In the spring of 2012, I was gearing up for my final summer classes in graduate school and hunting for jobs for the fall. I knew that I wanted to put my new degree in Educational Theatre to work somehow, and I knew I was moving to the Phoenix area. But that was it. I was cold calling schools and theatre companies, sending resumes, and scouring job boards. Nothing was turning up, and nothing was quite what I was looking for. Then my mother asked a seemingly simple question, “What about AmeriCorps?”
So began my AmeriCorps journey. That September, I had my first day of service, at a youth shelter in Phoenix. I got to work with young people, run the after-school theatre program, and teach in the classrooms.
My AmeriCorps experience transformed how I saw myself, my career, and my goals. However, I’ve found out the hard way that life after AmeriCorps service is not what I expected, nor has it been easy. I expected that my goals wouldn’t really shift that much during my term. I also thought the job search would be simple and straightforward after AmeriCorps. Neither proved to be true: my goals changed, and my job search is an ongoing challenge. So for this series on life after AmeriCorps, I’d like to begin with three basic lessons I’ve learned since my service term ended.
Plan for your job search while you’re serving
If you’re like me and wanting to work in community nonprofits or education, there are a lot of AmeriCorps alums out there looking for those jobs, too. So while AmeriCorps is a great opportunity, and in some places might give me an edge, I had to prepare for job hunting like anyone else would. For one thing, I know I should have been networking more. Opportunities have come my way because I’ve gotten to know people, and shared about what I did while serving. It wasn’t the blurb on the resume that sold people on my service — it was what I was doing to demonstrate my interest in the community, the causes, and the people.
Although you are volunteering, you still have to focus on the tangible outcomes
The ethos of service is admirable but I had to bring it home with details of what I did, and stories of my impact. One thing I wish I had done in my AmeriCorps service is to create very tangible goals for myself and check in with myself that I was meeting them, beyond the requirements I had for monthly reports. In other words, I had been asking myself, “What can this job do for me? What does service look like?” I should have been asking, “How can I make the most of every effort? What can I accomplish for this organization while I am here?” Volunteerism in general terms won’t make AmeriCorps the career-starter it can be. Instead, it is the intention to serve that shows who you are, where you’ve been, and what you can do.
Have a focus but be open to thinking about your career in a new way
Because AmeriCorps places members in organizations where there is a real need, I had to be responsive to how those needs focused my career and where I directed my energy after finishing the program. AmeriCorps didn’t change that I want to be a teaching artist, but it did broaden my perspective. When I would describe my work in the beginning of my service term, theatre arts was my “what” and young people my “who.” Now, because of AmeriCorps, youth development is my “what,” and “theatre arts” is my “how.”
For my own job search, this means I’m now looking at community centers, youth programs, and school enrichment initiatives, not just theatre companies or schools. Because of that shift in how I framed my work, I recently landed a part-time job at the Boys and Girls Club in Phoenix. I’m an activity leader, doing various storytelling and performing arts programs. While I get to use my performing arts knowledge, I’m convinced that I got the job because I could demonstrate being able to work with youth in a positive way, both nurturing and challenging their development.
I’ll be writing more about how I’m navigating my career after AmeriCorps, but I’d love to know your experiences as well. What job search lessons have you learned or helpful tips you’ve picked up?
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About the Author | Caleb Winebrenner is a teaching artist based in Tempe, AZ. His work focuses on empowering youth through creative play, storytelling, and devised theatre -- and the more he does it, the more he loves it. He is currently working on a book of games and stories for community and youth development and launched a crowdfunding campaign to support it. He writes the blog Discovering Teaching Artistry and tweets, @caleb_teaches.