The Peace Corps Led to a Great Job
Can serving the world lead to a great job? Yes it can!
In my last post, I talked about how volunteer work with federal organizations such as the Peace Corps or VISTA can help you gain job skills and contacts that will land you a job afterward, even in this tough economy.
Todd Valdini provides a good example of how to make it all work.
Valdini graduated a few years ago with an English degree and took a job as a paralegal in a law firm. He enjoyed the job and found it challenging enough, but it was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
"It took four years to finally cut my ties with the 'real world' and return to school. I chose a degree in linguistics because that was something I knew would challenge me intellectually," he says. But he wasn't sure what he would do with that degree once he had it.
"I had been involved in volunteer activities on campus and was looking for additional ways to extend my service to others," he says. "And I was not ignorant of the fact that successful Peace Corps service can open up career doors. The agency's high brand-name recognition tends to jump out on a resume."
Additionally, his future wife was interested in having an overseas volunteer experience, too. So they decided to join the Peace Corps together.
The two taught English at Guizhou Normal University in Guiyang, Guizhou, China. "My students ranged anywhere from high school juniors to continuing education adults," he says. He taught English conversation and writing, college research and composition, and American culture. "In addition to the normal workload, my wife and I organized girls and boys clubs (respectively) and an American film club."
When Valdini and his wife returned to the U.S. they tapped in to the job hunting network, both formal and informal, that working for the Peace Corps provides. For starters, he attended a career conference for returned Peace Corps volunteers in Washington, DC.
"The conference not only provided excellent, practical advice for job seekers, but also tapped [me] into a diverse network of NGOs, federal agencies and like-minded altruists," he says. He "papered" the job fair with his résumé and gave his elevator pitch at nearly every booth.
Within a week the Social Security Administration had offered him an interview via e-mail and eventually that's where he landed a job. "I consider myself lucky to have landed my current position with SSA, but I also know that exercising my contacts and calling on past PC colleagues for recommendations helped tremendously," he says.
Valdini works as a management analyst for the SSA. He says both the job skills he obtained in the Peace Corps and the reputation of Peace Corps workers helped him get the job. His teaching experience in China fits in with a major project he is assigned to in the Training & Human Resources division.
But more importantly, Valdini says his managers are impressed with how former Peace Corps workers can handle anything thrown at them.
"We require little oversight and we get thrown some of the craziest assignments," he says. "My supervisors know that we are very resourceful and we don't back away from a challenge." And Valdini says the Social Security Administration plans on hiring many more returned Peace Corps volunteers because of that faith in their work.
Valdini says you should start the Peace Corp. application process a year in advance of wanting to join. Because of the sour economy, the number of applications has soared, and it could take that long before you are accepted.
You sign up with the Peace Corp. for 27 months and can spend most of that time in some very primitive conditions. Volunteers help communities in other countries with everything from developing safe drinking water supplies to learning modern business practices. The benefits include health care, student loan deferments, job search resources and a chunk of cash at the end of your stint.
He cautions, "Peace Corps is not an easy twenty-seven months. Those expecting a vacation need not apply."
You'll most likely come out knowing a new language and will become an expert on a particular corner of the world. "And yes, you will have a bevy of great stories with which to regale your friends and family," he says, "but not without having first made some sacrifices." Valdini says he had to "put ego, pride, nationalism, cultural preconceptions and the conveniences of home that we take for granted in check for two years."
"It's not an easy thing to do," he admits. "But you will be a stronger, better person for having shed those layers of identity and seen the world from a different perspective."