I won’t lie; Conventions are my kryptonite. Some fangirls have a weakness for kinky fanfics and others for Geeky t-shirts, but when somebody mentions Fanexpo I get flustered and enthusiastic. There is certainly something to be said for the magical whirlwind that comes with being crammed into a convention hall with thousands of crazy people sharing a common love of geekery. It’s as if the building itself hums with energy and excitement. So, when I found out I was FINALLY old enough to volunteer at Fanexpo Canada, I wasted no time getting my application in.
Without further ado, here’s the break-down on how to volunteer at a Nerd Convention:
Step 1: Pick a Con.
This might seem obvious, but it requires more research than one would think. Especially if you don’t live in a big city, cons in your area might be scarce, so there’s transportation to think about. Then there’s the matter of freeing up the time. Luckily, Fanexpo Canada and several other cons happen the weekend before school starts/March break, etc., but for most people, conflicts with work schedules need to be circumvented. Finally, there’s lodging. Especially if you don’t live a reasonable distance from the event, you might want to consider getting a hotel room for the duration of the convention. Certain cons offer hotel deals for out-of-town volunteers, but be sure to verify the specific details as not every con provides such a service (Fanexpo Canada does not). As a sidenote, it is not uncommon to volunteer with a few friends and split the cost of a hotel room.
Step 2: Grab the Volunteer Information
The easiest step. Go to the website, look under a section labled “Volunteers” (or any variation thereupon), read through the information, and take your instruction from there. A standard volunteer page will take you through the roles, responsibilities, expectations, hours, and rewards of volunteering with them. There should be an application form that you either print out and mail into them, or fill out online. If you are under legal age, there will absolutely be a parental consent form, keep an eye out for it! The application form won’t break your brain; it asks basic questions to identify your age/gender/name/phone number etc., why you want to work with them, and your past work/volunteer experiences and miscellaneous credentials. Once you’ve submitted your application, the next steps vary from event to event.
Step 3a: The Interview
Some cons may contact you requesting an interview. In my case, the dresscode was business casual (I won’t lie, I wore dress pants, a blazer and a Batman tshirt), and all interviews were conducted at a high-end hotel in Toronto near the site of the event. The interview was about 8 minutes long, and I was asked the questions you might expect: “Why do you want to work at Fanexpo?”, “What can you bring to the table?”. The only advice I can offer is to be friendly and professional, but don’t leave out the fact that, as a nerd, you are a part of Comic Book Community; enthusiasm is always of value.
Step 3b: The Confirmation.
Most cons will either accept or decline you based on the application, and you will either get an email or a phone call from the volunteer coordinator either confirming or denying your gig. Confirmations usually go out 2-3 months prior to the convention, to ensure time for orientation/meetings.
Step 4: Orientation.
This is a standard, and will happen with any con you get accepted to. It’s where you get assigned your specific role (i.e Greeter, Floater, Info Desk, Crowd Control) and meet others with similar responsibilities. Be as social during orientation as you can be, the energy is similar to the actual convention and chances are, you’ve got a LOT of common ground with these people! Make friends! You’ll be seeing a lot of them and it’s nice to be able to geek out about at least a single fandom with people from your clan!
Step 5: Second Orientation.
In most cases, there will be more than one orientation day, because there is so much to brief you on, and all volunteers must be able to answer basic questions: “Where can I park?” “Where’s the Star Trek panel being held?” “I lost my cloak, where’s the lost and found?”, etc. Make sure to pay attention to the floorplan of the convention hall and the basics of the area it’s in.
Step 6: Rewards
Yep, this is exciting. Free admission to the grounds is pretty standard, since you’ll likely be working for the majority of the day. Although beware of Anime North, which expects you to pay for your admission up front and redeem it by working 20 hours. Fanexpo requires that everybody work at least 4 hours everyday, leaving at least 2 hours to gallabant through the geekery or frolic amoung the fandoms, attend panels for free, and buy discounted merch. Last time I checked, SDCC works the same way; you work your shift, and everybody gets the same benefits. Anime North, however, works on a hourly basis, e.g 5 hours of work will get you a keychain, 10 will get you a keychain and a tshirt, etc.
The issue of Community Service hours is also addressed; Convention volunteer hours are eligible for high school students to use as Community Service hours (of which each student must complete 40 to graduate), so if you’re still in school, don’t forget to bring your school board’s forms with you to record your hours on.
All in all, Con Crew has so far been a blast, it’s a great way to get Community Service Hours while having fun and connecting with a network of nerds. Fanexpo is doing a great job of making me feel thoroughly valued as a volunteer and a fan, and the comradery among the crew is great. I can see myself doing this for years to come.
Submitted by Rachel Hall