5 tips for presenting Peace Corps service on your résumé

resume tips
By Anna Sparks
May 27, 2015

While your service will be seen as a noble endeavor by most future employers, many people have preconceived notions or no idea what Peace Corps Volunteers do or don’t do.

In order to be sure that an employer understands how your unique skill set is an asset and calls you for an interview, make sure to get ahead of the curve and define your service in a way that he can clearly understand. Here are five ways to make sure your time in the Peace Corps contributes to your résumé and gets you an interview:

1. Don’t use “Peace Corps Volunteer” as your job title.

Volunteers do all kinds of jobs and projects during their service. A TEFL Volunteer may be doing something completely different from an Economic Development Volunteer, who may be doing something completely different from an Environment Volunteer. Simply stating ‘Peace Corps Volunteer’ is not descriptive enough. Additionally, it is misleading to downplay your service as if you were a volunteer who came and went as you pleased and never got paid. Potential employers spend less than two minutes scanning your résumé. In many large organizations a human will not even look at it until after a computer has first culled all the application packages looking for key words. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to call yourself a business advisor or a high school English teacher if that is exactly what you did. This truthfully describes what you did in your job in a short title that someone can catch quickly.

2. Make sure the language on your résumé matches the job description.

Considering the brief time that employers or their computers will spend looking at your résumé, don’t make them translate your experience from Peace Corps-speak (and acronyms!) to plain English. Look at the words used in the job description and use those exact same words in the bullets under the description of your Peace Corps service. For example, if the organization is looking for someone who is “adept at producing government reports,” then that language should appear on your résumé. Don’t instead write, “Wrote annual summaries of accomplishments, final grant accounting and results documents, and applications for grants from USAID.” All of those are government reports, but that’s not what your résumé says. You should connect the dots, not the employer.

3. Include your Peace Corps experience under "Professional Experience."

Some people have a separate section on their résumé dedicated to volunteer experience. Employers are unlikely to spend too much time on this section as they will assume that it has little to do with the job. Don’t make the mistake of putting your Peace Corps service (a very important professional experience) in this section. This applies to any other volunteer experience you’ve had as well. Don’t bury it in a “volunteer” section. If your volunteer experience outside of Peace Corps is relevant to the position to which you are applying, it should be listed as professional experience.

4. Use a key qualifications summary at the top of your résumé.

If you are hesitant about your Peace Corps service being the first position on your résumé (or even if you are not), a key qualifications summary at the very top of your résumé is a good idea. This résumé element is three or four sentences that summarize your experience and is unique to the position for which you are applying. It allows you to set the tone and make a good first impression on your résumé, rather than letting the employer draw conclusions or make assumptions. If I am a TEFL returned Peace Corps Volunteer, for example, with previous experience working for a non-governmental organization and a desire to work in school administration, my key qualifications summary may look something like this: Education professional with five years of experience both within the classroom and in program management. Eager to develop creative, budget-friendly solutions for Lincoln Elementary School’s human resources challenges. Proven leader among colleagues with a can-do attitude.

5. Don’t include hobbies or travel unless specifically relevant to the position.

Many people, RPCVs included, make the mistake of thinking that the employer wants to know them as a person. This may or may not be true but, in any case, your résumé is not the place to do this. The employer wants to know your work persona, not everything about you. This is especially tricky for RPCVs who have recently finished their service. The lines between personal and professional blur in Peace Corps and many Volunteers do amazing things outside of their professional responsibilities (like start a blog with a huge following, learn to knit very complex patterns or read hundreds of books). If you are applying for a position where a specific hobby or your travel is relevant, you absolutely must include this on your résumé. However, your hobbies and travel will usually have nothing to do with the position that you want. Including irrelevant qualifications means less space for truly relevant things and may even distract the reader from your relevant experience. 

RPCV Careers offers free individualized career services, training and counseling to all returned Peace Corps Volunteers to make them more competitive in today’s job market. You can schedule an appointment by contacting [email protected].

Anna Sparks

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