Though it’s a volunteer organization, the Peace Corps application and interview process is the same as any job. But succeeding at each stage can be pretty straightforward if you prepare. Here is what you can expect when you apply for the Peace Corps.
Choosing the right position
If you browse volunteer openings, you’ll see hundreds of listings for positions all over the world. You can’t just “apply” to the Peace Corps and let them place you anywhere. You have to look, like you’re on Indeed for openings they have available and their requirements. The volunteer positions are separated into several broad categories:
- Community Economic Development
- Youth in Development
This will help you narrow down your choices with regard to interest and skill. But this part is important. Even though many positions don’t require any kind of specific degree or experience, it will be harder to succeed if you have a degree in fine arts and you’re applying to an agricultural job in Mongolia. You want to assume that the people you’re up against do have a background in the position they’re applying for and give yourself a fighting chance somewhere you’ll fit in. You want to have as many of the desired skills as possible.
I chose education, since that’s what I do with my life when I’m not blogging about how much I hate San Francisco. Many positions, including the one to which I applied to also have a language requirement, which means you already have to speak Spanish, Chinese, etc. Some positions stipulate that you have to achieve a certain level of proficiency during pre-service training. It’s a pretty tall order to learn Swahili in 11 weeks, so be sure you’re really prepared to do that.
The application process is extensive and takes weeks, and expect to wait months to know if you got selected. Your initial application requires that you fill in basic information about yourself including information about your education, language skills, and references. You’ll need to upload your resume so make sure it’s completed and updated. You also have to submit a motivation statement outlining why you want to join the Peace Corps. The essay has to be short and sweet, less than 500 words describing who you are, explaining your desire to volunteer and explaining how you can overcome potential challenges.
I submitted the application on February 25. Immediately, I received several emails outlining other steps. First, I needed to fill out a medical questionnaire, called the Health History Form. You have to register to a medical portal to gain access to the questionnaire. It goes without saying that you should be honest. Before they even review your application, they want to make sure that you don’t have any medical conditions that will prevent you from serving.
Once your medical history has been reviewed, they send you an email informing you which countries you’re allowed to select as preferences based on your medical needs. They expect you to do this within two days of applying so you need to have a good idea of what you want to do before you submit your application. I submitted preferences for three programs in South America based on what was available. At this point, you can also select “Anywhere I Am Needed,” but based on how competitive the Peace Corps can be, I’m not sure if that would help or hurt instead of help your chances.
You also have to complete a soft skills questionnaire, which is the kind of psychological test you might take for any position. It assesses how you work best and in which environment you thrive. I completed all these steps by February 26. Then it was time to wait.
Waiting for the interview
I got an email on March 3 informing me that I was under consideration for Panama beginning February 2018, but not specifying a specific position. On March 31, I received another email notifying me the specific position they were considering me for in Panama, including a complete description. I’d like to note that even though I submitted Panama as my top choice, I had applied for a different position there. Both of these preliminary emails specified that all candidates would be notified by September 1, 2017 of the decision on their application.
On April 3, I received an interview request, which included a link to a portal where you could schedule a time for the 60-90 minute interview. The email also outlined basically all the topics that would be discussed. According to the email I would be asked about past or current experience regarding everything from: living or working with people from another culture to working in a team. For everything that is outlined in the interview request email, you want to think of a very specific example that you can elaborate on. You won’t just be asked to identify these experiences, but also follow up questions about how you handled it and what you learned from it.
The interview is done online using video chat. You’ll be sent a confirmation email with details on how to join the chat. If you’ve reviewed the bullet points from the email carefully, the interview won’t be terribly difficult. They don’t throw you any curve balls. Aside from asking you to talk a little bit about yourself and your experience, you’ll be asked about all the things that were outlined in the email. They won’t vary much from the established questions and follow-up questions. During the interview, the interviewer will take notes on your responses.
The interview will also focus on concerns you might have as a volunteer regarding separation from home, dietary issues abroad, and anything related to culture that might be a concern. Like if you have tattoos, or if you’re gay and how that might be perceived in your host country. It serves as a test of your ability to handle these challenges but also as a way for you to get valuable information you need to decide if the Peace Corps is right for you. The interview is your chance to ask about everything you want to know from the volunteer stipend to the housing situation in your host country.
The more you’ve researched beforehand, the better equipped you will be to ask specific questions and the more useful the interview will be to you.
Next steps and final decision
During the interview, they’ll also describe what you can expect in the coming months. You’ll be sent a fingerprint card after the interview. You’re supposed to hold on to it until they make their decision. If you’re chosen to join and you accept, you’ll need to get fingerprinted right away and send that back to begin the background check process.
They also inform you that when they notify you of a decision, you will have 3 days to accept or decline. So you need to spend some time considering this. If need be, you can ask your interviewer follow-up questions via email.
My interview was April 11. I was told I would be notified by September 1, though I might know sooner. If accepted, I would begin the other lenghty processes like the background check, visa paperwork, and necessary immunizations.
So did I get accepted into the Peace Corps?
It’s August 23rd and I still don’t know! I can’t confirm or deny it just yet for sure, but if my experience applying for jobs, graduate schools and internships is any indication, the longer you wait, the more likely the response you’ll get is a rejection.
And in this particular case, that’s fine by me. I had already decided that I would definitely not be moving to Panama in 2018. But I hope this helps someone who is interested in taking my spot there as an ESL teacher.