Is interning for free a turnoff to companies?

Dear Dave,

I am a mechanical engineering student at the University of Tennessee and I am very interested in business. I am particularly interested in working with start-up companies.

This fall I am trying to find an internship with a start up company in the area. I am willing to work for free, I have an excellent grade point average and an excellent recommendation from past internships as well. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to generate any interest.

I was wondering if volunteering to work for free for some of these companies is possibly a turn-off. What is your opinion on this?


Knoxville, Tenn.

Dear Brad,

I think it all depends on what kind of a start-up company you are going into. If you are looking at going into some sort of a start-up that is going public, and is really not an entrepreneurial-type company, but more of a public-stock minded leadership team, then yes, you may run into that corporate mentality.

I have had folks in the past, when we were starting this company, who loved what we did and realized we were helping people and they wanted to be a part of it. So they offered to work for free. They worked for free until they could figure out a way to make more money come in than it would cost for me to pay them. They cost justified themselves.

That didn’t happen very often, but it did happen. It wasn’t a turn off at all to me. It showed ingenuity and initiative, so I think it is a fabulous idea. You just haven’t found the right personality yet.

One thing I will tell you is to do a little more research on the firm you are going in to talk to. Also, find out about the individuals you are going to talk to. This way you can speak their language. You can also find out if you really want to spend some of your life working for this company and these people.

Tell them you are not looking for a job, you are looking for an opportunity. Tell them that you plan on finding a way within a short period of time to make them more money than it would cost them to hire you. Use that kind of language instead of saying, “I just want to work for free.”

Let them know you have a reason. You are on a mission. You want to be a part of their organization because their organization does this and this that I want to be a part of. And I want to find a way to bring value to them where they can’t afford to get rid of you.

That kind of language, where you are looking for an opportunity instead of a job, will always get the ear of an entrepreneur.


Retirement … how to make extra income

Dear Dave,

I am writing because I am retired, but I wanted to know how maybe I could have some extra income coming in. I am doing OK, but I think if I could find a way to earn some extra income I would feel a little bit more comfortable. What do you suggest?


Washington, D.C.

Dear Roseillia,

Let me give you some ideas about extra incomes. First of all, you don’t want to fall for one of these “get rich quick” schemes that are out there. You know, the schemes where you just buy a kit and you magically become a millionaire while working in your basement licking envelopes or some other garbage like that.

The best way to create extra income is to do something that you already know something about, or something that you just really love doing. It could be an old job you used to have, or it could be a hobby that you’ve always had.

For instance, I have a friend that has always had an interest in hunting, so over time he became very good at working with guns. He started a small part-time business in his garage as a gunsmith. He has a really good time doing it because he likes tinkering with those things.

So sit down and figure out what you already like to do, and that is your starting point. Think about what you can build, fix or create that someone else would be interested in buying or coming to you for.

If you really love doing it, it won’t even feel like a job to you. You will just be doing what you love to do anyway.



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