Never Work for “Exposure”

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Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

Remember last week when we mentioned how working for “exposure” is complete nonsense, and we could have an entire TED Talk on that subject? Well, it’s time for that TED Talk. One of the first things you learn when becoming a professional writer is that anyone who tells you you’ll get exposure in return for working for them is either lazy, incompetent, or in all likelihood, both. Exposure and an empty sack is worth the sack, to paraphrase a big-eared bartender.


The core tenet of the myth of exposure is that any work you do can serve as fodder for your resumé. And yeah, it’s good to get tape whenever you can, but the important caveat to that is that tape is effectively worthless if you didn’t get any kind of payment for it. When you work for free, you’re devaluing your own brand. Showing someone some work you didn’t get any kind of restitution for effectively tells them “I’m a chump with no understanding of how money and labor are supposed to work.” That definitely does not look good on a resumé.

Now, when I say “restitution,” obviously I’m referring to a paycheck, though there are a few instances where working without a paycheck can still be beneficial. Charity work, for example, is perfectly okay, and volunteering your time for a charity looks very good on a resumé. Of course, much like a normal business, you should ensure a charity is actually doing some good work and has some reputation before you do anything gratis for them. If you brag about having worked for “the Human Fund” only to find out “the Human Fund” doesn’t exist, you’ve just set yourself up to look like a dummy again.

Credit: Unsplash

The bottom line here is that if you have any confidence in your skills and personal brand, you should always require some manner of return for your work. Metaphysical nonsense like “exposure” not only won’t put any bread on the table or keep the lights on, it more than likely won’t make you any more visible in the eyes of those who actually offer paying careers.

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