relate to the opportunity
  • Ask for feedback if it isn’t volunteered – what have I done well? What could I have done more of? Less of?

Go for it!  The networking value alone is worth it.

1 Comment
  1. Alexander 3 years ago

    I interned for 6 months in the City at the very start of my career after leaving the army and they wouldn’t give me a job at the end as I was not passionate about banking – they were right!

    Having seen many interns – paid or unpaid, my top tip is – be more interested about your job than anyone else, ask people to go out for lunch and chat to find insights. Have sticky feet like a bee! See if someone is happy to be your mentor, if you have a longer internship. Get yourself as many champions as possible so when the boss asks for feedback, everyone sees just how much you will go above and beyond.

    Make sure you get good briefs (always play them back to the person briefing you). Ask for feed back every time you do something – “I would love to know how you feel that I could have done this better as I am so keen to get this right?” – People are always frightened of giving feedback unless you give them permission (so listen and don’t challenge the feedback). Take a little extra time and always proof read your work with spell check. I die inside when I hear interns being told that they have not proof read their work.

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