Emily Shankman of Chicago graduated from college earlier this year with plenty of hope for her career. The 22-year-old had studied vocal performance and was learning how to turn her passion for music into a paying career, reports The Wall Street Journal.

As a way to get hands-on experience in arts administration, Shankman, who graduated from Lawrence University, took an unpaid internship at the Lyric Opera of Chicago through December. She spends her days archiving materials, advertising auditions and helping with fund raising. To pay the bills, Shankman works concessions at the opera house and sings at churches and weddings.

Shankman is one of many who are riding out the recession by learning new fields and building their career portfolios — and paying the rent with side jobs, savings or a parental infusion of cash

How do you know if an unpaid experience-builder is right for you? According to Chris Anderson, author of “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” there’s really no such thing as working for free. “There should be non-monetary rewards like skills, connections, access and reputation,” he says.

And, adds Anderson: “When you’re unemployed, sometimes your only choice is between not working at all or working with the chance that you’ll get paid later.”

Career changers may benefit from using unpaid internships or volunteer experiences to break ground in a new industry. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

When deciding whether or not to work for no pay, first determine if you can afford it. What is your family’s financial situation, and do you have an alternate source of income?

Don’t be afraid to ask the employer about your future. Organizations will usually be open to discussions about what you can do to potentially get hired down the road.

Once you’ve secured a volunteer or internship position, you must be strategic in making the most of it. Ask to get involved with as many large, complex projects as possible, jumping at the opportunity to challenge yourself, master new skills, and be exposed to a variety of jobs.

Photo by solanco.k12.pa.us.

Originally posted by Rich Whittle on November 30, 2009 in Ideas.

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