Sitting at the back of a café, tentatively nursing almost cold coffees, two women are tapping away on their laptops. While one asks multiple questions about motion graphics, font design and scheduling tools, the other is gearing up for a PT session. But these women aren’t working; they’re skill swapping.
For many young people kicking off their careers, the thought of paying for a spontaneous night out, new railcard or lunch beyond a Pret sandwich fills them with fear. And yet, these same people are receiving one-on-one Photoshop sessions, having their makeup done by top level artists, and accept advice that verges on mentorships. How? Step forward: skill swapping, the art of trading your services for someone else’s in a mutually beneficial agreement.
Top of the swaps
With 118 people on average applying for every job vacancy, making your CV stand out has never been more important. Upskilling – regularly updating and expanding your skill set – becomes necessary in order to fill the gaps between you and your next career move. And yet, with that comes high training fees, unrealistic time expectations and a big overall commitment – which is why people are choosing to skill swap instead.
Turning your time into a commodity means money typically doesn’t change hands during a skill swap; instead, both parties are gaining something other than cash from the partnership. Perhaps it’s a CV redesign in return for a lesson in still life photography; a blog post edit in return for Photoshop advice. But skill swapping can also take the shape of long term partnerships – taking charge of someone’s social media presence in order to receive weekly guitar lessons.
In fact, you can skill swap just about anything. Just ask Stephanie Conway, who traded in her PR job to set up a marketing virtual assistant business in Bali. In exchange for free accommodation, she runs the social media channels of an Airbnb. “I wanted the freedom to live and work from anywhere in the world,” she tells Cosmopolitan UK. “But because I was starting from scratch, I knew I would have to skill swap to build my portfolio.”
By trading her social media skills for a roof over her head, Stephanie is not only gaining free rent, but examples to put on her CV. “Skill swapping gave me the opportunity to get my business off the ground by showcasing what I could do,” she adds.
Mind the gender pay gap
Skill swapping isn’t just about getting a ‘free’ haircut; women are using it in an attempt to close the gender pay gap, and to access training they otherwise might not have. As Victoria McLean from City CV says, “women starting out face unique challenges and struggle to access capital and mentorship, so they turn to their networks to get the services they need to establish their business. Skill swaps are a financial necessity.”
Unlike a side hustle, which people take on in order to increase their income, the main aim of skill swaps is to improve your CV, and ultimately boost your career. Tatjana Apukhtina, who runs a tea subscription service, was able to help a contact in the food industry to nail a new job through her skill swap. “We got chatting and realised we both had something the other needed,” Tatjana says, explaining that she offered up her marketing hacks in exchange for blog posts. “The blog posts helped to improve the SEO ranking of our website, and in turn, when my contact went for a job interview, she was able to show her work for us. It helped her to get the job.”
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Skill swaps often come in the shape of informal agreements, but you still have to treat them like business transactions. Be specific about the skills you’re willing to trade and what you’re hoping to get in return - there has to be a certain level of structure to your sharing of skills, to make sure no one feels like they’re working for free.
Ayesha* learned that the hard way, when she agreed to run the social media and blog for a celebrity hairdresser, in exchange for free hair appointments. “I love having my hair done and didn’t really think about what I was signing up for,” the 23-year-old tells Cosmopolitan UK. “I just thought, ‘free balayage!’ But the amount of time I was spending at the salon taking pictures of other clients and writing about it was time I could’ve spent building my own business.” She quickly realised being a full time social media manager in return for a hair care wasn’t a fair deal. “How many haircuts can you have before you end up looking like Eleven from Stranger Things?”
Get your swap on
So you want to make skill swapping work for you. Great! Here’s how.
- Be specific about the skills you’re looking for and what you can offer in return – there’s no point dedicating valuable time to someone else if you’re not gaining something you actually need.
- Start by collaborating with people you know, or friends of friends. Is someone in your circle brilliant at cooking? Could an acquaintance become your pacing partner on weekly runs? Is there a copy writer in your family who could help with your cover letter? Try to offer them something they might need in return, to make it mutually beneficial.
- Websites like Swap A Skill can also help to organise sharing arrangement, while also creating a network of collaborators that might come in handy in the future.
You Might Also Like