Public Spirit, May 2016

You’re Nearing the Finish Line!

And as you approach the completion of your service year, the InterCorps Council is here to drop some knowledge regarding the exit process, Public Spirit style. This month’s edition had articles covering the job search process laid out in order from beginning your job search to the interview. Near the end you’ll find AmeriCorps resources regarding how to get the most out of your Ed Award and AmeriCorps alumni pages to connect with. If you already have your next step figured out, great! if you have no idea yet, don’t sweat it! We’re here to help you out, no matter what step in the job search process you’re currently on.

 

Step 1: What’s Next After Your Year of Service?

If a job search is on the horizon, this section will give a few of our best practices for starting to look at positions. Throughout this process, we hope that you gain a better understanding of your vocation and how to find something about which you’re truly passionate-which is the ultimate end goal! 

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – Job Board

http://www.minnesotanonprofits.org/jobs

If you would like to stay in the public service sector, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ job board will let you view hundreds of nonprofit jobs that match your qualifications. Employers post their latest nonprofit openings and you can filter by the organization activity (things like Mental Health, Housing Related, etc.) and job category (Fundraising, Human Services, etc.) to help focus on the field most important to you.   

Idealist or Action Without Borders

http://www.idealist.org/

If you’re thinking of expanding your job search nationally (or even internationally!), Idealist can be super helpful! This site helps match users with volunteer opportunities, nonprofit jobs, and internships with organizations around the world. You can search by position type, your interests, and where in the world you’d like to go. 

Networking

Networking is a word often thrown around for how to find your next position, however, how in the world does one go about beginning that process? Here’s a good place to start looking for tips and tricks: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/networking-tips/Thinking through the connections you’ve made during your year of service is a useful exercise. For example if you’re thinking about working in Human Resources, you might try consulting someone in a related position at your organization. Make sure to keep in mind that while you might not have a direct connection to someone in the field you’re interested in, you might know someone who knows someone! Make a list of people you could meet with and ask them if they’d be willing to connect you with two other folks. Meet for coffee or talk on the phone and be sure to send a thank you for their time.  (See the article below for even more tips on Networking!) 

AmeriCorps Alums

http://www.americorpsalums.org/

The AmeriCorps Alum website offers useful tips on how to market your service and professional development experiences in AmeriCorps. It also lists graduate programs and career fairs specifically addressing AmeriCorps members. We recommend perusing the job board and the career newsletter for leads in your search.   

Second Year of Service

If you don’t know exactly what you want to do next year, a second year of service might be helpful in your career exploration process. Whether you return to your organization or apply at another AmeriCorps program, you’ll have a brand new point of view into the world of service.

 

Step 2: Network like a Pro

As the AmeriCorps term of service comes to a close, many will start to ponder, “what happens next?” No one wants to think about future plans that do not exist. Fortunately, there are excellent online resources that can help AmeriCorps find new service opportunities, educational programs, and careers. An approach that is far easier than spending hours searching Google is asking those you know to help out. That includes supervisors and co-workers, but don’t stop with those individuals. They can help introduce you to people in fields you may wish to pursue post AmeriCorps.

Perhaps one of the most useful techniques is the informational interview. This is a conversation with someone you’re interested in learning about, set in a casual environment like a coffee shop. Have your elevator speech prepared before you go to this meeting. The elevator speech is a 30-second speech that details who you are and what you do. This will give the person a better understanding of your background so they can tailor their answers to help you. Once you learn the technique, the informational interview can help you learn about your dream position.

The steps of the informational interview are simple and easy to master.

Step one: Identify candidates to interview. Warm contacts are individuals with which you share a mutual contact. Friends, family, co-workers, professors, and others can help introduce you to contacts that will benefit your future.  

Step two: Research.  It’s important to do your homework before you meet with someone for an informational interview. A quick Google search can teach you about their work and organization, leaving more time during the interview to ask their advice on how to get into that field, what type of education is required, and other answers that cannot be discovered online. You do not want to ask generic questions.

Step three: Contact the candidate. You can either call or email, whatever is most comfortable. Mention how you learned of the person, be it from an organization website or through a mutual contact. Ask for an informal, 20-30 minute meeting. Give your contact 7 to 10 days to respond.

Step four: Prepare. Make sure your resume is up to date and bring extras in case they are willing to pass it on to others. Take business cards if you have them.

Step five: Finally, conduct an awesome interview. Review informational interview questions online, and turn generic questions into personalized versions. Following these steps will ensure your informational interviews yield the desired results.

Step 3: Resumes and Cover Letters – How to Translate Your Service Year to Sentences and Bullet Points

Being able to write about your service experience in a cover letter and resume is a vital and difficult skill. But do not fear, after following these tips, your resume and cover letter will be SURE to shine above all others.   

First: The job description. Read the job description carefully and take note of the language and words used within it. Make a list of each qualification and think of an instance when you have experience with it. Think broadly; many experiences, especially in the service world, are relevant to many qualifications.

Second: Write your story. Once you have your list of relevant experiences, think about them in terms of what was needed, how you delivered it, and the outcome. Did something change or increase because of your service? What was different because you spent time on it? Think of each point you mention as a story that needs an ending and always use active verbs. Reports are often helpful when writing cover letters and resumes because they are focused on data. These can be annual reports, reports submitted to fulfill federal requirements, grant reports, etc. It is also worth sitting down with your supervisor or someone you have worked with closely over the year and talking through what you have accomplished. Someone who knows your service well, and who has experience in articulating outcomes, will help you to formulate your thoughts in a succinct way.

Third: Translating stories to the cover letter and resume. Cover letters are the emotional piece of an application. They explain to employers why you, specifically, think you are the right person for this position. They grab attention through descriptions of what you have done. The resume, on the other hand, is often a list of bullet points that provide largely factual information. They provide more information than a cover letter, but should be treated as an invitation for an employer to find out more about you.  

When writing points for a cover letter and resume, think in concrete terms and outcomes. For example, if you helped your site plan an event to recruit volunteers, go beyond saying that the event was successful. You might include how many people attended or signed up because of the event. Numbers are powerful and will give tangible endings to your stories. For a cover letter, this could be written as:

During my service, I coordinated a volunteer recruitment event that was attended by 50 people in the community. As a result, 45 of these 50 attendees signed up to volunteer with the organization.

In two sentences, you have laid out “successful” in a very clear way. The benefit of your service is obvious and would grab the attention of any employer who wants to know more about what you have accomplished.

For a resume:

  • Coordinated volunteer recruitment event that had 50 attendees and resulted in 45 new volunteers

This short point is much more impactful than having several points to say that you coordinated an event by contacting speakers, ordering food, securing a venue, etc. You can go into those details during the interview.

Most importantly, don’t minimize what you’ve accomplished in your service year.AmeriCorps members do the impossible every day. Good luck!

 

Step 4: Articulating Your Service Year in an Interview

Writing about service in a cover letter and resume is very different from speaking about it in an interview. This article will offer some tips on articulating yourself once you are at the interview stage.

First: Learn about the organization and the interview process. Look on their website, ask questions, and do research before the interview begins. Going in with knowledge of the organization will take you far. Figure out ahead of time how long the interview will be and what the structure will be (e.g.., in-person panel or  phone interview. Organizations want applicants to be curious about them, so don’t be shy about asking questions.

Second: Practice. If possible, get a sense of what sorts of questions they will ask you. Prepare answers for the standard “What is your greatest weakness/strength?”, “How would your past/current supervisors describe you?” questions. Practice speaking about these either with a friend or on your own, however you are most comfortable, until you have answers ready. Practice speaking about your service in the same way. One strategy is to take the bullet points from your resume and write out entire paragraphs about them. Make sure to mention as many details as you can think of.

Third: Talk about yourself!

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Go in assuming that the interview panel has not read your resume. No matter how familiar they are with its contents, they want to hear you talk about yourself, so framing it this way will push you to do that. This can seem uncomfortable for some people, because they don’t want to brag or toot their own horn.  But this might be the only opportunity you will get to share the great things you’ve done. Have a firm handshake, look your interviewers in the eye, and speak up.  

You can also think of creative ways to bring what you have done into the conversation, even if it wasn’t directly asked for. For instance, you can turn the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” question to your benefit by relating it an accomplishment. Say you have decided that your greatest weakness is single-mindedness. It is important to be honest, but you can also turn this into a strength. You might say: “My weakness is my tendency to be single-minded. While this is useful when I have to finish a project by a deadline, it is not always useful when I have to manage many tasks at once. I have found the best way for me to deal with this is to list everything I have to do for the week on my calendar. Doing this allowed me to coordinate a volunteer recruitment event, which meant I was able to secure event space, keep in constant contact with staff, caterers, and guest speakers, who all had different needs, and keep track of varying deadlines to pull off a successful event.”

Throughout the interview process, keep in mind what you want them to know about you before you walk out the door. Think about an interview as a conversation. It is a chance to shine and share examples of  the meaningful work that you have done for your community. Sometimes they will ask if there are any additional things you’d like them to know. Be ready with a statement that summarizes how you are a great fit for the position, and you leave them with a strong last impression. Good luck!

 

AmeriCorps Resources: Ed Award

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The national service finish line is in sight. Whether that invokes feelings of sadness,  joy or excitement for what the future holds, your journey as an AmeriCorps member is coming to a close. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award will soon be available. What exactly is the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, and how should it be utilized? There are many different routes available that fit all interests and incomes.

What is it? The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is a benefit received by participants who complete a term in AmeriCorps VISTA, NCCC, or State and National programs. An AmeriCorps member must complete their term within 12 months. A full-time member will receive $5775 at the end of their term.

The total amount may differ if you served part time, but fortunately the award spends the same. Using the education award is as simple as logging onto the MyAmeriCorps portal (my.americorps.gov/mp/login.do), the same site where the national service journey begins.

How can I use it? When it comes time to use the award, AmeriCorps alumni have several options. The most common way of using the award is to repay existing loans or pay for future educational opportunities. In the MyAmeriCorps portal, there is a link on the left side of the page that is labeled “My Education Award” with a drop down link labeled “create education award payment request.” It’s important to be aware that this award is considered taxable income. For many alums, it can be beneficial to to use the award in smaller yearly chunks as opposed to all at once. Using the total award within a calendar year may shift the member into a higher tax bracket, turning a tax refund into a payment to the IRS.

It is also important note is that the education award expires after seven years, but do not fret. There are numerous ways to use the award well before it disappears. For theadventurous type, Outward Bound accepts education award funds to pay for wilderness expeditions that also teach participants facilitation and leadership skills. The education award covers tuition and equipment at the National Outdoor Leadership School, which uses backpacking trips to teach participants about environmental studies and risk management. Certain AmeriCorps alumni can also transfer the award to eligible family members. If the participant is 55 or older at the start of service, and the award was not earned through NCCC or VISTA, the member can help their children or grandchildren cover the cost of education. These are just a few of the alternative ways the education award can be used.

The benefits of serving as an AmeriCorps members are great. The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award ensures alum have the ability to pay off student loans, attend an educational institution, or discover new skills and talents. All this information and more, can be found at http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/segal-americorps-education-award.  After members have given so much during their year of service, the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is a great benefit that gives back. Thank you for your service!

 

Life After AmeriCorps Resources

Since you know there are resources for existing AmeriCorps members (shameless shoutout to ourselves, the InterCorps Council of Minnesota!  ) you might also assume there’s also resources for AmeriCorps alumni. In this section we will highlight a few-enjoy! 

Matching Institutions

http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/segal-americorps-education-award/matching-institutions

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service website, “Colleges and universities across the country actively recruit talented AmeriCorps alumni for their reputation of perseverance, drive, and proven active citizenship. Many of these institutions offer a variety of incentives such as service scholarships or matching tuition funding to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.” Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in higher education-the author of this section did and had the application fee waived and was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for being AmeriCorps alumni! Even if the school you want to apply for isn’t listed on here, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they would waive the application fee for an AmeriCorps member.

AmeriCorps Alums LinkedIn Page

https://www.linkedin.com/company/americorps-alums

The AmeriCorps Alums LinkendIn group is a great way to get plugged into national alumni network and stay abreast of opportunities and resources for alums.

AmeriCorps Alums Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/foramericorpsalums/?fref=nf

Another good way to keep up with National AmeriCorps Alums chapter is through the Facebook page.  

Twin Cities AmeriCorps Alums Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/groups/tcamericorpsalums

A great way to stay connected to local service community.

Employers of National Service

President Obama announced the Employers of National Service initiative at the White House on September 12, 2014 as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. The Corporation for National and Community Service launched the initiative along with its partners: Peace Corps, AmeriCorps Alums, National Peace Corps Association, and The Franklin Project. 

In recognition of the unique and transferable skills that participants develop during national service, Employers of National Service builds a talent pipeline to connect AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with leading employers from private, public, and nonprofit sectors to create recruitment, hiring, and advancement opportunities. Through this initiative, employers have access to a dedicated, highly qualified, and mission‐oriented pool of potential employees, and national service alumni will have additional opportunities to apply their skills in the workplace.

More than two dozen charter Employers of National Service were announced as part of the launch, including American Red Cross, Comcast and NBC Universal, CSX, Disney, the City of Nashville, Habitat for Humanity International, United Way Worldwide, and numerous federal agencies. The list of participating employers can be viewed atwww.nationalservice.gov/employers/search.

 

Do you have any questions or suggestions for Public Spirit? Do you have an inspiring story of service you’d like to share, or are an AmeriCorps alumni who would like to tell us about your service experience? Please email us atcommunications@iccminnesota.org.

 

That’s all, folks! Keep on rocking and stay tuned for next month’s summer fun edition. Until then, stay classy!