Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer

Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer

peace-corpsTwenty-seven months in the Peace Corps is an experience like no other. It’s very hard work and oftentimes lonely, as volunteers are stationed thousands of miles away from family and friends and are the obvious outsiders in their adopted communities. But it is also a transformative experience, one that introduces participants to a larger global narrative in which they can impact individual lives in an unfamiliar corner of the world. University of Dallas graduate Kaylee Gund and Peace Corps area director Mike Madej, Regional Recruiter for the Peace Corps, spoke recently to a group of University of Dallas students about life as Peace Corps volunteers, as well as how to navigate the Peace Corps application process.

“The Peace Corps is looking for flexible people who can work with little or no supervision,” said Madej. “Whether it’s working with farmers to understand loan applications or to teach science, we need people who do their jobs.”

The Peace Corps hires volunteers through a competitive application process. According to Madej, there were about 21,000 applicants last year for 4,000 placements. Because Peace Corps divides its job openings into sectors, the first step in the application process is to consider which of these sectors–agriculture, education, health, community economic development, environment, and youth in development–interest you. Although the Peace Corps website lists “Apply Now” as the first step in the process, searching openings before applying will help you tailor your resume to specific positions.

After researching positions, you should prepare a resume that focuses on the skills required by the positions you’ve researched. Madej said that your Peace Corps resume should not be in the traditional chronological format: “List your most relevant experience first and include concrete facts like the cumulative number of hours you worked in a position and the number of people you served.” He added that the project description for each opening will contain key phrases and transferable skills required by the job, so you should highlight your experiences that reflect those skills. “Spell out what you did in your experience so we can understand what qualifications you possess,” Madej said. He added that it’s fine for your resume to be 3+ pages.

When you have completed your resume, the next step is completing the online application, part of which will require a personal statement from you about why you want to join the Peace Corps. “This is not an essay about how you want to save the world,” Madej said. “Your personal statement should include a personal story about what motivates you to join.” You will also fill out a confidential health care questionnaire and then move on the listing your country and sector preferences.

Although you can’t choose where the Peace Corps places you, you many prioritize up to three countries and up to three sectors. After the Peace Corps recruiters review your submission, you will be notified if you’ve be chosen for an online interview. “We’ll ask you questions about how you’ve worked with people from other cultures and how well you work independently,” Madej said. Your answers to the questions will be scored against other applicants, and the top scores will move to the next step in the process, which are background and medical checks.

If you pass both of these checks, you will receive an invitation and will be notified of your departure date. You will spend time in the U.S. training and then head to your assignment country.

Madej encourages anyone interested in applying to the Peace Corps to work with a local recruiter: “Working with a recruiter is highly encouraged to enhance the competitiveness of your application.” Quinn Walker, the DFW recruiter, can be reached by clicking here.

Although Gund and Madej both pointed out the difficulties they faced as Peace Corps volunteers, neither would trade the experience. “I was the only female teacher at the school where I taught,” Gund said. “And it gave me a chance to be a blessing and a focal point for the issues around women’s empowerment in the village. I was able to reach the girls in my class and encourage them.”

For more information about applying for the Peace Corps, visit their website. To make an appointment to speak to an OPCD career counselor, click here.

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