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.
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).