How can I get commercial experience?

Today I’ve just been turned down for another job due to a lack of commercial experience. How do I get this?

A while ago I sent off a load of letters to companies offering my services for free. I got a little work and then ended up trying to learn ColdFusion on the promise that if I got any good at it, I’d be given a job. I did this for a while until I realised that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Should I target the companies that I approach on a voluntary basis i.e. html, css, Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. I’ve built a few sites but these arn’t really high end commercial sites that potential employers are looking for.

So I’m just wandering how I get this kind of experience. Is offering my services for free to the right companies the best way to go?

No absolutly not.

The steps to gaining respect and expertise are to earn them.

The best thing you can do is grab some books, take some courses. Create your OWN projects, things that you WANT to do with that knowledge. It costs you $9.99 for a domain name to practice with and get experience.

Businesses will take you seriously when you present yourself as someone who knows what they are doing. I guarantee that if you continue to give things away for free, that is what you will get in return. Please…please…I made the same mistake a long time ago and it was difficult to get out of the habit of discounting, free, or just saying no to customers. I have been doing this long enough now that saying no is sometimes needed and discounting is just not worth the aggravation.

Good luck with your search…fill your brain with what you need to know, and KNOW that you are worth it $$$$!


I would like to disagree that doing pro bono work is an ‘absolute no.’ I feel that it’s a great way to accompany reading books, taking courses, and practicing on your own domain. It is an opportunity for both networking and enhancing your skills, while at the same time working in an environment which would be similar to a career in web development.

That is not to say that you should only to pro bono work, but I feel it is a good way to get your name out there, network, continue to enhance your skills, and allow you to get first hand experience into what the industry is like.

I would also have my own website where I can practice. Just make up websites for made up companies, bands, etc. Just to get the practice. Build up a portfolio of things you have done. A website is a great place to post your resume and portfolio of work you’ve done (even if it is made up work).

Like Dreamspace mentioned, if you can take courses in different aspects of web development I would do that also. Don’t limit yourself to anyone one means of learning.

Here is an article I found once. It gives some pretty good advice from someone who has built himself a really nice career in the industry.

Since I cannot post links yet, just add what needs to be added to the link above :slight_smile:

Hope this helps and good luck!


I agree that if your career is freelancing then there is some “pro bono” required. Just be VERY selective. I don’t do for large organizations that have the funding, they typically don’t appreciate it. Nor do I bother with businesses as they get to picky and demanding the majority of the time.

If you are trying to find a JOB, which is how I understood it, I wouldn’t recommend doing pro bono for the companies you are applying to. Why? Then they have saved money and you still may not get the job, and you have wasted time and efforts on a singular project that is dictated by them. That time could have been utilized studying, brushing up on interview skills, finding a company that does have a need for your right now.

Just my opinion. I have been there done that several times and now make a very comfortable living on my own terms. That is your judgement call, and different things work for different people.

All I am saying is that too many people sell themselves short, when they really deserve to be paid. It is those people that make it tough on others who are trying to make a living and EVERYONE deserves to be paid.


Oh, I would never do pro bono work for any company I was applying to. I was speaking about really small local companies, friends, smaller non-profit organizations, festivals, etc. It’s just a good way to get a portfolio started if you are hard-pressed to find a job with the little experience you have, because I think a solid portfolio showing your talent can bypass a lack of experience one may have.

People do deserve to get paid, but you have to have justifications for the amount you are asking for, so you have to start somewhere.

With that being said, I think we are in the same ballpark and hope the ideas we have provided are a help to you Rabbitsfeat.

Feel free to ask any quesitons you may have, and I’ll try to answer them as best I can.


Thanks so much for all your responses.

I had previously only offered my services pro bono, to potential employers. I will look into seeking out local businesses that either don’t have a website or have one that could do with an update—perhaps?

I’ve kind of overlooked building websites for ficticious companies, believing I don’t have the imagination to do so. Not having a brief to follow and no pressure are not conditions I am used to working under. Maybe I should give this I try though—not sure where to start though.

I have some personal webspace through my ISP which I could use to put up my work on. Though I have been considering buying a domain where I can use a name of my choice. Although I’m not sure whether to just use my full name or make up some website name—which do you think is best for a portfolio site that you’re trying to get work through?

I cannot afford to do any courses but have plenty of books, videos and use lots of online resources. I did do an evening class a while ago, but I knew more than the lecturer—who was still teaching how to layout pages with tables!

The few sites that I have built have been mostly for friends or family. Although one was for a small web design company. Saying that, since handing over the project to them, they have destroyed my design by changing the colors and other things. I do not even wish to associate myself with this site anymore and would certainly not include it in any portfolio.

At the moment I’m toying with some ideas in my head about building my own portfolio. I guess I should just get something up online rather than worrying too much at this stage about what look I’m going for… grunge etc.

Due to my self-percieved lack of imagination regarding dreaming up ficticious projects, I was considering writing to companies asking for example briefs—what do you reckon on this idea?

Thanks again for all your help and I look forward to further comments:)

well…imho definitely not. why dont you build your portfolio, from freelancing…before applying to big companies. you can learn different experience in freelancing and you could also learn much that would eventually help you out when you have enough experience to apply on those companies that you ant to be in. :wink:

How would you go about getting freelance jobs?

I’ve only gotten a couple through family and friends.

Something I’ve been thinking about doing, which I’m wondering if this is a good idea, is to create some self-initiated projects for a few different business ideas, and then approach similar businesses with what I could do for them. Kind of like, hey, your website could look like this—if they even had one.

Be interested to know what you think of this idea?

I got my first job by doing exactly what you did…i sent a load of letters out asking for work experience. I think i had 1 html/css website up at the time…which was coded welll but didn’t do anything special. I also had no programming knowledge of any kind at the time…

I went and worked for the company for 2 days and they hired me on a daily basis for a small amount of money a day…i ended up staying there a year and a half, gaining experience in PHP,MYSQL,APACHE,AJAX, JAVASCRIPT and now have moved on to a middleweight role that pays a lot better :wink:

Just keep plugging away…maybe take another look a the letter you’re sending out and tweak it.

If you’re based in the UK then i know that the market is saturated with jobs at the moment. I’m looking to make a move and a recruitment consultant told me there is more jobs that there are developers at the moment…so you’re heading for the right career!

Good luck :slight_smile:

There is a really good series of articles I recommend reading anyone trying to start a career in this or related fields (I hope mods will give me a pass on this because it’s extremely relevant to the original question):

Much agreed devAngel. You don’t necessarilly have to make up a facticious company. You can “plan” out your portfolio by certain domains that you “think” a company may be interested in and build a site for that Domain, do some SEO and then sell it to them (I don’t advise this as in my books it’s quasi unethical.) OR you can build projects that will make you money or drive traffic back to your portfolio.

Good luck!