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AmeriCorps, perhaps?

MengerSpongeMengerSponge Registered User regular
edited November 2007 in Help / Advice Forum
So, a little background: I'm a recent college graduate, econ major, and have so far been unable to find a "career"-type job. I did some retail temporarily to pay the bills (don't want to go back if I don't have to) and am currently unemployed and not finding much. In fact, I'm close to just going back to the store. I have a friend who's about a year into his two-year PeaceCorps service, and absolutely loves it. Another friend of ours is applying. I think it sounds interesting, but devoting two years and living halfway around the world seems like a bigger step than I'm willing to take right now.

Enter AmeriCorps. From what I've read, it has generally shorter terms of service (10-ish months), and is obviously within the US. All around it seems like a great fit; something to do to gain experience while I think about what I'd like to do with my life. Has anyone done this before? When and where did you volunteer, and what did you do? Would you do it again? Did it help you get a job/get into grad school afterwards, either by teaching you skills, giving you connections, or just by looking good on a resume? Any major good or bad points I may be overlooking? Anyone do a similar program that they'd recommend?

I'm really torn on this. Part of me thinks it would be an amazing experience, I'd meet tons of great people, do some good work, then have an easier time finding a job at the end of it; the other part is pessimistic and thinks I'd be making less-than-optimal use of my time at best, and be stuck in a job that I hate while being separated from my family and friends at worst. Any advice from former volunteers?

MengerSponge on

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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    Join TeachForAmerica, they have schools right across the river in Camden. They pay is pretty decent and you're still making a difference. I'm considering it myself.

    I have friends in AmeriCorps who love it and they work right here in Boston. They're very happy with it but I'm not really sure what they do to be honest.

    VisionOfClarity on
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    Shark_MegaByteShark_MegaByte Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    have so far been unable to find a "career"-type job. I did some retail temporarily to pay the bills (don't want to go back if I don't have to) and am currently unemployed and not finding much.

    That is a good description of my situation two years ago. At that point I was 25, two years out of school with an English BA. I was sick of not being able to find work that required me to have a brain. Enter AmeriCorps.

    It sounded like interesting work, with good potential to lead to something more long-term. I looked through the listings on the web site (recruit.cns.gov) for specific postings that sounded like they fit me. I was in Kentucky at the time, and it turned out that the most attractive service posting I found was a VISTA spot in Texas, in the DFW area. I interviewed by phone, was accepted, and took a chance - I took it.

    I've been here for two years now (I chose to extend my service for a year in order to see my project, which suffered some delays, through to completion). It's definitely been a good move for me. My work has been interesting, my boss is smart, patient, and doesn't mind letting me have flexible office hours, and I have two years of experience that can only help my resume. My term of service ends in two weeks, and I am moving to Kansas to take a different position as a VISTA Leader (slightly better compensation, more responsibility).

    In Texas, I served as a tech liaison at a community college. I helped one of their offices set up, test, and document a new web application for managing their service-learning program. In Kansas, I will be helping to direct and support 8 VISTAs who are serving in higher education throughout the state.

    As an insider, I can tell you a couple of the biggest things that can keep it from being a good experience.
    • Pay/benefits - You are sacrificing in this area when you sign up. You will get a 'living allowance' which works out to $11-13k per year. You'll probably qualify for food stamps. Some sites provide free housing, but some can't. Health coverage is bare-bones (no pre-existing conditions covered), except for the prescription plan, which is actually good (no co-pay if your order is under $100). For me, it was worth it - I was very unhappy with my previous jobs, and they didn't pay me much more than this. But if you are not able to live on the cheap, you will have a rough time.
    • Not doing your homework when choosing your service site/position - Occasionally, someone has a major personality conflict with the supervisor at their service site. Or they realize only after starting that they really hate the work they're supposed to do. You should be able to screen out these problems by being careful in the application and interview process. Like I said above, you're sacrificing in the bling department to do this. So do whatever you need to do to make sure you're really going to like your work, and get along well with your boss. When I had my phone interview, I made it a two-way process - I asked every question I could think of to help me figure out what working here would be like (How frequent/detailed do you want my progress reports to be? How much flexibility is there in my work plan & goals? Do I always need to work 8-5, or can I vary the schedule?) It paid off. I loved the work, and I have one of the best bosses you could ever hope to find.

    One advantage that doesn't get mentioned often is that (at least for VISTAs) relocation is covered. When I moved from KY to TX, they reimbursed me a base amount plus mileage. The same will happen when I go TX-KS. Don't get greedy - if you want to move four carloads of stuff halfway across the country, you'll probably end up eating at least half the cost. But if you just bring essentials with you, and purchase furniture later, you can get moved to the state of your choice for free.

    If you're still interested after weighing the above info, you will probably do well in AC. Register at recruit.cns.gov and look through the database of service openings. Most of them include a contact who is willing to answer your pre-application questions. And the application process is not binding, so feel free to submit applications to anywhere you are seriously interested in.
    I'm really torn on this. Part of me thinks it would be an amazing experience, I'd meet tons of great people, do some good work, then have an easier time finding a job at the end of it; the other part is pessimistic and thinks I'd be making less-than-optimal use of my time at best, and be stuck in a job that I hate while being separated from my family and friends at worst. Any advice from former volunteers?

    My experience has been excellent, I've met a lot of great people, done good work. All that has been so good that I haven't minded committing two more years to AC while I build even more experience. I can't say that it's gotten me a great long-term position yet, but I can say that at the end of these three years, I'll have some great connections and my new resume will make my old one look like burger-flipper material.

    If you are proactive at the start, you can avoid getting stuck doing work you hate. And if you don't want to relocate, you may still be able to find something in your current area. I chose to be wide open to relocation because it was that important to find a spot I could be sure I'd fit into. Just keep in mind that if you want to be sure of getting something good without making a big move, you may have to wait for a new position to be posted, or a recurring one to open up again.

    PM me if you'd like any more advice on this.

    Shark_MegaByte on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2007
    The value of PeaceCorp/AmeriCorp experience on a resume is questionable. Most good employers - those who have the "career type jobs" you are talking about - don't give a damn about it* because they realize it for what it really is: a crutch college graduates use when they can't find a real job.

    However, it might help you get into grad school, especially if you show some sort of outstanding accomplishment that you made while on the job.

    *unless the employer or the recruiter used to be a PeaceCorps member as well, in which case you might actually be considered

    ege02 on
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    JigrahJigrah Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    There are two types of AmeriCorps,

    AmeriCorps NCCC which is a 10 month community service based commitment where you work on a team and do four rounds of projects. In NCCC they cover all your expenses and give you a living allowance of 300 after taxes. Thats a place to live, food and 300 a month.

    NCCC differs from Vista in its much more team oriented and less individualistic. You will have a home campus and from there you will shoot off to different project sites in your region or during times of catastrophe. You have four different projects rounds and the projects can be drastically different. My first project round I was doing low income family taxes in Chicago, for my remaning rounds I was a Wildland Firefighter in Colorado.

    Right now a heavy concentration of people are doing disaster releif in the gulf coast area, and I mean like 90% of AmeriCorps. It might be letting up soon but its not really fun work, its not fun living conditions and overall working down there tends to be sucky.

    A huge advantage for AmeriCorps NCCC is you meet a whole lot of people and make friends with a whole lot as well. It can be an absolute blast and a fun adventure. You will make many different network connections that can easily help you land a job in the future.

    I had a lot of fun, its kind of like delaying real life for a year for you college grads, but ultimately its a good time and I highly recommend it.

    Jigrah on
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    TaterskinTaterskin Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    I have a friend that worked for the PeaceCorps in Mongolia for two years. When she got back she didn't have a problem finding a "career type" job. I think if you are looking for an office job then having AmeriCorp/PeaceCorps on your resume can only help. Its a hell of alot better than that two years spent as a fry cook.

    Taterskin on
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    ShmoepongShmoepong Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    ege02 wrote: »
    The value of PeaceCorp/AmeriCorp experience on a resume is questionable. Most good employers - those who have the "career type jobs" you are talking about - don't give a damn about it* because they realize it for what it really is: a crutch college graduates use when they can't find a real job.

    In reality employers generally don't have the faintest idea what Peace Corps does. They generally think you do good things abroad and don't look at it as a crutch. So if you want to find a job after donating a few years of your life, make sure you stick to a field of work similar to your PC experience. That's likely going to be State Dept, USDA, or some international non-profit.

    Shmoepong on
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    MengerSpongeMengerSponge Registered User regular
    edited November 2007
    Thanks for all the info everyone, I'm starting to feel more optimistic about the whole thing. I checked out the Teach for America site, but honestly I don't see myself as a teacher; I'll still look into it more though.

    Shark, your tech position sounds almost exactly like what I'd ideally like to do, and I'm open to relocation pretty much anywhere in the country. As low as it is, the 11k is actually more than I was expecting from their "modest living allowance" and shouldn't be a problem. I'll keep searching for good positions.

    As for Ameri/PeaceCorps looking like a crutch on applications, I guess maybe some employers see it as a bit of a cop out, but on the other hand you're donating a huge amount of time for good causes with little monetary compensation, so I think it can only help you in the long run.

    If anyone else has other experiences or advice, I'd love to hear it. Thanks again everyone.

    MengerSponge on
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