Some may think anyone wanting to apply for a volunteer position at the Petersen Automotive Museum (Los Angeles, CA) has to be a car expert. But that's not necessarily the case, says Rachel Parham, volunteer and tours coordinator for the museum. “For us, the Petersen is a car museum, but we don't necessarily want our volunteers to be car experts. We want volunteers who enjoy talking with people, telling stories, exploring and learning new things, etc.,” Parham says.

That's why every potential volunteer at the museum must undergo a preplacement interview. “Our interview questions are very much focused on people skills. I don't ask a potential volunteer a single question about their interest in cars or their knowledge of cars because that is not relevant to whether that person would make a great volunteer,” she says.

The museum currently has about 100 active volunteers, and each has been placed in his or her role based on the preplacement interview. “Preplacement interviews help us make sure the volunteers have the background we need them to have to perform the job we are asking them to perform. Furthermore, preplacement interviews help organizations assess the level of interest on the part of the volunteer,” says Parham.

According to Parham, the first step in conducting a preplacement interview happens before the volunteer even applies. “Your volunteer interview process should start with your job description. What do you want a volunteer to do for you? Then use the job description to craft your interview questions so you make sure you are finding candidates who will perform well,” she says.

Once a potential volunteer submits an application online, Parham contacts him or her to conduct a quick phone interview to gain a general sense of the volunteer's interest in the opportunities and experience working with people. “Depending on the results of that, I will schedule the volunteer for an in-person interview, where we focus more on what the volunteer wants to gain from their experience and how they feel about the museum's focus on conversational learning. When the in-person interview is completed, we extend an offer to the volunteer if we want him/her in the volunteer program,” she says.

When conducting a preplacement interview Parham asks questions based on three main factors: skill-set matching, interest in the work and personal goals. “Volunteering in certain capacities, such as education, community outreach and museum collections management, really are professional opportunities that ask the volunteers to come with a predetermined skill set. On the flip side, preplacement interviews are also an opportunity for the volunteer to determine if the job is something they want to do before the organization makes the investment in him/her,” she says.

If after a preplacement interview a volunteer is not accepted, Parham suggests sending a note thanking him or her for his or her time and interest but stating you do not have an opportunity that matches that person's skill set.

Source: Rachel Parham, Volunteer and Tours Coordinator, Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA. Phone (323) 964-6426. E-mail: Website: