Asking the Askers
October 3, 2010 1:35 PM   Subscribe

What questions should I ask during my Americorps VISTA interview?

All right everyone! Finally finished graduate school and have decided to take the plunge in applying for Americorps VISTA! For clarifying purposes, Americorps VISTA is a year long service program where the volunteer applies to a job at a non-profit and VISTA funds the position. So there is a lot of variation in what the experience could be like. I have done a good bit of reading, on Metafilter and elsewhere, and the most important tip I have received about VISTA is that you should be interviewing the non profit organization to whom you are applying as much as they are interviewing you. But what kinds of questions should I be asking? One important point seems to be how long the organization has been working with VISTA. What else jumps out?

I have a phone interview on Tuesday with the Montana Legal Services Association, so if anyone has specific advice related to that organization, that would be great.

If it helps, some info about me: Early twenties, woman, recent MA in anthropology with a focus on race and racialization, particularly in Appalachia. Interested long term in advocacy work, with the possibility of attending law school at some later date.
posted by Polyhymnia to Work & Money (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In Montana, your location will make a big difference in what work you'll be doing, Could be Native American rights, could be domestic violence, could be meth.

Are you familiar with the state at all?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:45 PM on October 3, 2010

I've been an Americorps/VISTA person twice. There are a few things that I think are the same across many experiences and a few things that are really different. Here are things I would like to know.

- how is the organization thought of in the larger community [in some places anti-poverty work can be seen as radical and in others it can be normal/essential]
- is this a 9-5 sort of thing or really an all-the-time thing [i.e. how much extracurricular stuff is there? is the job demand-driven or work-hours focussed?]
- If you've had other VISTAs, what have been some of the larger challenges they face?
- How tolerant is the community of diversity/whatever [sometimes being a lefty VISTA person in a right wing community is no problem, other times it's an issue especially if you are gay or disabled or whatever]
- How long have you been working with the community? What other service organizations serve this community? How do people in your organization manage burnout?
- How tech savvy is your organization [one of the things I personally found working with some anti-poverty groups is that they were not very tech savvy and missed some opportunities to do research or network because of this. If you're tech savvy enough to be on MeFi you might want to know what you're getting into there]
- How much will I need to rely on/use my own car?
- How much risk is involved in working with this organization [i.e. if you're doing a lot of family law there may be some really ugly divorce/separation/child abuse things that you may be in the middle of]?
- Tell me something about the background of the other people who work here, what are your favorite and least favorite parts of the work?
- Tell me something you love about Montana.
- How much of my job will be outreach/networking and how much will be direct service? How much management will I need to do?
- How much contact will I have with other Americorps/VISTA members in the area? How about with the parent/funding organization? [at one of my jobs, the organization that placed me was a terrible micromanaging office full of yellers, this was terrible. I'd want to know how the group you'd be directly working for gets along with the larger org that has the larger Americorps/VISTA contract/grant/whatever it is.]

Best of luck. Despite some bumps I found both of my years with VISTA/Americorps to not only be useful and educational but also a way to get real-world experience that really helped me in my chosen profession.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jessamyn, thanks so much! This is exactly the kind of info I'm looking for.

Ideefixe, I am fairly familiar with the Missoula area and have family in the state. One of the reasons I am interested in being in Montana is because of the potential for working with Native American populations. The possibilities with this organization as far as I understand could be in Great Falls, Billings, or Helena. Though I know that meth is an issue in Montana, it's not something I have a great deal of background knowledge on- any resources or info you might be able to point me to would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Polyhymnia at 2:29 PM on October 3, 2010

jessamyn did a great job of listing many of the questions you should ask already. I'll add that you should talk with the organization about whether or not they will help you find housing. I struggled to find affordable housing for the first three months of my AmeriCorps service. You also should ask them if they will assist you in applying for food stamps. I qualified for food stamps as an AmeriCorps member (though I do recall reading somewhere that VISTAS may be considered differently than other kinds of AmeriCorps members. Just look this information up on Good luck with your interview! I learned so much - personally and professionally - from my year of service.
posted by pinetree at 4:39 PM on October 3, 2010

If your heart is set on working in a particular area in your VISTA position, make sure to ask the interviewer how much time they expect you to actually spend in that area. Some VISTA participants are actually building the programs they thought they would be building. Others find out that the non-profit is using them basically as cheap labor for, well, bitch work. It really, really varies depending on the organization and who's overseeing you.
posted by Anonymous at 11:07 PM on October 3, 2010

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