The Inside Guy
"Do Me A Favor"By Tom Krymkowski
One of the best ways to break into any field, to find out about any organization, or learn about anybody really, is to give them some of that most precious resource - your time. Volunteering, work in trade, or even just buying someone coffee can be just the ticket to moving forward in life.
When I'm looking for work I don't take much stock in the idea of blanketing the world with copies of my resume. Most of the jobs I have ever done never existed before I showed up and carved out a place for myself. Even the more formal positions that a lot of companies have aren't posted until there's already a "strong in-house candidate". A job posting is just the way of formalizing the professional relationship with someone.
And most companies prefer to hire through referrals anyway. They want to know who you are and what kind of person you will be to work with once you're on the team. Resumes are what you give when they ask for it, or when you're already having regular conversations with a future employer. It's the fine print and documentation to back up what you should already be putting forward.
So, the key then is getting known and getting people to see your work. You want to be able to show them what you can handle, how good you are under pressure, and what kind of results you can get. You also want to give them a sense of your personality. If you're already doing the same thing somewhere else or if you have someone who can refer you, then you have an advantage. If this isn't the case or if this is new territory for you, then often it's through volunteering and/or trading your time and skills that you can make a break for yourself.
What you trade for depends on what you have to offer. Usually when you're starting out you don't have much more than time to trade. As you gain more experience (and/or gear in my case), you bring that to the table too. I offer my varied production skills, access to equipment that I'm paying for anyway, and a lot of effort to help solve a creative problem that someone is having.
That's the important thing. It's my opinion that any current job description is basically a list of regularly occurring problems that a given person or team is responsible for solving. It's much easier to justify bringing you on as part of the team if you already know what people need and have shown that you can help. What you've done is create value.
And that value is worth something.
You should get in the habit early of knowing what you are worth. Both in your market and in what you see as your personal value. In a perfect world both numbers are the same. Remember that when giving your time and skills away, there are still real services being exchanged. It all has to balance out or someone will feel cheated.
As an example, say you do a day's worth of work and with a few years of experience under your belt that day is worth $200 in your market. You've exchanged $200 in services for something. Or to put it another way - somebody has accepted $200 in services and recognizes that they've done so. This is important. Usually the balance is rectified with a check. But it doesn't have to be. As long as everyone agrees on the value exchanged.
It's possible the company has something that is worth exchanging a day's worth of your work. Maybe you're working at the company to learn some new software. Or maybe you have access to equipment you otherwise wouldn't have access to. Maybe there's someone there that you are learning from. Maybe you just want to build up credit to be able to cash in at a later date - usually in the form of services you could never afford outright. All of these would represent a value to you.
Just make sure you're always getting something in exchange for your time and talents. You can be as creative as you want and postpone things as long as you feel comfortable. Just know where your cutoff point is - and respect it. I'm a big believer in the "first one's free" attitude. After that, things are up for negotiation.
By the way, experience has a value too. Even if you never see a dime or are able to receive anything back, you still benefit from having been through that day. The people you had a chance to work with, the challenges you may have faced, everything counts. And thankfully the universe has a way of balancing things out.
Tom Krymkowski is a freelance Audio Engineer, Multimedia Producer, and Amateur Photographer living in San Francisco. He works as a Technical Advisor for npr's Next Generation Radio. When he's not on the road he farms out his skills to KQED-FM, The Pixel Corps, PodShow, and other Podcasters in the Bay Area and beyond.