So You Want to Join the Peace Corps?

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By Tori Jackson, BA in International Affairs, GWU, 2015

February 24th, 2015 was a day of one of the greatest devastations I have ever faced.  My entire post-collegiate world shattered as I read these words: “We regret that we are unable to offer you an assignment at this time.”  Peace Corps had dumped me.  I thought wanting it more than anything I had ever wanted before was enough, that my passion would carry me 8,213 miles to Mozambique.  A few hundred tears later, I rallied and began to figure out what I had done wrong the first time, learning from the mistakes I was not willing to make again.

For me, applying to the Peace Corps meant being one step closer towards doing all of the things I dreamed of while studying International Affairs: exploring the world, speaking new languages, and most importantly, helping others – but it all began with rejection. One month after my world came crashing down I completely revamped my application by doing each and every one of the things below, and applied again for the Peace Corps. My diligence and perseverance paid off: I was recently offered and have accepted an invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Ecuador departing in January 2016.

Tips for a successful Peace Corps application:

  • Realize that YOUR RESUME IS EVERYTHING! The resume to a Peace Corps application is what an avocado is to guacamole – it doesn’t exist without it and a bad avocado will make you dump the batch. Know your skill set and shoot for posts you are qualified for. If you want to be a youth development volunteer but haven’t dealt with children since you were one yourself, maybe reconsider.  Read the job description, required AND desired skills of the post(s) you are interested and tailor your resume to highlight the experience you have that would make you a great fit for these jobs. Your Peace Corps resume can and should be up to TWO pages and if you are a recent grad you can reach back to high school experience.
  • Gain RELEVANT EXPERIENCE! From the six sectors Peace Corps serves the qualifications vary greatly from one to the next. I was initially interested in Community Economic Development, but looking at the requirements I realized two years of business management experience wasn’t feasible in the next two semesters. A quick Google search revealed an English teaching opportunity close to campus that worked with my schedule and was exactly what the education sector was looking for.  With that, combined with my study abroad experience and a few other work/volunteer opportunities, I had enough to qualify for the majority of education jobs.  Don’t wait until senior to do that Google search, start as early as possible!
  • Be FLEXIBLE! Fresh from a year studying abroad in Brazil, sand still between my toes, I was dying to get back to a land where the beautiful Portuguese language is spoken. Enter Mozambique – the only Portuguese-speaking country Peace Corps is currently serving. I had to learn the hard way that applying for one country is almost a guaranteed way NOT to get into Peace Corps.  As you can imagine, 12 spots, hundreds of applicants, some of whose full-time teaching and Masters degrees trumped my volunteer undergrad experience. Do not limit yourself to a specific country or region – trust the process and take the leap. But remember: do not put anywhere if you really will not go anywhere.  Be honest with yourself while keeping an open-mind.
  • Apply EARLY! Peace Corps’ new handy-dandy Apply-By Date can give the illusion that you have months, weeks, or days left to apply. This was a mistake I made the first time, applying 3 days before the deadline. The successful time around I was reviewed, interviewed, and invited an entire month before the apply-by date even arrived. Volunteer Openings are released on a quarterly basis.  As soon as the postings come out, put your volunteer application in to give yourself the best chances of being seen.
  • Be RESOURCEFUL! Admittedly, as an intern at the Peace Corps office I had consistent access to Return Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and their advice, but so can you! There are a multitude of outreach events across the country designed to give you a chance to get to know recruiters, and more importantly for them to get to know you. The RPCV community is over 200,000 strong – neighbors, coworkers, professors, etc. Talk to the people who have been in your situation before and the majority will be more than willing to offer support. You are not in this alone.
  • Last, but certainly not least Be PERSISTENT! I expressed my interest to any and everyone I could at the Peace Corps office about how serious I was about my application. But be careful to not go over the edge into annoying and unprofessional – remember this is a job application process and should be treated as such.  Once your application is sorted into a country, email the placement officer listed expressing your gratitude for being considered and reiterating your interest in the position. A direct message can only have a positive impact, distinguishing you in a sea of hundreds of resumes.

So these tips are the recipe for success right?   Not exactly.  An important thing to remember is that thanks to an application process reduced from 8 hours to 1 hour and a generation that values experience over compensation, Peace Corps is experiencing more qualified applicants now than there are positions available.  Know that a rejection is not necessarily an indication that you are not qualified, but instead that the timing wasn’t right/there were too many applicants/your country choice was too narrow – there in fact could be a million different reasons why. And if all else fails – take it from me – try, try again!

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