Red Flag Job Offers
People who have skills in work that is artistic or less physical will get offers from people hoping to get something for nothing. I have formed a series of rules for spotting and dealing with those types of offers for full-time work or "side gigs".
- Cash or Nothing
- Offer must be from the person able to make the offer
- Offer and contract in-hand before the work is started
Cash or Nothing
If you are not being offered cash, then you are being offered nothing. If there is not an absolute price attached to the work you will be doing it for free.
If you are offered work for your "portfolio" or for "exposure" that is not worth anything. If you are offered "equity in a ground-level" position with a company, you are getting nothing. If someone can come up with an idea for a product or company but lacks the technical ability to pull it off they need to get funding to pay the people doing the work for them. Be it graphics, photos, websites, or application building. The worst version of this red-flag I have ever seen is someone offering "equity" in a new company that will be "shared" from one of the owners. That is something you will never receive.
Now. If you are offering to do the work for someone that you know because you want to do it for free that is different. That work can go in your portfolio or if it is your idea and you are going to be doing the work for yourself building a product, service, or company then it is your idea and you are working to make it take off. It is one thing for you to sacrifice for yourself but it is another thing to be asked to sacrifice for someone else.
Exposure, Equity, and portfolio work does not pay the bills and even if it is not your primary source of income it is taking time that you could spend with your family or spend making money to pay your bills. When someone comes to you asking that you work for them, you have exposure enough for them to want you to do work for them and they should be able to pay you for your hard work.
Offer must be from the person able to make the offer
When someone makes you an offer you have to ask the big question, "Are you able to make and provide the offer you are making?". Make sure you know the position of the person making the offer. For start-ups or smaller companies this might be an owner or CEO, but with larger companies it will normally be someone from HR and sometimes with a C-level or Vice-something level employee.
The other thing to do to make sure that someone is able to make the offer is to get a contract in writing. If they are unwilling or un-able to make the offer in writing then the answer is no until someone able and willing to do that is talking with you.
Offer and contract in-hand before the work is started
One of the more egregious ways I have seen someone get free work looks, on the surface, to make sense. "I'll make you an offer after I see you do something for me." That sounds like a practical test of your abilities, but unless it is explicitly set up as a test that will not be used as part of the day to day operations, it is likely a way to get free work.
Now, one thing that is ok is to have a contract with an increasing pay scale after you have worked with them for a time. But the contract must explicitly state the time of evaluations, what is being evaluated, and what is considered "good enough" for the pay increase.
And work being done on a contract basis must include the definition of done and the way the person can request changes or give information about what is not correct with the work.
Examples of "Done":
- An image of a monkey riding a unicorn released to the person asking for the work to be done upon the payment of $5. A watermarked sample of the work will be sent to the client and if a “punch-list” of requested changes is not returned within 30 days the contract will be considered complete and payment must be remitted within 15 days.
- A 3 page website consisting of a Home page, an About page, and a Contact page. Each page will have copy and images provided by the client. The client will pay $50 up front and $150 upon delivery of the final site. When the site is made available for the client to inspect it will be as images of what the page looks like at different screen resolutions. If the client does not provide a “punch-list” of corrections within 30 days they are accepting the site as is and must remit payment of $150 to receive the functional site to publish to their domain. If the “punch-list” does not contain issues with the 3 contracted pages or does not arrive within 30 days the contract is considered complete and final payment must be remitted within 15 days.
Notice in each of these we include:
- the definition of done
- how the client can ask for changes
- the ability for the contractor to point to the time limit for payment
If you don’t get paid you don’t turn over the work and now you have something for your portfolio or you can even take the person to small-claims court to try and force them to pay.
Keep it simple when someone comes to you offering work. Contract up-front and agree to payment before the work will be started.