JOB SEARCH

After spending 3 years and 4 months in the Peace Corps in Mexico, I joined Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in August this year. CRS is a non-profit NGO that works in emergency response and relief, agricultural livelihoods and health (including water supply and water, sanitation and hygiene-WASH) in the poorest countries in the world. I am currently working in CRS Tanzania.
Looking for the source of my bread and butter after the Peace Corps was a long process. This post is to share experiences of my job search to help others in their’s. Talking to people, getting tips, and researching how to job search made a difference for me, and hopefully this information can be useful to someone.
Disclaimer: This is not professional advice. Different things will work for different people and across professional sectors. I would love to hear how the job search was different for you.
Tip #1: Go general, but then prioritise.
Some people told me to go for whatever I could, while others told me to narrow the search. Both were good advice. I started off going for anything related to  environmental/community development. There were tons of opportunities. This approach helped me to get an idea of the job market, what applications looked like, and to practice applying. Eventually, I realised that I needed to reflect on what I really wanted and narrow the search. Applying is time consuming, so once you have an understanding of what you really want, it’s best to focus your energy on a limited number of opportunities rather than spread yourself thin. Job hunting is like a job in itself, so you have to prioritise your time, especially if you are already at a full-time job like I was.
Tip #2: Understand that political and economic factors will affect your job search.
This is obvious, but it’s important not to get bogged down by things that are out of your control. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), we get priority for government jobs. Similar to army vets.  I was planning to use my non-competitive-eligibility status to land a  US government job with the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service or USAID. I was supposed to finish Peace Corps service in 2016 (right before the presidential elections), but I extended a third year. All my PCV friends who did end their service in 2016, and applied for government jobs, got the job. But since I extended my time in Mexico a third year, I finished in the summer of 2017. In January 2017, Donald Trump became president, and the jobs that I wanted were suddenly not available due to hiring freezes and budget cuts. I had to shift my focus to the non-government sectors. The non-profit sector, and CRS, was NOT my plan A. Some people have asked me if I regret extending a third year. To be honest, I did. But, if I had the opportunity to go back and do things differently, I would NOT do things differently. Now that I lived that third year in the Peace Corps, I can’t imagine my life without it.
Tip #3: Read What Color is your Parachute? by Richard Bolles and refer to chapters as needed throughout the job search.

This book helped me to think about what I wanted in a job and identify what made me stand out as an applicant. It helped me to refine my resume, highlight important skills, knowledge and attitudes, and give an effective interview. It was recommended to me by a friend and colleague and is a great resource.
Tip #4: Estimate that it will take at least 1 year to get the job you want.
Apply for the job 1 year in advance, because it could really take that long. Especially when it involves an overseas post, there are administrative things that have to be done like processing VISAs, medical clearances and security background checks. I submitted an electronic application to CRS in July of 2016 while I was still in Mexico. I was invited for a video interview in October 2016 and a language test in November (applicants have to be fluent in either Spanish, French or Arabic). In February 2017, I interviewed face-to-face at CRS headquarters in Baltimore. I was officially notified that I’d gotten the job in March 2017, but the actual start date was in August 2017. So you can see, it literally took a year from the date applied to actually start the job. Also, it was a relief to have a job already lined up after service.
Tip #5: Apply for the job you care about even if you think you are not completely qualified for it.
Like many people, if I read a job description that I felt I wasn’t 100% qualified for, I wouldn’t apply. My dad encouraged me to go for it and assured me that I was good enough, but I brushed off his comments, thinking he was just being a dad. He is also the kind of dad that tells his kids when they’re 5, 7 and 11 years old that they should publish their books and sell their artwork. A couple of years ago I talked to a guy from USAID who advised me to read a book by Sheryl Sandberg (chief operating officer of Facebook) called Lean In, and basically told me the same thing my dad was trying to tell me. He said, “Don’t hold yourself back because of perceptions you have about your abilities. Accept the challenge, and you’ll get more offers than you can handle and discover you can do more than you give yourself credit for.” I read Lean In. Sheryl pointed out that as women, we often hold ourselves back from opportunities because of things that haven’t even happened yet (personal life goals such as marriage, raising a family, fear of not being able to balance etc) or lack of confidence in our abilities. One statistic she reported really stuck with me. She said that women apply for jobs they think they are 100% qualified for, while men apply to jobs they think they are 60% qualified for. So, I took her lead and started applying for jobs I felt I was 70-80% qualified for, including CRS. Long story short, if I hadn’t been confident enough to go for it, I wouldn’t have the job I do now. And by the way, I am kicking ass.

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Tip #6: Be patient and don’t give up.
Finally learning to listen to my dad, he told me something that helped me during times of frustration during the job search. He said this, “Good people will always find work. If one opportunity doesn’t work out there will be another. Think of all the people in this world who haven’t had the same quality education as you, life experiences and network. If YOU can’t get a job, where is the hope for the rest of the people? So just relax and don’t let that stress cloud your focus.”

 

Girls from Mesti go running!

6 days before the 5k marathon I am freaking out because after a couple of months of organizing to bring 13 people with me, 5 have just dropped out and I have a feeling that a couple more may follow. Money has been donated and cashed, bus tickets have been purchased, marathon tickets have been purchased and hotel reservations made that can’t be cancelled.

It all started back in 2014 when as a new Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Mexico, I learned about the program called Mariposas: Mujeres Cambiando el Mundo (Mariposa means “butterfly” in Spanish, and mujeres cambiando el mundo means “women changing the world”). Mariposas is a non-profit organization to help girls from rural communities in Puebla, Mexico, pursue their professional dreams by going to college. The organization was started by a former PCV, Tessa Eckholm. Each year there is a week-long camp where girls from different communities attend at no cost of their own, and learn about topics such as mental and physical health, environmental stewardship and professional development. It’s a space for them to network with girls from other communities, share ideas and dreams, and learn something that they can take back with them to their community. The girls that attend this camp are offered the opportunity to apply for scholarships to attend college.

Former PCV, Jesi Friedly, was in charge of organizing the camp during my first year as a volunteer. She asked me if I would be able to help and give an Indian dance class. I happily agreed. During that week I met so many wonderful girls and my admiration for the Mariposas organization began.

zumba camp mariposa

This year, another former PCV, Elena Neibaur, organized a 5K marathon, followed by an eco-fair in Puebla, to raise money for the Mariposas organization, and invited me to bring people from my community, Metztitlán, Hidalgo. I work a lot with women and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to support an organization with a mission I feel strongly about, reconnect with some of the girls I met during Camp Mariposa, and promote healthy activities among the women in my community. Since I am an environmental educator, I also decided to bring women from my office to give a recycling workshop in the eco-fair.

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Since the expenses would be paid for by donors, it was an opportunity for women in my community to travel to another state, see new things and experience something different, something positive, with no major cost to them. The easiest part of it all was raising money, and I thank all off my friends and family who donated to give these women such an experience. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, I did find 5 people for the empty spots!

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Me and the girls (and Goyo) up early in the morning ready for the marathon.

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New stretching/warm-up moves to add to the book!

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These girls are in the Mariposas program. I met them two years ago at Camp Mariposa.

my mom joins us from India

My mom and I, representing the Gator Nation 🙂

 

post run

We did it!!

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After the marathon my coworkers give a workshop on creating picture frames out of used magazine paper.

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Mariposa girls teach the public about composting.

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Group photo with the Mariposas.

New Post-Starring CJ Hamilton

My 9-5 job is working with the Mexican equivalent to the US National Park Service, CONANP. However, living in a small town has its perks as it’s easy to network and I have also been able to create side projects. Three days a week, I teach English to a group of university students in the morning before my 9-5 gig, and once a week in the evening, I teach a Zumba class to a group of women in a small town nearby called Amajatlan.

I’ve been really lucky to have a number of people from the US visit me in Mexico. All of them have been friends from the town I grew up in, Gainesville, Florida. I love living abroad, but it is always a comfort to have a visitor from home. These guys have known me since high school (or longer) and have seen me grow from a teenager into a young professional. We share a rich history and they provide advice and perspective that you can only get from people who know your whole story. It means a lot to me when they spend their time, resources and energy to travel to Mexico and be a part of this chapter of my life. This post is about one such visitor, CJ Hamilton, a good-hearted and caring friend, who besides coming to Mexico to enjoy the experience, donated his time to my community.

CJ is an optometrist, and prior to his visit, he spoke about offering free eye exams and donating glasses to people in my community. I immediately took him up on his offer, choosing Amajatlan as my community. I took the help of two dear friends from Amajatlan, Pablo Verde Fuentes and his wife, Juana, to create a list of people who had eye problems and needed to be seen by an eye doctor. Pablo and Juana graciously offered their house as the location to conduct the eye exams as they had a large, dark storage room, which CJ needed to effectively do his work. I also got the help of a young, 18 year old guy called Javier, to help me in translating. CJ needed the help of a couple of bilingual speakers and Javier speaks English very well. Together, we would be CJ’s translators for the day. In addition, my friends from Amajatlan kindly volunteered to cook for those of us who would be working all day. We ate so well- Juana made the best tamales for lunch, Selene and Armando gave us fish, and Beta and Bety prepared one of my favorites for dinner-mixiotes- steamed chicken with vegetables.

I have to pay my respects to CJ, because we had him working pretty hard that day. I took full advantage of his visit. On the same morning at 8am, February 15, 2017, prior to conducting the eye exams, CJ made a visit to my English class where my students interviewed him. They asked him questions such as “What do you like about your country?” “What do you know about Mexican culture?” and “What do you think about Donald Trump?” You can ask CJ about that last one. It was a great opportunity for my students to speak to a native English speaker, learn about American culture and share their culture with CJ.

My English students with CJ (if you are wondering about the hearts and balloons they are for a presentation my students had for Valentine’s Day):

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After class, we headed to Amajatlan to set up for the eye clinic. People started arriving at 10:30 am and we didn’t stop until 9:30/10 pm. I know-poor CJ. But he was great, greeting everyone with such warmth, making jokes in Spanish and giving it his all. That day he examined 69 people and was able to provide almost all of them with glasses.

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We all learned a lot that day. As people arrived, Pablo had them fill out a form which asked general questions about their eye health. Afterwards they entered the storage room where CJ was set up. I read over their form and translated it to CJ, who then examined the patient. After examining, CJ had Javier check with them for which glasses best suited them. We were a pretty good team and after a dozen patients or so had a good grasp on the process. CJ was also very patient with us. There were recurring problems among patients such diabetes (which after cataracts is the second most common cause of blindness) and high exposure to sun and dust. CJ even mentioned that in addition to glasses we should have collected and donated sunglasses. Most patients work on farms and so are exposed to the sun, wind and dust on a daily basis. Interesting cultural note though, is that when we asked people why they don’t use sunglasses, they said it’s because they feel embarrassed to use them. I have to figure out a way to overcome this-any ideas?

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The community of Amajatlan, my English students and I, are forever grateful for CJ’s kindness. We thank him from our hearts.