Thoughts on unpaid creative jobs?

I see a lot of jobs offering a creative project, but due to them being either a start up or some other reason they can’t “afford to pay.”

Interested to hear peoples thoughts; if you’re a graduate or less experienced creative it can be a confidence booster and a way to build up your portfolio.

However should people take them? Does it undermine other creatives by accepting these types of jobs? But in a climate where you often need experience to get any experience is it the only option?


  • Why make free work for someone else when you can make the work you want for yourself that best represents you? I don’t believe in creatives working for free. You wouldn’t ask a lawyer or suit from Canary Wharf to work for free, so why should creatives? We put in just as much if, not more work than some of our non-creative peers. Things wouldn’t move, sell the same or even be remotely interesting if it wasn’t for creatives, so pay & treat us accordingly.
  • Know you’re worth and be confident in your ability to show your worth. If you genuinely want to help someone out, working for free isn’t a big deal. I’d avoid the any vacancy that makes it seem as if they are doing you a favour by giving you work or exposure. Creatives need to stop letting themselves be used.
  • Avoid.

    You can self-initiate and create much better work. If someone is too early in their process to pay – “start-up or not” – then they’re not running their business well from the start.

    You’ll also find that the folks that want to “collaborate” because they “can’t afford to pay” are the most-demanding, least respectful clients who aren’t interested in collaborative relationships so much as having someone to boss around.

    The experience you might gain with them means very little when finding work. They’re little more than clients and any expansion of your body of work can be better emulated through self-initiation or securing paying clients.

    Value yourself and respect yourself. Because the people you’re talking about absolutely won’t.
  • I have had positives experiences and met great people working for without fee for charities through sites like but was fortunately in a position where I could work on it in my own time, outside of the day job and without financial compensation.

    If this is your life-blood though, warm fuzzy feelings from helping doesn't put food on the table. Generally creatives, erring more to right-brained mentality, don't like and find the pricing aspect of our work awkward and in turn I think, potential clients downgrade the value of creative work. Start-ups generally get grants so are able to pay decorators or for furniture or whatever so generally should be able be able to pay something. Those 'who can't afford to pay' shouldn't be asking for goods they can't pay for.
  • I don't take unpaid work unless It is for a charity, passion project I set myself or the job is something I wanted to do and I get full reative freedom & perks. 99.9% of the time it's a no.

    In terms of experience, I set myself 'passion projects' after uni, so I was getting experience on exactly what I wanted and needed.
  • Hi Ruth, I don’t think there is any excuse for a start-up or otherwise offering unpaid work. They take advantage of people early in their career and contribute to the lack of diversity and equality in the creative industries.

    If you're going to be undertaking a clear role and working in a full-time capacity, the employer must pay (at least) a living wage, particularly if you need to move to another city for the job and have rent to pay.

    It is maybe a different thing if you are collaborating on a project to build up your portfolio, confidence or to gain experience if ALL those involved are equally unpaid.

    But before taking on something unpaid I’d consider how this can affect your confidence going forward and how you value yourself as well as the skills you have to offer.

    I think there are other ways to gain experience – working freelance, with your own clients, starting your own project or with a collective.

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