Volunteer Interview Tips

If you want to volunteer, be prepared for some competition. Nonprofit organizations often have more applicants than positions, so many are using a formal screening process to select appropriate volunteers. A report by the organization "Volunteering in America" notes that 1.6 million more Americans volunteered in 2009 than the year before, the largest increase since 2003. People volunteer for many reasons: to develop new skills, build their resumes, support their communities or just to feel good about themselves, according to CBS Money Watch. Whatever your reasons, the first step is getting the job.

Treat an interview for a volunteer position as seriously as one for a paying job. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

Be Prepared

Expect to be asked questions about your reasons for selecting this organization, according to the California state job program, Worksmart! To answer that question, you need to know the organization's purpose, how it works and what jobs volunteers perform. Talk to friends and family members who have volunteered there; read printed materials at your local library; or observe volunteers in action if possible. If you want to walk dogs at a local animal shelter, for example, you could attend an adoption event or ask for a tour of the shelter. A prospective blood drive volunteer could donate blood to see how the process works.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

The interviewer's job is to determine if you and the organization would be a good fit, so she will ask questions about what assets you could bring to the job, according to Worksmart. Prepare for the interview by listing your hobbies, interests, education and skills, as well as personality traits that make you a stellar volunteer. If you have never worked before, emphasize your punctuality, hard work and polite telephone manner. It may be uncomfortable to talk about yourself, so practice what you will say in advance.

Be Candid

Nonprofit organizations want your volunteer experience to be positive, so think ahead of time about the type of position that interests you. A professional fundraiser, for example, may prefer to serve meals at the homeless shelter instead of organizing events, so be prepared to discuss your needs candidly. Consider the number of hours you are willing to work and how often; whether you like to work individually or as a team; and whether you prefer to work directly with clients or behind the scenes.

Be Professional

Although you will not receive cash for your labors, treat any volunteer position as a job. The nonprofit organization provides a service to the community through people like you, so demonstrate that you can be an asset. Wear business attire, avoiding jeans, shorts, tennis shoes and tee shirts. Arrive early, look confident and shake hands firmly. Bring a copy of your resume; a legible and complete application form; a list of references and their contact information; your Social Security card; photo identification; and your professional license, if any.

Be Courteous

Smile appropriately, be friendly and thank the interviewer at the beginning and end of the interview, says Worksmart. The interviewer will set the tone for the discussion, so follow his lead. Some prefer an all-business approach while others use humor and small talk to put the applicant at ease. When you answer questions, always be polite and honest without sounding stiff or as if you want to hide something. Speak as naturally as possible, answer the question fully and be candid if you are not sure of the answer. Always be courteous to the receptionist and other volunteers if you encounter them. An applicant who is friendly to the interviewer but rude to the staff will probably not be asked back. When you return home, send a note to the interviewer thanking her for her time.

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