Volunteering Your Way to the Dream Job: A Fairy Tale

A Fairy Tale
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Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her dream was to make it in the arts. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to run a performing arts center or curate a museum, but she knew she wanted to work in that world. There was just one problem—she was clueless about how to break in. After all, how do you enter a field with no experience? Answer: you volunteer. And that’s just what she did. As it turns out, it was harder than simply Googling “volunteer in the arts.” (She tried that, and came up overwhelmed and confused.) So here’s what she did…

Step 1: She tapped into her existing network.
She always hated that word—“networking.” But someone told her, “Networking is just about meeting people and getting cool advice.” Easy enough, right? She knew the music teacher at her school had been involved in some community theater productions, so she stayed after class to express an interest in volunteering—and see if the teacher knew a good contact to help her get started. She got an email address.

Step 2: She made the connection.
She spent an evening writing, re-working and editing a friendly, professional email to her music teacher’s contact. Did she ask to volunteer right away? Nope. After all, this person didn’t even know her! She asked for an “informational interview”—i.e., an opportunity to sit down with someone and ask questions about her career field of interest. Guess what the person said? “Sure.” Because when people love what they do, they also like to talk about it. Especially to an interested, polite, enthusiastic girl like this one.

Step 3: She made a great impression, and secured the volunteer opportunity.
She arrived at her meeting with questions prepared and dressed the part. At the end, she asked if volunteering was a possibility. (Not at this theater…bummer.) But this contact gave her another contact that might have some volunteering leads. So she reached out to the next person, repeated the process and…landed the volunteering gig at another local theater.

Step 4: She clarified her interests, used her expanding network and found another place to volunteer.
Guess what our girl decided after working in performing arts production? She didn’t like producing shows. But you know what else she learned? That she LOVED marketing for the shows. So she connected with the marketing department to see if they needed more help. They didn’t—but they steered her towards an art festival in town that might need some help promoting the event. Thus began her next gig.

Step 5: She made her next volunteering gig count…for credit, that is.
Meanwhile, she also used her school connections to find out where other teens had volunteered in the past for course credit. Just one problem: no marketing opportunities. But she used the contacts and asked if there was a way she could tweak her volunteer work to focus more on marketing. She found one that said “yes,” and not only did she gain more experience, but course credit to boot.

Step 6: She revised her resume and reached out again. And this time? She got paid.
After all these experiences, our girl had clarified her goals and built a killer resume. So when it came time to look for a summer job, she hit the web. This time, it was much easier because she knew just what she was looking for. Not only that, but she discovered that her volunteer work had given her the experiences employers were seeking. She was competitive for the jobs she wanted. All because she had volunteered.

And what became of our girl? She began college with a killer resume and a better sense of where she was headed—straight to the arts. The end.

NOTE: This is just one example. This general process works for any occupational field, be it medicine or traveling with the circus. Networking, being proactive and really using your volunteer experiences to clarify your goals and build your resume are the keys to enhancing your career. Sure, sometimes you can simply find an opportunity online, and that’s a great place to start. But sometimes it takes more legwork.

Get more tips on how volunteering can help build an artistic career.

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