Tips for Corps Staff: Beef up Your Own Network

During their term, corps members will look to staff of their service corps for training, coaching and guidance. They may also want to rely on their networks.

This post is for program staff of service corps. (Please send a link to staff in your network if they don’t already read the blog — thanks!)

Your own networks of colleagues, host agency contacts, board of directors, volunteers, funders, and others can play a picture-18valuable role in the lives of your corps members. Your own relationships can be helpful in meeting your program’s objectives, as well as expanding your corps members’s professional networks.

While meeting new professionals will give your corps members a leg up in their career transition post-term, recognize that relationship-building happens all year long. Your active support is necessary throughout the term—not just at the end, when career transition training is inevitable.

When possible, bring in alumni and community leaders to meet your corps members and see them at work. Consider the variety of ways you can connect your corps members with alumni and other community leaders:

  • Early-term gathering introducing current corps members with alumni still in the area
  • Panel discussions on grad school or professional paths featuring your colleagues with relevant experience
  • Informal reception bringing your board together with current and former corps members
  • Skill-building workshops facilitated by the experts in your network
  • Community service projects, led by corps members, bringing together community leaders, alumni, and others
  • Graduation event that allows corps members to mingle with the parents of other corps members and host agency staff
  • Opportunities throughout the term for your corps members to connect with each other, and participants in other corps throughout the region

If your corps does not yet have an organized alumni group, consider establishing one (it can pay off financially, as you probably already know). If you do have a formal or informal alumni network, make sure your corps members know about it throughout the term of service. Some alumni programs have a structured mentoring program that match alums with current members—that is more challenging for smaller programs, but it is something to think about.

Share your knowledge of professional associations that corps members can connect with for the health of their projects and their own professional development, as well as for their career transition. If you have the time to make inroads to any of these groups yourself (i.e. setting up a discounted membership for national service participants), your corps members will thank you.

Continually seek new contacts for yourself, keeping in mind the breadth of needs of your own professional growth, your program, and your current and future corps members.

Develop ties to your local college career centers and look to career staff for support for your corps members seeking specific job search skills.

add to del.icio.us :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: add to ma.gnolia :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: :: post to facebook

Building strong ties to local college career centers

Your service corps program and your Corps members can benefit from a good relationship with local college and university career services offices.

This afternoon I have the honor of working with directors of Oregon’s AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA programs around the topic of career transitions for Corps members. One message I want to drive home is that developing ties to local career centers can help both with recruitment of new Corps members, and also helping current members with their next steps. Here are some ideas:

Getting Started: Invite career center staff from local colleges and universities for a brown bag lunch in your office to share resources and compare complementary needs. Some schools are part of a consortium that hold regular meetings; you could ask about presenting at one of these meetings. Some career centers have a counselor who focuses on public service; when you make your first call, you might ask for that person.

Be a presence (not just a flyer) on campus when it’s time to recruit: Staff tables at the school’s career fair, and let the career counselors know that you are available to speak at panel and round table discussions. Ask if there is a way to post your general and recruitment information on the career center’s website or resource library, or to staff a general information table on campus. (Idealist.org also organizes nonprofit career fairs hosted by career centers on college campuses throughout the United States.)

Be a resource on national service: Work with the career counselors to put together a panel on national service opportunities for college students. Help find current or former AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, and NCCC members, Jesuit Volunteers, Jewish Coalition for Service program participants, Peace Corps Volunteers, Teach For America, Public Allies, or City Year Corps members (seek people from a variety of service programs) to speak on a panel discussion, to help clarify college students’ options and understanding of the differences among the programs. Students may not understand how to apply to a program, or may be confused about the de-centralized application process for some programs. Be ready to offer guidance at least for your program!

Educate counselors about the benefits of national service: Let career counselors know that for some graduating or even gap-year students, doing a year of national service is a really good way to serve your community in a more concentrated, intense way than you may be able to through traditional, episodic volunteering. It’s also proven to be a  launching point for a public service career. Students looking for a year of work experience before going to graduate school will benefit from serving – often with a high level of autonomy, challenge, and responsibility – for an organization that doesn’t expect a long-term commitment. If they can think of the term-of-service as a fifth and/or sixth college year – during which the students serve the community, learn tuition-free, and may not have to pay student loans – the investment makes more sense. Not to mention the networking and the educational benefits!

Exchange career transitions support: As you develop relationships with career centers in your area, you might:
•    Ask if Corps members can attend resume and other workshops at the career center.
•    Arrange for college students to shadow Corps members for a day; establish a list of members who would be open to informational interviews and share it with career office contacts; invite college students on community service projects.
•    Offer for you and your Corps members to play the “employers” for mock interviews with college students – it is a great exercise for your members to be on the hiring side of an interview process.

Find more career resources for national service members on Encorps‘s Beyond the Service Year and What’s Next, and on Idealist.org through the career center, career guides, and Term-of-Service page.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from Idealist.org.