Using Volunteering to Get Experience
Posted May 1, 2010on:
I’ve been known to advocate volunteering as a handy way to gain experience. And it is. I volunteer for the Phoenix Comicon. It’s a pop-culture and general “geek” convention. I handle their PR. I am unpaid except for the experience I’m getting.
It’s pretty amazing how much experience I’ve actually gotten through the Comicon. I’m the leader of a team of 7 or so people (department boundaries are fluid, but I’m all for claiming the maximum). At the age of 22, this is practically unheard of. It’s not as though I’m leading a club who’s main purpose is to help the homeless. I’m leading a team of individuals in providing a professional service to an organization that is predicting 10,000 attendees at this year’s event. I’m organizing interviews for the top local news and talk shows with celebrities like Stan Lee (the link is there if you need it). Small Fry? I think not.
Still, how much is this experience worth? I work my bum off for the convention. And I am no where near finished doing what is on my to-do list. After sending out press releases and organizing celebrity interviews, I have to contend with training my staff (I have two interns) and organizing ticket give-aways through partner media. By the time I’ve answered my in-box I have already spent 1 hour on the “Con,” as it is affectionately known.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, at first. But bear in mind I spend much of my time reading other blogs, crafting this one, staying active on Twitter and Linked In, mastering Facebook Fan Page design, getting a hang of face-to-face networking by participating in professional events, reading business litterature, writing a fantasy novel, getting ready for grad school, practicing my music, going to actual work-work, and lastly, keeping myself healthy. And that doesn’t begin to tackle keeping myself and my home in good order. You might say I do too much, but I can’t choose a single thing I can live without. They all go into making me happy with myself or progressing my career. Con is also part of that.
So how do I ballance the need for experience with the other draws on my time? I need to earn money as well as work on the convention and if I try to get everything done in a day for the Con, I’d have to leave early or answer Con e-mail at work. Not good when work itself has a lot of stress and problems to handle. If I can’t get rid of some of the things on this list, then it seems I should have a talk with Father Time about a daylight extension.
The problem is that working on the Con has given me experiences I can take back to the office and use there. I remember a movie I saw once, a comedy, where the main character was trying to get a job, but all jobs required experience first. It’s a beautiful catch 22. What I’m going through is also representative of a true problem in our economy and society. This economy has seen an uptick in unpaid internships and volunteering, as this article about Chicagoans illustrates. It’s even become an issue big enough for laws to be suggested and discussed that will limit the abuse of unpaid internships, as this New York Times article describes. Young people need the experience, but we also need the confidence to claim our dues and… and ramen is not good for you.
That’s the flip side of these unpaid volunteering and intern experiences. Ramen, one of the cheapest food products out there, is not healthy. And we already eat a lot of it.