Recent graduate - should I settle for an Americorps type position?
September 1, 2014 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I recently obtained my Master's degree and have been in the job search for about a month now, mainly applying to NGOs. I've sent in only a total of 11 applications so far - 9 for ads appearing online and 2 unsolicited applications. One of these unsolicited applications has lead to an offer to interview for an Americorps like position (i.e. little pay, promises of training, and some horror stories - none at this particular NGO - to be found online). It would be a 7 month contract. Should I even consider it? More details inside.

First of all, my partner would support me financially if I decide to take on this position, or if I decide to continue on my job search, so fortunately the question of "how will I pay the bills?" is taken care of. Also, I know I need to ratchet up the number of applications I am sending in. I'm working on that!

The mission of the organization interests me and is related to, though not directly involved in, the field that I am hoping to break into. I have one 6 month internship (where I did have real responsibilities) and 2 years of volunteer work under my belt, but not much else experience-wise.

I feel my lack of experience may be holding me back from interviews in real entry-level positions, but at the same time many of the job descriptions I've read are for positions I feel confident I could take on. Also, as these are NGOs, I do feel that my volunteering is taken into consideration. My question is, as I have only sent in 11 applications and have only been seriously looking for jobs during the last 3 weeks, is it too soon to settle for a less than ideal situation? I mean, many of the applications I've sent in could still be under consideration, right?

It is highly unlikely that this "paid volunteering" position would lead to a real contract at the NGO, but it could lead to my profile becoming more attractive, particularly concerning minimum experience and skills requirements. I worry, however, that I may regret pursuing this opportunity as it would take me off the job market for 7 months. I don't want to settle out of fear of long-term unemployment. Part of me is panicking because I see my former classmates settling for internships. I also worry, however, that potential employers may look at the position unfavorably wondering "why did she settle for that type of position when she has a Master's degree?"

I plan on going to the interview so I can get a better feel of the position and the organisation, but would love the hive mind's opinion on this one!
posted by Blissful to Work & Money (9 answers total)
The mission of the organization interests me and is related to, though not directly involved in, the field that I am hoping to break into

I don't know what field you are in, but if I were you I would take it. You have not been job-searching for very long, so you haven't started realizing how much it sucks. You are super lucky to find an offer this soon, and that is related to your field, and you will not have to suffer financially.

Even though you have a Master's degree, you are still an entry-level applicant. Until you get more work experience, that doesn't change (in my experience). So go for it!!
posted by winterportage at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would definitely take it. It is only 7 months so you don't even have to suspend your job search.

If you are mostly applying online to posted jobs, you need a stronger network. Use this position to start building it.
posted by headnsouth at 8:57 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

My agency takes a Americorps person every year.
They tend to do well get experience and go on to do pretty cool things. Occasionally they are hired but it really depends on a variety of factors.
If you want more information you can pm me.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:44 AM on September 1, 2014

You're jumping the gun a little bit here. If the interview goes well and it leads to an offer (which will take a bit, giving your other potential employers time to get back to you), you then have an opportunity to approach the place(s) you really want to work and say, "Hey, I have a pending offer at this Americorps position, but I'm really excited about what I would be working on here. Could you let me know your decision in [expedited timeframe?]"

As someone who has hired a lot of people, that always gets me to sit up and take notice: if another employer thought this candidate was good enough to hire, I better take a second look before the person slips through my fingers. I also agree with everyone else's advice above.
posted by amicus at 11:28 AM on September 1, 2014

Keep looking.

Get serious about finding a job. I submitted 100 applications. I received a LOT of interest and I was employed 3 weeks from my last day on my last job. this was part miracle and part humping it in the application department.

I have to wonder, what's keeping you from really tackling this? If you really want to get work, you should be champing at the bit and jumping all over every advertised job there is!

While you're not going to get job charming right out of the gate, it should at least pay a living wage, and be in an area of interest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:41 AM on September 1, 2014

Interesting to read other responses, my gut reaction was "NO, definitely do not take it" but on second thought it wouldn't hurt to accept the interview and give it a little consideration, while also INCREASING and redesigning your job search efforts.

First: you need to expand your job search beyond ads posted online or cold applications. Connect with people and organizations in your field through networking events, local workshops or talks related to your field (where you can meet people), and contacting people for informational interviews (without asking for a job right off the bat.) Lots of suggestions online about how and what to ask for in terms of informational interviews. Also, if you are applying to ads, I assume you are also doing what you can to get in contact with an actual person at the org. to express your interest in the position. This paid volunteering position COULD be a good opportunity to get to know folks working in your field/area if you make good use of it.

It sounds like you already have a reasonable amount of unpaid experience on your resume, so you need to identify what exactly this position would offer you. If you take the position, it will not necessarily "raise your profile" unless you can articulate exactly what skills and experience you gained (or brought with you and utilized on a deeper level). Will it give you the explicit opportunity to lead a project, manage people, write a grant, use specialized skills, etc.? If it's just a general sort of position, many future employers will view "paid volunteering" as a low responsibility position or just like an internship and you run the risk of looking like you were not qualified enough to get paid for a real job.

I would also consider taking it if it will give you the opportunity to connect or work with people at other orgs/companies/public agencies. Will you be able to go to any sort of meetings or work on projects with partner organizations, attend a board meeting as a learning experience? It's worth asking or expressing interest in this during an interview and gauge reaction.

The biggest downside in my mind is that it is not in the field you wish to work in, so it may not provide contacts or experiences which will be useful for you. If it was low-paid experience doing EXACTLY what you want to do in the future, then I'd definitely say go for it.

In the end, 7 months is not a horribly long time so I would consider taking it but would not stop my job search/research/networking for that 7 months. Later on you may decide not even to include it on your resume. Or, it's not the end of the world if you don't take it. This is definitely not the opportunity of a lifetime.
posted by dahliachewswell at 1:44 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The right AmeriCorps position can build you a fantastic network. I moved to a new state right out of college three years ago for AmeriCorps and it gave me a great base in my field here. I'm job searching now and have gotten callbacks on over half of the resumes I've sent out so far because that position was with a great organization that people know and the program introduced me to tons of other organizations in the area. So, if it's the right program, you stand to gain something there.

I also don't really consider AmeriCorps volunteer or unpaid work, and don't get the feeling that most employers familiar with the program do either. It's kind of partway between an internship and a job.

Anyway, I definitely wouldn't assume you won't get anything out of it. But I would also do as much research as possible into it before I took it. Ask lots of questions, try to talk with some of the people who have done it in the past.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:20 PM on September 1, 2014

I just want to clarify that I live outside of the US and the position is not with Americorps, but with a similar program in the country I'm in (still, I think many of your points about Americorps remain valid for this position as well).

Anyway, thanks for your comments so far.
posted by Blissful at 11:32 PM on September 1, 2014

I would at least continue with the interview. You might get a better picture of what they are looking for. You might meet some great networking contacts. You might spend another month following this lead and get a better offer in the mean time.

If it does turn into an offer, it's likely to be worth taking while not suspending the job search. In my own experience, having a strong local network in non-profits or NGOs is critical to breaking into the field.
posted by advicepig at 8:33 AM on September 2, 2014

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