You Get What You Pay For


Today’s featured post can also be found on RepMan and was written by Peppercom Cofounder and Managing Partner, Steve Cody.

Not too long ago, we received a cover note entitled, ‘Motivated ABC College Grad will intern for free!’

Sadly, the subject line killed the applicant’s chances from the get go. Here’s why:

– We value our services and would NEVER offer to give away our time (unless it involved a charity or, as is often the case, we’re Beta testing a new service offering). If you want Peppercom’s brain power, you’ll have to pay for it.

– Telling me you’ll work for free immediately makes you a commodity in my mind. If you’re as motivated as your subject line would indicate, you would place a monetary value on your intellect, energy and credentials.

– Finally, the exclamation point you added after the word ‘free’ makes me envision a going-out-of-business sign that reads: ‘Closing immediately. All items MUST go!’ In other words, you sound desperate.

Crafting a cover note to a prospective employer is no easy task. And, I sympathize with this particular graduate’s dilemma. He’s doing everything possible to differentiate himself from the tens of thousands of other applicants applying for the few available jobs.

But, I’m a firm believer in the expression, ‘You get what you pay for’. We’ve experienced this truism in the past whenever we paid a lower rate for a particular individual, vendor or partner. The quality simply wasn’t what a higher-priced competitor would have provided.

One other note on this note. The applicant’s subsequent text reinforced my first impression. He used such phrases as:

– ‘I have exceptional analytical and listening skills, and an eidetic memory, allowing me (to) think quickly, learn quicker and always get it right the first time.’ (Note: is an eidetic memory contagious? It sounds scary).
– ‘My previous successes were only achieved because I see opportunities in all impossibilities.’ (Note: Do you think George W. Bush was his ghost writer?).

So, college grads, DO NOT cheapen what you bring to the plate. Value it. And, don’t work for any organization that won’t pay you. You’re better than that. And, trust me, if you’re as good as you think you are, you WILL find a great, paying gig. My eidetic memory tells me so.

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Oh, George Bushisms. Not something to be proud of! This is great advice, Steve! Internships offer great opportunities and experiences, and they are beneficial to both parties. Not good to offer yourself as cheap labor, because then you just come off as cheap! Confidence is the way to go!

“Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.” — George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 2, 2008


Great post, Steve. However, I would like to stick up for all of the unpaid opportunities out there–namely, the non-profits.

I do appreciate the eagerness of “I want to work here so badly, that I will work for free,” but I think that eagerness should have manifested itself differently and, if it had, it would have at least landed an interview.


Touché Steve. It’s one thing to sacrifice time and energy for the idea of there being a “greater opportunity” and then there’s plain insanity. I just finish an unpaid internship, and felt like I left with some unforgettable experiences. However that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t envious of the janitors making minimum wage. My unpaid internship really was a great experience, but I never would have tried to leverage not getting paid to help my chances with the opportunity.

Individuals with this little self-respect is how the idea of “unpaid internships” even became acceptable. Why should these places change their ways, if people are still offering free work so readily? Then again I have heard of internship you have to pay for, so at least this individual was cheap enough and adamant about only working for free… (LOL)


As an aspiring PR pro and current intern, I definitely sympathize with this candidate’s plight. There is a fine line between having confidence in your skill set and coming off as arrogant. It can be difficult for an entry level employee to boast about their achievements. It’s encouraging to hear a seasoned professional tell us to value ourselves–it’s advice I’ll take to heart.

Free labor aside, he could have been a bit more careful with his subject line. It shows lack of research–a simple Google search would have told him Peppercom only has paid internship opportunities.


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