Career Tip: Timing Your Job Search and Supporting Yourself During the Transition

April To-DoIf you aim to move onto a salaried job after your service term ends, you may be facing some big logistical challenges — when do you start actively looking for your next job? If you don’t have something lined up when your term ends, how do you support yourself till you land that job?

When to Start Your Active Job Search

Regardless of your service corps, your term probably has a definite end date.  If that is the case, lining up a job can pose tricky questions, such as when do you start applying for jobs? And when, during the application process, do you let the hiring team know your availability limitations?

When to start your active job search—sending in applications—is a little fuzzy. The typical job search takes about six months, according to my colleague Steve Pascal-Joiner, author of the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

But if you were to start applying for jobs too soon, and you got a job offer months before the end of your term, you may put yourself and the hiring organization in a pickle. Do they wait for you? Do you sever ties with your service corps, host organization, and constituents by ending your term early? (I vote no on the latter question, read more…)

That said, if you wait too long to apply for jobs, you may still be looking for a job months after your term ends, raising logistical problems like how you can support yourself.

As for when to start applying, a safe bet seems to be within four to eight weeks of your final day with your service corps. That way if you are offered a position, the hiring organization won’t have to wait too long for you to start—and you won’t have to wait too long post-term to collect a new paycheck.

When do you tell the hiring team when you are available to start? You could mention it in your cover letter or during the (first) interview. Mentioning it too early in the process may come off as presumptuous; but mentioning it later isn’t leveling with the hiring team.

How to Support Yourself When Your Term Ends

Normally, you could save money to finance an impending career transition. (If you are in Peace Corps, you will be fortunate to receive a readjustment allowance to smooth your transition.) However, if you’re in a program like AmeriCorps or AmeriCorps VISTA, building up a cash reserve is unlikely.

And because most service corps experiences aren’t considered “employment,” you shouldn’t plan on collecting unemployment benefits when your term is through.

To make ends meet during your transition, then, you must be proactive. Find a way to earn some money in the short-term— and that’s flexible enough to give you time to go to job interviews as you’re invited.

  • If you are in a corps that allows you to work part-time (on the weekends, for example), you might try to take on a part-time job now (a paid internship or a retail position with flexible hours) that you can keep during your transition.
  • If you happen to be exiting your corps during a time of year when there’s a demand for seasonal employees, you can try to take advantage of those short-term seasonal jobs to see you through the next few months.
  • You can also search Idealist for “temporary” employmentit’s a check box on the main search page for jobs.
  • If you’ve gotten some teaching experience during your service term, you may be able to work as a substitute teacher. Some school districts don’t require a teaching license for subs, so if you don’t have a license, ask what the policies are.
  • Consider other skills you’ve built that may allow you to freelance or seek contracts, such as event planning, technical writing, grant writing, photography, or even volunteer management for special events. Find out where these jobs are posted in your community, and also check local listings on Idealist and Craigslist. The down economy might encourage organizations to hire freelancers instead of taking on new full-time staff.
  • Sign up with a temp agency as soon as your service term ends. Temporary employment agencies help connect you to short-term jobs in offices or factories. Richard Melo, who also blogs at The New Service, recommends finding out which temp agency your favorite local nonprofit uses, and sign up to work through them. (Larger nonprofits use temp agencies to fill staffing gaps — call the main number of the nonprofit to confirm, and to find out details.)

Finally, if you choose to stay temporarily with friends or relatives while you are transitioning to a job, please communicate with them clearly about their expectations — do they want you to pay rent? How much? Do they want you to contribute to utilities? How much? Do they want you to move on by a certain date? What date?

If your service doesn’t end for several months yet, check out other things you can do right now to set yourself up for success. You can also consider committing to a second term of service.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the free, online career transitions book  Service Corps to Social Impact Career — A Companion to the Idealist.org Guides to Nonprofit Careers.

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4 thoughts on “Career Tip: Timing Your Job Search and Supporting Yourself During the Transition

  1. Can’t wait for the “Life After: Service Corps Companion!”

    BUT if someone is doing AmeriCorps*VISTA full-time, they’re not supposed to have any other employment, so the advice to get a part time job in the last couple months of one’s term does go against this requirement. I realize there are many other programs that do not have this requirement, but since AmeriCorps programs will be growing so much, it may be wise to mention it.

  2. Thanks, Marissa! Right, that’s why I made sure to specify “if you are in a corps that allows” it. Besides AmeriCorps VISTA which forbids taking on outside employment, Peace Corps also prohibits accepting income from outside work. Also for many residential-based conservation corps, part-time work outside of the service experience is impossible. That said, many AmeriCorps State and National programs don’t prohibit part-time employment outside of AmeriCorps hours.

  3. Very true, Amy. This question came up a few times at the AmeriCorps*VISTA table I staffed at the Idealist Fair in Minneapolis. One woman told me her friend added that even if you are in a program where you *can* do it (AmeriCorps*State/National), you may not *want* to because of the number of hours you spend at your service site. I don’t think there is much that the CNCS (or another org. that coordinates terms of service) can do about work for cash on the weekends or in the evenings (babysitting, etc).

    I got some other very interesting questions today about VISTA –
    “Why is the americorps.gov site and the application so hard to navigate and use?”
    “Do I have to use the online application on the AmeriCorps website? I don’t want to do the references yet, because I don’t want my supervisor to know that I’m seeking other positions.”
    “What’s the best way to apply?”
    “What have you done as a VISTA?”
    “Are you assigned to a site, like in the Peace Corps?”
    “Can I be a VISTA if I’m going to grad school in the evenings?” “Why not?”
    “Can I live at home while I’m in VISTA?”
    “Can I really live on the living allowance/stipend?”
    “Do you have a car?”
    “Do you regret doing it?”
    “What’s the difference between a deference and a forbearance?”
    “How competitive is the hiring process?”

    I also referred a few people to “Switching Sectors” and the “Guide to Nonprofit Careers” today. A couple people said they were leaving the for-profit sector (after having graduated just a couple years ago) and considering a year of service as a transition, and one will have a newly-minted degree in marketing. Way to go, Idealist team, for creating such important resources!

  4. This is a very nice article for people who are in between job transitions.

    Thanks for the post!

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