If you haven’t pieced it together yet, the reddest of all red flags are the ones that involve the money you make. For example, if a client just flat out won’t pay you, that’s a red flag. Similarly, if the client is requiring all sorts of unpaid training, that is also a red flag.

However, there is another payment-related red flag that many people let slide.

Swapping “Professional Experience” for Actual Compensation

Almost everyone has – at some point or another – taken a job where they knew the pay wasn’t going to be that great, but it would look fantastic on a resume. It’s a perfectly normal thing to do. (And, for the record, it is how I built most of my entry-level resume.) The key piece of information here is that made the choice to accept useful professional experience in lieu of decent pay.

It becomes a problem when the client tries to decide what constitutes “valuable professional experience” for you. In the worst case scenario, the client may even tell you that they “can’t pay you very much, but this is going to be a great professional experience for you!”

Anecdotal Evidence

Back when I was young and dumb and sold paper for a living, I routinely accepted less money than I should have in the name of “professional experience.” Even dumber than the daily indignity of getting paid “experience” when I should be getting cash was the fact that I actually paid for some of it. I paid to go to conferences, go on “business trips,” or attend other “professional development” activities because I honestly believed that the experience that I could put on my resume would be worth the cost.

That’s right, I’m a moron. In my defense, I was young, stupid and I learned my lesson. When I quit that job and reworked my resume, I got a pretty solid understanding of what “experiences” were valuable or not. These days, I’m willing to take a hit on compensation if think the experience is worth it – not the client.

I’m a big girl, I can decide what constitutes valuable experience all on my own, thanks.