Working for free has a super bad stigma.
That’s because most of the time, it’s a bad idea.
I know the catch-22 you might be finding yourself in…
“I don’t have experience, therefore nobody is going to hire me. So I HAVE to work for free!”
Here’s good news – you’re actually wrong.
How do I know this?
I have neither a degree in computer science, nor have I formally developed software – but I’m about to join one of the world’s most famous game studios. To work with audio and develop software.
I didn’t work for free. I didn’t even work from the bottom. I developed a skills set that I knew, eventually, someone would pay for.
Now, if you’d let me, I’d love to walk you through how I did this.
The first step everyone makes is thinking about what would be cool and/or fun to work on. Again, I know this from experience.
What comes to your brain when you close your eyes and think about the clients that you want to work with?
My guess is one of three things:
- You want to work with a client on a specific type of game that you find fun or interesting
- You want to work with a famous company
- You want to work with a client that’s easy to work with and not a group of assholes
Let me be very clear on my opinion here…
All of those things are secondary. Your primary goal is finding a client with enough money to pay you what you’re worth.
There’s two steps involved with this:
- You need to find out what you’re worth
- You need to have a cutoff line of people you won’t work with if they can’t pay you that
These two steps aren’t easy if you’re first starting out. If you have no idea what you’re worth because you’ve never worked professionally before – you need to go ask professionals what they make.
This also means you don’t just take the first thing that comes at you. The first thing that you’re offered will likely be low-paying, if paying at all. You’re actually free to turn this “offer” down, I give you permission.
Again – to be super duper clear – your first goal is to find a client with enough money to pay you for the value you provide.
The follow-up exacerbation you’ll have with me after that is this:
“Great Adam… so I know how much I should get paid, and I know 5 big game companies that can pay me. But how on earth do I get their attention?!”
I’ve said before – you provide value.
I’m going to double-up on this and poke a hole in a common misconception too.
There’s a theory that employment advantages are all about who you know. There are people who are great networkers, and they seem to get all of the best jobs based on their connections.
That seems like it could apply to me as well – It could be argued that I’ve gotten a great opportunity due to my relationships at Microsoft. The reality of that, however, is completely bullshit.
I’ll tell you exactly how I’ve gotten every great opportunity that’s come my way: I push myself to do things worth noticing, and overdeliver.
It’s all well and good that I know this about me – but how does this apply to you and your catch-22 about needing employment experience?
Get to work on your own, make the best projects you can make, and share them with others.
This is not a one-week process.
It took me 9 months, which I consider a relatively short amount of time, from when I started taking programming seriously as a job to getting an employment offer. It went that fast due to the niche I positioned myself in, the work I put out, and a large chunk of luck and timing (right place, right time).
But you’ll never get the opportunity if you don’t put in the work first.
Believe it or not – this approach drastically shortens the time it takes to get the job you want in the first place. You don’t necessarily need to go take a less-than-stellar gig and work your way up if you’re working hard and delivering interesting goods.
Do keep in mind that stellar is a relative term here. If you have zero experience – a stellar gig is likely an entry level gig. I have a decade of work history in a wide variety of audio-related disciplines. A student out of the Art Institute can’t demand what I do.
What I mean is you don’t have to expect to work for peanuts and ramen, while being treated like trash. Because you’re going to do the work, and find a client that won’t treat you that way and is really excited about what you’ve been doing on your own time.
The work sells you by itself, you see? You still just need to put in the legwork of showing it to people.
Putting it all together
This is all very easy for me to write and put online. It’s another thing to execute.
But as you see – I’ve done it.
Now you need to. Commit to yourself today – I give you permission for you to make an insane promise to yourself. Say this out loud:
“I promise to myself that I will work hard, consistently, until I land a gig I’m super proud of.”
Then follow these steps:
- Find out what you’re worth. If you’re a student or recent grad who has no idea – ask professionals. Get their opinion on your rate, and make sure it’s enough for you to live on in your city.
- Make a list of clients you’d love to work with/for, even if they’re pie-in-the-sky. It’s better to aim for something ridiculous and get 80% of the way there than aim low.
- Get familiar with what’s going on in your industry and what the trends are. Find an aspect that really grabs your interest, and create your own personal project to showcase it.
- Work on it a little bit every day, and make it the best you can. Make it your own too, with what you specifically are interested in, so it’s unique.
- Share your work with friends, colleagues, and those in the industry. Get some people’s attention.
- Repeat steps 3-5, while applying for jobs. Make sure you add your project to your resume if it’s completed and relevant or earns you money.
Go forth and conquer my friend, you can do it! As always you can ask me questions @adamtcroft.
Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.