How to get a volunteer position

Charissa Brammer, Head Editor, INALJ Maine

How to get a volunteer position

charissabrammerResume-building is something that has been on my mind a lot lately, as I have been applying for scholarships and grants and trying to build my LinkedIn profile to attract potential employers in a year when I graduate from library school and enter the world as a newly-minted Librarian-with-a-capital-L. Like many students, I have found that volunteering is a good way to fill in a resume and make yourself marketable, and, since I have been what you might call a professional student for more than a decade, I have had a lot of time to gather volunteer experience.

When colleagues ask me how I have found so many volunteer opportunities, I always tell them that I just asked. (note: asking is not enough to get you plum government positions and those in large, famous organizations like the Smithsonian, in that situation, I would suggest that you apply using their online system and go through the rigorous bureaucratic process. If you keep filling out forms, they will usually eventually give you the job). Just about every smaller or local organization will put out calls for volunteers from time to time. Answering those calls is the least stressful time to apply to work at an organization (and it is how I scored this position at INALJ). If there isn’t a call for volunteers out, that definitely doesn’t mean that the organization isn’t looking for people!

Usually, when I decide that I want to volunteer with an organization, I will first send a cheerful and professional email to the volunteer coordinator if there is one, and the head of the organization if there isn’t. I am a big fan of email in these situations, because it allows the person time to gather their volunteer information and also eliminates the intrusive, awkward phone call. Phone calls when you are asking for something, even when you are asking to give them your time and expertise, seem to have a special tendency for throwing me off my game and making things awkward. Email is much more controllable, and it allows the organization to answer at their leisure. Win, win! The cheerful email (even when totally unsolicited) has yet to fail me in my search for volunteer opportunities. There was one time that I sharked an opportunity from a roommate who was using a more traditional face-to-face networking approach and that had some interesting interpersonal consequences (Sorry, M!), but I got the position that I wanted.

While it is tempting to corral all of your volunteer experience into your chosen profession, I would say that you should look for opportunities in any area that interests you! I try to keep most of my volunteer work in the world of writing or libraries, but I’ve found that some of my more offbeat experience has helped me in the job hunt, too. In two back-to-back library interviews, I found myself giving the interviewer detailed information about roller derby and my involvement on the board of the local league. Judging by the interest that the hiring managers showed in that one line of my resume, including roller derby in my volunteer experience might have been the quirky attribute that made my resume stand out from the crowd of applicants.

Even if it doesn’t help you get the job, volunteering in things that you love might also allow you to leverage your hobbies to fulfill the community service portion of some tenure applications. If you are looking for a job, volunteering might just make the difference between getting an interview and sliding to the bottom of the pile. It’s also a good way to contribute to your community and learn things that aren’t in the Library science curriculum or covered in on-the-job training. So, job seekers and students, go forth, find the organizations that match your values and the jobs that you want to get, and start drafting those volunteering emails!