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October 25, 2010
Why You Should Pass on a ‘Spec’ Opportunity

One of the methods I use to keep an eye on the “pulse” of the PR industry is participating in professional forums on LinkedIn. Recently, I've come across a number of postings by younger professionals that highlighted a trend I thought might be of interest to others.

While certainly not new, the trend of asking for work to be done on “spec” -- i.e. as an audition of sorts before landing an ongoing and/or permanent role with an organization -- seems to be on a dramatic rise given the current economy. Although it's certainly easy to see why some would be interested in taking this route, especially if they're relatively new to the industry, these types of opportunities generally should be considered offers you can refuse.

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to prove your merit to a potential client or employer, and there's certainly no mystery as to why they ask. The potential employer or client essentially is getting a portfolio of work for free. Although the potential employer or consultant may see benefit in going along with this arrangement, remember that for the other side there's nothing but upside, whereas for you, it's at best a mixed picture.

From hearing others' tales of these situations, the biggest issue lies in the fact that they usually get the job seeker or consultant nowhere. A hang-up exists that the other side has with the work: its quality, the way it was done, or the time in which it was completed. In many cases, it could be something that could win industry acclaim, but it still wouldn't be good enough for the prospect or potential employer.

At the end of the day, the potential employee or consultant is left with a time investment that was unproductive at best. We tend to think of time as something that's valuable only to the very wealthy or important, but the truth of the matter is, time is a commodity that no one can manufacture. Therefore, it has value and should be used wisely. Given that, the best course of action when you're embarking on a search for a job or a new client is to devise a plan that specifies what type of arrangement you seek, along with tactics that position you with a decent chance of getting it and stick to it.

Using this approach doesn't ensure success, but it does come with a much higher likelihood that your time will have been used for a worthy pursuit. Even if your ultimate goal isn't achieved right away, no matter how long it takes you can feel better that you maximized the time you had to pursue it. In contrast, if you'd continued with the speculative opportunity, a chance exists that you will come away empty and behind the eight ball in terms of time.

Lest you think I'm just preaching from the pulpit and not speaking of experience, like many PR pros, I went there earlier in my career. While few things in life can be spoken of with any degree of certainty, I feel certain in saying that should you try a similar situation, yours will end up like mine: with nothing to show for it.

While the economy's improving on many fronts, the job picture is estimated to be relatively weak for the next 24 months, given the sheer number of individuals who have to be absorbed back onto payrolls and the average number of jobs being gained in a given month. With that the case, these “speculative” offers likely will come fast and furious for some time.

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Cyrus Afzali is president of Astoria Communications, a New York City-based PR consultancy serving clients in financial/professional services, technology and real estate. Before opening his PR consultancy in 2004, Afzali worked at several New York agencies managing accounts for real estate, technology and legal clients. He started his career as a journalist, working as an editor and writer for nine years at outlets ranging from small, daily newspapers to CNN Financial News.

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