Win-win recruiting – or – why working for free is the best way to find a job you love


Having interviewed quite a lot of people for both both full time jobs and internships in software development, the absurdity of the traditional recruitment process finally struck me! What are the chances of finding the right person for a job, or finding a job you will like, after just a few short meetings in the very unnatural and usually quite uncomfortable setting that a recruitment process constitutes?

Or rather, since more and more people realise that personality, enthusiasm and team dynamics are more important than hard skills; what are the chances of finding a team member with a suitable personality or a team with the right atmosphere that you would like to join?

Wouldn’t it be better, for both employer and employee, if the recruitment process was based on a try-before-you-buy approach instead of uncomfortable meetings, guesses, gut feelings and luck?

Why not invite the person you consider to employ to  spend a day with the team that he or she will join? No special planning is even required! Just let someone in the team hold a brief introduction in the morning and then let the person spend the rest of the day together with one or two of the team members.

Take the team out to lunch to let everyone get to know each other a little. This also allows you to ask the person how the day has been so far and if he or she would like to focus on something in particular during the rest of the day.

Near the end of the day, it’s probably good to arrange a short informal meeting to get some instant feedback, but remember that a day like this can quite intense so it’s probably wise to arrange for a telephone follow up the day after as well.

I have tried this alternative once and was totally amazed by the results. The team actually got to know the person and the person actually got a quite good feeling of how things work in the particular team. All this after one day, a minimal amount of planning and almost no waste of time on the team’s part.

Even if there is almost no waste of time on the team’s part, one can argue that this approach has a high cost for the person applying for a job since he or she has to take a day off from his or her current job. However, this can be easily fixed by compensating the person for his or her loss of income. The cost of doing that is tiny compared to traditional recruitment costs or, even worse, the cost of recruiting the wrong person.

Furthermore, since it’s important to find someone who really wants the job, and therefore wouldn’t mind working for free for one day, it’s probably a good idea to wait with offering compensation until directly after the person has accepted the offer to spend a day with the team. Then the compensation will become a very pleasant surprise, which will probably make the person even more committed.


Charlie Hoehn gives similar advice to young people in his TEDX-talk “The New Way to Work”, where he recommends freshly graduated people to start their careers by working for free instead of trying to find any job based on the skills they acquired in school as quickly as possible. He recommends them to do the work they love or dream about doing, but think they have no chance of getting as a fresh graduate.

But how is this possible? It’s not like you can just walk up to the reception desk at Google, introduce yourself and say that you would like to work for free in the Google Maps team, is it? Well why not? You could at least give it a try! Few people or companies would say no to such an offer from an, obviously, very passionate and curious person. In fact, most people love to share their knowledge and experiences with someone who cares.

In today’s digital age, you could of course start by making a small creative application using the Google Maps API and then send the result to the Google Maps team together with an offer of working for free with them.

If you want to become a baker you could probably find a small bakery quite close to where you live which wouldn’t say no to an extra hand. I actually think small is an important word here. Small companies are usually in much higher need of help than big ones and it’s probably also much easier to find and meet the person who’s in charge of deciding if you can join – for free – their team or not.


About Henrik Bergström

Software developer who loves to learn and share knowledge.
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