In this terrible economy, where can I find a hands-on, do-gooding job?

Advice on how to make the world better.
April 29 2009 7:04 AM

Serve It Up

In this terrible economy, where can I find a hands-on, do-gooding job?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it. 

AmeriCorps volunteers. Click image to expand.
AmeriCorps volunteers

Dear Patty and Sandy,

What kinds of hands-on jobs can a recent college graduate find that make a direct impact? Are there jobs overseas? In the United States?

Sally

Sandy:
Finding any job right now is going to be tough—especially the coveted "hands-on" job every nonprofit-loving college graduate wants. This may be a time to suck it up, take whatever job you can find, and volunteer doing hands-on work in the evenings or on weekends.

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But if you're able to consider shorter-term positions that allow you to gain invaluable experience for very little pay, then this is a great time to look at national service programs such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. The federal stimulus act provided funding for 13,000 additional AmeriCorps members starting this month. And just last week, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, creating 175,000 new volunteer opportunities and four new service corps by 2017.

If you're interested in working in the United States, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a great program for recent college graduates. It requires a one-year full-time commitment and places volunteers with more than 1,200 nonprofits and government agencies each year. VISTA's focus is on alleviating poverty, and volunteers work on programs ranging from community development to fighting illiteracy. Volunteers receive a small living allowance, health insurance, and an educational stipend after completing their service.

The Peace Corps is a great way to get hands-on experience abroad. Peace Corps volunteers have worked in more than 130 countries on an extraordinarily diverse group of projects, from counseling teenagers on HIV/AIDS to installing water pumps. The Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment, and volunteers receive a small living allowance, health insurance, and a $6,000 stipend at the end of service to help with their transitions back to the United States.

While neither of these programs will help you gain financial stability, they will provide exactly the type of hands-on work you want. If you want to learn about other full-time service opportunities (and there are lots!), Idealist.org has a list of "term-of-service opportunities" available. TheIdealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers (available for free from the Idealist Web site) also includes a section on how to use opportunities like AmeriCorps or Peace Corps to bolster your career and includes a comparison of the programs and their entry requirements.

Apply soon, though, because everyone else is. Peace Corps applications are up 16 percent in 2009, Teach for America plans to accept less then 15 percent of applicants this year, and AmeriCorps has nearly four times as many online applications as it had in 2008. No one said saving the world was easy.

Patty:
Everything Sandy says is true: Government-funded service opportunities are a great "impact" job alternative in this economy. Relevant volunteer work can also give you a leg up when you go to look for your next job. (Fifty-four percent of nonprofit professionals say that relevant volunteer work or a term-of-service position is the most valuable experience they look for when hiring.) I know I give high marks to job candidates with a sustained and productive period of service on their résumés. But sooner or later, there will be bills to pay and families to support, and you'll need a more regular income. So if you can't consider a volunteer-service stint right now but are committed to a job search with "social impact," here's what I propose: