Graduating AmeriCorps Members and Career Transition Needs

For a course in training needs assessment, I have been researching the career transitions needs of AmeriCorps members in Oregon the past couple of months.

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Drawing by Matt Honore - Oregon State Service Corps staffer + AmeriCorps alum

So far I’ve:

  • looked at extant data, including past pre-workshop surveys, interview transcripts, and studies like Diana Epstein’s The Long-Term Impacts of AmeriCorps on Participants and
  • conducted a pilot study, specifically a survey of 41 Oregon AmeriCorps and VISTA members who are within four months of ending their terms of service.
The pilot study focused primarily on career pathing and networking — skills, attitudes, and performance needs. It’s interesting what is rising to the surface.
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The first thing that jumped out at me in general was that members are thinking about their post-AmeriCorps plan far earlier than I had anticipated. 81 percent were thinking about next steps by Day One of their term. I was thinking the majority would hover around the 6-month mark, once they got a handle on their service project.
Networking
A paradox emerged from the data on networking. The majority of members who responded to the survey rely on networking (with people more established in their careers, as well as with friends and family members) as their top strategies for investigating next steps.
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However, the vast majority of members also find networking problematic in a range of ways — from not knowing whom to network with, to feeling like they are bothering the people they want to network with. In fact, only 24 percent of members said networking was unproblematic for them.
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Strikingly, networking skills correlate with a more positive attitude toward the transition. For the 24 percent of corps members who find networking unproblematic:
  • 88 percent are optimistic/hopeful about the end of their term and their transition to next steps (compared with 65 percent who find networking problematic, and 70 percent overall).
  • 50 percent are “anxious/worried” (compared with 59 percent who find networking problematic, and 56 percent overall).
I’d love to know whether people with a good attitude towards their next steps also happen to have a good attitude towards networking — or if there’s a causal relationship (in either direction) among the two.
Career pathing
The other skill area I looked at included career pathing. I started by looking at survey results for people who report having their plans “firmly in place” — but the arc of their responses for all other questions looked really similar to overall responses.
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For people who are thinking primarily in terms of the role or job function they’ll play:
  • More are optimistic about the impending transition — 91 percent vs. 45 percent who aren’t thinking in terms of role (and 70 percent overall)
  • Most plan to search for jobs after AmeriCorps (versus planning to go to grad school, travel, or do another term of service)
  • The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — plan to find a job when the term ends (versus 36 percent of others)
  • 58 percent started thinking about their post-AmeriCorps career move before they started their term (versus 39 percent of others)
  • More than any other strategy to prepare for next steps, this group relied on reflection (92 percent — most other groups relied most on networking)
  • This group also relied on the widest variety of resources — 8 of those I listed as options in the survey
What’s fascinating to me about this set of numbers is that if I just look at people who are planning to get a job after the corps, a huge number are anxious (72 percent for job seekers overall; 54 percent for those focusing on their professional role) or at least uncertain (64 percent for job seekers overall; only 45 percent for those focusing on their role).
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On the other hand, among members who are focusing more on the issue they care about in their career:
  • 69 percent are excited about the transition! No one else is excited about it. Well, only 26 percent of others are excited about it.
  • 69 percent are heading to grad school (might explain the excitement) — whereas only 19 percent of others are going to grad school
  • 100 percent started thinking about next steps by Day One in the corps
Hmmm…
It appears that focusing on the role you’ll play in the workforce ain’t a bad strategy — at least if attitude is a good indicator. It may be that when you focus on role, you’re relying more on yourself and leaving less to chance or others.
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Literally, this group relied relatively less on networking (though they did network!), more on reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses, and took advantage of a wider variety of career resources available.
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An area for further investigation is, do the frequent opportunities for in-service training offer additional benefits to people entering their career through the lens of role? — because training is often more tied to specific job skills (like grant writing, for VISTAs) than issue.
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These initial findings are really tempting me to keep researching (beyond the scope of my class).
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Happy AmeriCorps Week, by the way!

Podcast: Lara Galinsky of Echoing Green, “Heart + head = hustle”

featuredThis week, Lara Galinsky, Senior Vice President of Echoing Green, is launching an inspiring career guide for social impact work called Work on Purpose.

We interviewed Lara about her new book. Click here to listen now!

Each chapter of Work on Purpose asks key questions for career seekers; illustrates the impact of these questions in the lives of Echoing Green community members; and offers a place for notes at the end for you to jot reflections from your own life.

In this episode of the Idealist Careers Podcast, Idealist’s Amy Potthast chats with Lara Galinsky about the central message of Work on Purpose: finding work that uses your “Heart + Head = Hustle.”

Click here to listen:
http://player.wizzard.tv/player/o/i/x/130357654730/config/k-e70ce4f1f0cc058e/uuid/root/episode/k-4d9e55e43cfbe69a.m4v

p.s. In the podcast, Lara shares the stories of the five people who illustrate this message:

  • Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, who graduated from medical school and Kennedy School of Government, and chose social-justice over medicine.
  • Mark Hannis, founder of the Genocide Intervention Network and the child of Holocaust survivors, who discovered as a college student that genocide still occurs, and that he could mobilize action to end it.
  • Mardie Oakes, founder of Hallmark Community Solutions, combined her background in architecture, community housing, and finance to develop housing for people with special needs.
  • Socheata Poeuv, creator of the film project Khmer Legacies, which documents interviews between Khmer Rouge survivors and their adult children.
  • Andrew Youn, Founder of the One Acre Fund, who started out in a corporate consulting job but later used his business skills to develop a market system for farmers in a region of Kenya to prevent annual famines.

Click here to learn more about Work on Purpose.

Cross posted from Idealist.org.

Go-to Resources for Meaningful Careers in Each Sector

Plotting your next career move? Here’s a sampling of comprehensive go-to resources from the career experts in each sector: corporate citizenship, government, or nonprofit.

Corporate citizenship careers

Net Impact’s Corporate Careers that Make a Difference is a guide to pursuing a career in corporate citizenship either by pushing the boundaries in a more traditional corporate role or by taking on a role specifically dedicated to social or environmental impact. The book shares the stories of dozens of professionals who have blazed trails in this work; it also describes key corporate citizenship career competencies (useful both to help you develop your skills as well as to talk about them during a job search).

Net Impact is a membership organization that is inspiring new generations of professionals who put their business skills to work for social and environmental change across sectors through chapter networks, resources, and outreach to MBA students and schools.

You can download the sneak peek here.

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Federal jobs by region: image from MakingtheDifference.org

Federal careers

MakingtheDifference.org is a website from Partnership for Public Service that introduces pathways to federal government careers. The site explains what the cabinet departments are, what the federal agencies are; describes the diverse roles federal workers play in their careers; offers informational interviews with federal workers; clarifies what and where federal jobs are (did you know that most are not in Washington, D.C.?) as well as internships.

Partnership for Public Service is a nonpartisan organization that attracts young leaders to federal government service through education, advocacy, and resources that demystify the federal job search and clarify pathways to public-sector service.

Nonprofit Careers

Available both in print and online, the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers is an A to Z look at landing a job in the nonprofit sector for professionals who started their careers in other sectors. From helping job seekers understand what the sector is (and isn’t) all the way to closing the deal — or starting a new nonprofit instead.

The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers (also available in print and online) features similar content by introducing new professionals to career concepts and skills they may be less familiar with.

A companion to both of these guides is Service Corps to Social Impact Career — a guide I wrote for national and international service participants and recent alumni of all ages. Only available online (and free), the book helps corps members prepare for their post-service career transition, explore career options, and translate their service experience during the job search, and settle into a new professional role.

Finally, Making a Difference: A Guide to Personal Profit in a Nonprofit World (also online, also free) from Idealist and the National Endowment for Financial Education offers financial guidance for recent college graduates who are contemplating a nonprofit career and concerned about making ends meet. The book discusses topics like student loans, budgeting, salary search, cost of living, credit and retirement plans.

Of course, there are other sector-specific career guides. What are your favorites? How have they helped you succeed?

Cross posted from Idealist.org.

Inspire Fellow Finds Support + Guidance to Jump Sectors (and You Can Too)

Maurice Matthews, Inspire Fellow

Guest post contributed by Maurice Matthews, Inspire Fellow.

Do you want to know how to make the jump from the corporate sector into the non-profit space?

The short answer is: there is no one way to make the jump, but it can be a great experience if you take time to understand yourself and find the right opportunity.

I am currently working at Year Up through the Inspire Fellowship.

Career beginnings

Before this, I served in the Army and worked as an analyst servicing ultra-high-net-worth individuals at JPMorgan. I know there are many others like me, with hopes of enacting social change but who are either unsure how to make the switch or nervous to leave a healthy paycheck.

After wrapping up my career with JPMorgan and spending time with Harlem Children’s Zone, I pondered what my next step would be. I learned about the Inspire Fellowship, a program geared to take the best and brightest young minds from the corporate sector and bring them into leading non-profits.  I applied last year and was ecstatic to be accepted into the 2010 class.

Year Up

I am working as a Fellow at Year Up National Capital Region. Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults 18-24 with a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend, and a corporate internship.

At Year Up I wear several hats. My official title is Special Projects Manager, but I do a mix of finance, operations, special projects, and serve as an advisor for 3 students in the program.

Typical day

I really don’t have a typical day. Usually I’ll sit with my advisees for about 30-45 minutes to discuss their week and any issues that may have arisen. I spend the rest of my day doing work associated with my functional responsibilities.

That may include working on our site’s budget, meeting with an architect about expanding our current office, or hosting a conference call with senior leadership to discuss programs that are funded by social investment organizations.

Advice to Sector Switchers

My advice to future sector switchers is to do your research. There are so many opportunities in the non-profit sector, each with different missions and visions.

  • You have to be honest with yourself in order to find the right fit.
  • Find your passion and connect with it.
  • Look for roles where you can leverage your skills and learn new things.
  • Be genuine with your motives.
  • Be prepared to listen deeply and understand that you will not go into a non-profit and become their savior.

To be successful, you should be adaptable, feel comfortable with ambiguity, bring your ideas to the table, and take initiative to make things happen. If you are wondering whether you could make the jump, the answer is yes.

ProInspire & the Inspire Fellowship

In addition to everything I am learning at Year Up, I meet with my Inspire Fellows class once a month for an all day training that prepares us for future leadership roles in the social sector.

Our seminars have covered topics like situational leadership, project management, becoming powerful communicators, and having great presence. Our workshops are so insightful that they should be mandatory training for leaders in any sector.

Ready to switch? Apply for an Inspire Fellowship

ProInspire is currently recruiting for the 2011 Inspire Fellowship.  If you are interested in making a switch into the nonprofit sector, you should consider applying. The first round deadline is February 25th. Learn more at our website.

Maurice Matthews is an Inspire Fellow at Year Up, a nonprofit that is closing the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. He previously worked as a Private Banking Analyst at JPMorgan and served 2 years as an infantryman within the US Army. Maurice has worked with a number of non-profit organizations throughout his career, including Harlem Children’s Zone, Harlem Charter School and Columbia University’s Community Impact. Maurice graduated magna cum laude from Florida A&M University with a B.S. in Political Science and Economics.

VISTA Career Transitions Featured on Social Media Monday

The upcoming Social Media Monday webshop focuses on the career transition, especially for AmeriCorps VISTAs.

Monday May 24th at noon Pacific, 3 pm Eastern, you can hop online and on the phone for a free web presentation featuring tools for your transition from VISTA.

Social Media Monday webshops (web-based workshops) are “virtual workshops for social change.” Monday’s webshop will focus on:

  • Plaxo, an online contact management and social networking tool that can help you stay in touch with the folks you work with currently as a VISTA, as you move onto your next steps — one of the most valuable, long-term effects of VISTA in your career and life will be the friendships and professional connections you’ve made this year. Plaxo isn’t just another e-rolodex, however. The contacts in your Plaxo network update their own information as they move along in their lives and careers — so you don’t have to. Plaxo also allows you to get all your social network updates in one place.

Learn more and register for Monday’s webshop: (free) Tools for Transitioning: Plaxo, Idealist & More.

Check out past Social Media Monday webshops — archived online — on the VISTA Campus (free login required).

Quitting Early? Some Dos, Don’ts, and To-Dos

You haven’t really participated in a term of service until you one day think to yourself, “You know, I could just quit. I could make more money at Subway, plus get free sandwiches and “burnt” cookies. What am I doing with my life?!”

I can think back to conversations with my dad when I first started. He told me that it’d be smart to keep looking for “real” jobs while in AmeriCorps VISTA and not to worry about ending my term early. He said it’d make sense to take another offer, economically, since anything else would likely pay more than $210/week.

I reminded him that I’d be forfeiting the $4725 education stipend and the forbearance benefit, and that my healthcare at a new place might not be as good as the VISTA benefits. I also reminded him that it doesn’t look good to only have worked at an organization for a few months, not to mention those few months were my only post-degree experience.

So I never applied for jobs while a VISTA with the intention to end my term early.  I’ve certainly been tempted and browsed open positions.  But I know others who have applied for jobs, and still others who have left their term of service early for another situation.

I don’t know how many service corps participants leave early or try to leave early, but I do know there are many reasons given for doing it or trying to end early:

  • The stipend is too little for me and my family.
  • I don’t have enough to do/I don’t feel like I’m making a difference/I don’t agree with my program/I don’t get along with my supervisor.
  • A family member (or self) has a medical emergency/condition that prevents me from working.
  • I was on an acceptance waitlist and just got accepted to grad school.
  • I have no real interest in doing anything related to this in the future, I took the job as a stepping-stone because the market was awful.
  • The way the site the position was presented, there was lots of work to do, but I completed everything within the first (insert period of time).
  • I thought I could have a part-time job or go to school while doing the term of service, but that’s not true according to my program’s guidelines (like AmeriCorps VISTA, or NCCC).

Some can be solved, others are not as flexible; some could’ve been forseen, and others emerge after time.

If you do choose to look for other jobs, please please please be professional (yes, I have seen most of these happen):

  • Don’t apply for open positions at your site or host organization.
  • Don’t use your site’s/organization’s fax/email/phones to communicate with potential future employers, send out resumes, and complete applications.
  • Don’t apply for other jobs while at your site, using your site’s computer, on your site’s time.
  • Don’t talk to other corps members or staff about applying for other jobs.
  • You get 10 sick/10 vacation days if you’re a VISTA (you get them in other programs too). Use these for interviews instead of coming in dressed differently than normal.

 

Thinking of leaving? Applying for other jobs?

See if there are things you can be doing differently to make the current service experience a better one. Meet with your project supervisor or manager. If that doesn’t leave you happy, meet with your site supervisor. Still not happy? Meet with your service corps team leader or a staff member at the organization that placed you (the Corporation for National and Community Service state office, for example, or your specific service corps). Be open to hearing others’ observations about yourself. You may have to face some hard truths about your own work style and readiness for the workplace.

Re-evaluate your plan for what you want out of your term of service. Re-evaluate whether you are taking care of yourself or burning yourself out. Take time off to have a life, re-connect with hobbies, friends, and family. You may just be stressed out.

Most importantly, if you choose to leave don’t do it in a bad way. Don’t burn your bridges. If you choose not to leave, don’t think you’ll stick it out but make everyone else around you as miserable as you are. You may not consciously think to make everyone around you painfully aware of your unhappiness, but that’s how it comes off.   It’s hard to pretend you’re happy. But it’s also hard to make these decisions on your own and without first talking to a trusted non-work friend or adviser, and then your supervisor.

I also found this post from March on the Change.org site, which tries to filter people out to begin with.

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Service Corps to Social Impact Career — a free career transitions guide from Idealist for service corps participants — offers specific career-related advice for people who who have terminated their term of service early, or who are considering it, including how to talk about early termination in a future job application (see Part Two).

The same book also offers basic work-related skills to build during your term, that might save you from needing to terminate early (see Part One).

New Jersey Nonprofit Leader: Heather Calverase, Teach For America

Posted as part of Nonprofit Career Month, featuring the diversity of career opportunities in the nonprofit sector. Listen to more shows in this series.

Today’s guest is Heather Calverase, Executive Director of Teach For America’s Newark, New Jersey region where she is responsible for growing sustainable base of financial, community, and district awareness and support including cultivating and stewarding donations, building strong ties with local school districts, and recruiting corps members.

Prior to her position with Teach For America, Heather worked in the business sector, including nearly a decade with Kaplan, best known for its test preparation books and classes.

Amy Potthast chats with Heather about what is appealing about what Heather brings to the nonprofit sector from her business sector experience, as well as her background on educational issues.

Podcast transcript coming soon.