How to Get Into the Peace Corps

All right, this post has an admittedly provocative blog title. Of course I can’t guarantee that if you follow my advice, you’ll be accepted into the Peace Corps. But if serving in the Peace Corps is something you are considering, please read on to learn how I bettered my own chances of getting in.

Decide what you want.
When I applied to the Peace Corps, I had the option of choosing both the country and the job I was interested in. (You will, too.) Since I loathe hot weather, my only real “must have” was a country that has a winter. Looking at the world map of where Peace Corps places volunteers, I saw that if I wanted a non-hot climate, I was going to end up in Eastern Europe.

I read the descriptions of the countries Peace Corps serves in Eastern Europe to learn a bit more about each one. Each country also has a list of service areas (such as education, health, agriculture, etc.). Not all countries offer volunteer opportunities in all service areas. So when you are applying, be sure to consider both the country in which you would like to be placed, and the area of service that most interests you. You’ll get to rank your top three preferences for countries/areas of service. If want to work in education, say, and you list it for Country X, but Country X doesn’t offer education as a service area, you have just wasted one of your choices.

There is an option to choose “send me anywhere,” but don’t list it as one of your three preferences unless you truly mean you are willing to serve anywhere in the world.

Understand the requirements of the post.
Some posts (meaning, “countries where the Peace Corps places volunteers”) have specific requirements for applicants. For example, a lot of countries in Central and South America have a Spanish language requirement. This probably goes without saying, but make sure you meet all of the requirements for the post before you apply. Otherwise, again, you’ll be wasting one of your three choices.

Talk to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).
Peace Corps has a program where a RPCV will look at your resume and talk with you about your best options. I emailed my resume to a RPCV and she promptly called me. Because I have an undergraduate degree in English Literature, the RPCV I spoke to seemed pretty confident that Peace Corps would place me in a teaching position. I was surprised, since I also have a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Talking with the RPCV gave me a better sense of how to present myself to Peace Corps, and how to highlight skills that would make me stand out from other applicants. Which leads me to this next tip …

Think of ways to make yourself stand out from other applicants.
Since the RPCV I spoke to thought it was likely I would be placed in an education role, I tried to think of a way to make myself stand out in that area. I had previous volunteer experience as an ESL tutor, but I felt like I needed something more. I bought a Groupon for an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course. The course took me about 40 hours to complete. While this was probably an extreme action to take, I wanted to be sure I was a viable applicant. Completing the TEFL course and earning a certificate gave me more relevant experience I could include on my resume.

Participate in an online information session.
I participated in an online information session hosted by the Peace Corps. The moderator walked through the application process and best practices. Through this session, I learned something interesting: resumes are the single most important piece of the Peace Corps application. Yes, there are essays to write and personality tests to take, but the resume is still the weightiest factor in an application.

Tailor your resume.
This should go without saying, but tailor your resume to best highlight your ability to perform the jobs for which you applied. For example, I don’t always include my ESL tutoring experience on my resume when I apply for jobs, since I only did it for one semester in college. But my experience was relevant to the Peace Corps. And while I haven’t spoken French since high school, I included that I studied French for four years, because it shows I at least have some experience learning a foreign language. And last, I mentioned I had studied abroad in Beijing during graduate school.

While tailoring your Peace Corps application, I would strongly suggest highlighting any volunteer experience you have, any experience you have learning foreign languages, and any time you spent traveling/living/studying abroad.

Thank your recruiter.
You can see my Peace Corps timeline here. Once I applied, I made it to the next step in the application process — a phone interview with a recruiter from Washington, D.C. I treated it the way I would treat any other job interview, including mailing a note of thanks afterward. (And once I was accepted to the Peace Corps, I sent another thank you card to my recruiter. Hey, it never hurts to be polite.)

Pay attention to deadlines.
Once you are conditionally accepted to the Peace Corps, there is still a lot more to do. This includes completing legal clearance, medical clearance (which is a huge pain), and a load of paperwork. Missing any deadlines could cause Peace Corps to rescind their offer. So, make sure you get everything done on time!

If you are thinking of joining the Peace Corps, good luck!

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