Can I Bail On Americorps for My Dream Job?

For better or for worse, I am a planner. I like to know what my life is going to look like way in advance. My plans for this summer (working abroad) were nailed down last January, and I wanted to have guaranteed employment for when I got back to the states. After realizing that apparently most publishing jobs have an application process (application to position filled) time of four weeks, I applied to and accepted an Americorps position. This job (helping underprivileged children in low-income schools) is meant to start in two weeks. It would be hard for them to find a replacement to fill my spot. (Part of the difficulty in finding people to fill the position comes from the fact that Americorps members earn $800/mo.).

Today I had an interview for an internship at a publishing firm that I would love to work for full-time. The internship is three months long, 40 hrs/week, minimum wage ($1,160/mo pre-tax). I know two of their previous interns, and I know that they do have a history of either shifting interns around to different internships or trying to find full-time employment for interns they like. However, there are absolutely no guarantees. I do want to work in publishing—I’ve already had two different internships—and most of all, I really admire this firm and the work that this company does.

I find out tomorrow whether or not I have the publishing internship. Should I take it—bail on Americorps and children who need my help, take the risk that I might be unemployed again in three months—or stick with the job that I know I have? — L.

When I applied to journalism school seven or eight years ago, one of the things I was asked was how I envisioned what my career would look like five years after I completed my master’s program. I recall that I said something along the lines of: I would be writing and reporting stories I cared about and aspired to work with middle school or high school students in some kind of literacy program. Of course, this is the kind of thing young, bright-eyed “I want to make a difference” recent grads love to believe they’ll be doing, and I’m not ashamed to admit now that I was more than a little naive back then.

More than five years after finishing my master’s program, I am writing about things I care about, but I am not in public schools carrying the banner of literacy. But: I do sign up to mentor a young grad student every year, and every spring I sign up to be a pen pal with a third grader through a program called Learning Leaders. My point is: There will always be children/someone out there who needs help in one form or another and just because you decide not to do one thing doesn’t mean you can’t figure out other ways to do things that are important to you.

It seems apparent to me that the thing you want to do is to take the internship at the publishing firm if it is offered to you, and you feel guilty about choosing something that could jumpstart your career over a national service program (and helping children!). This is apparent to me because you interviewed for the internship despite already being accepted into the Americorps program, and because of how much you say you admire the firm.

Americorps should have contingency plans if you decide to leave—volunteers often quit early after discovering how difficult the work is and how hard it is to live on the small stipend they’re given. It is better to make this decision before you start rather than leave in the middle of volunteering.

If the thing you want the most is the internship, then take the internship, and don’t waste time feeling guilty about it. Instead, figure out how you’ll go about helping some other kid out there who needs your time, and work your butt off at the internship so that it leads you to a full-time job.


Photo: Billy Brown


19 Comments / Post A Comment

DillyBean (#483)

I agree with Mike that you should take the job.

That said: what did you expect to happen? It sounds like you applied for Americorps in order to have a job locked down while you continued to look for better options (based on your having applied for the internship, and the fact that you applied for the Americorps program AFTER you realized that the jobs you wanted had a 4 week application process). The time for “what would you do?” questions was when you were considering accepting the Americorps position.

I don’t want to beat up on you, but there’s something that seemed a bit disingenuous about your question. Take responsibility for the decisions you’re making as you make them and save yourself some guilt.

I don’t think Americorps positions are that hard to fill, they’re actually really competitive. I served in Americorps and Vista, and both times we were told that we were “the cream of the crop” because hundreds of people applied for 10 spots. I helped find a replacement after I left my first position and it was quite difficult to pick from the amazing people who applied. I always felt like the “loser” of the team since I was the only person who didn’t graduate from a top 10 school. I’m sure they have a long list of qualified people willing to take your place. I would tell them ASAP, they may not be able to find a replacement if they wanted to after a certain date because of rules related to the grant for your host site.

illnona (#4,783)

Take the job. In this economy, you can’t risk your future because you want to serve. There is always need and there will be multiple opportunities to serve. I am a mid-level executive making 6 figures after leaving working for a nonprofit. I do not regret my decision and have formed a volunteering partnership with my current job and my former one, so that I still get to serve. I also get to help others serve, too.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

I disagree with Mike’s advice this time. I would remain in the Americorps role.

First, you made a commitment to them. I assume that you’d feel aggrieved if someone made a job commitment to you, then backed out on it. I don’t see a real difference in your actions.

Second, you did not get your dream job. You got a three-month minimum-wage internship. If the company finds something else for you, that’s great. But you aren’t there yet. And if the company finds out that you broke a formal commitment to join them, I doubt that it will work in your favour,

At the end of the day, our reputations depend on us meeting our commitments. You made a decision. Now do the best that you can with it. From my perspective, a short-term, poorly-paid temporary job isn’t worth breaking your word for.

katiekate (#1,051)

@WayDownSouth That said, as a former AmeriCorps… grad, or whatever you call us, AmeriCorps is a program built on legally allowing non-profits to hire employees at below the poverty level. I mean, that’s actually 100% what it is.

Whatever relationships you develop with those kids are going to be cut, by design, at the end of your year term. And then the next adult that serves them, and then the next, just reinforcing to troubled kids that adults – and other people – are not to be depended on. They leave.

You don’t owe AmeriCorps anything. The program is a mess. Besides, if you quit before you start, there’s no reason any future employer would hear about it – it’s not like they are a previous employer. Unless you want to work in youth development, in that city, long term.

WayDownSouth makes a good point about the fact that the internship is only for three months, though. Think about the financial and stress repercussions in your current situation.

Good luck!

annev17 (#4,822)

@WayDownSouth I agree. OP, imagine how pissed you’d be if an employer offered you a job, you accepted, and then they reneged two weeks before your start date. A three month internship is not worth breaking this commitment over.

annev17 (#4,822)

@katiekate These are all valid points, but I feel like OP should have considered them before accepting the Americorps job. We all know about the problematic aspects of the program. But in this case, having accepted a job with them, (s)he does owe them.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

@WayDownSouth You can get blacklisted in some fields for accepting an offer and renging, short of an emergency or the like. (I get that AmeriCorps is not employment in the OP’s field, but it’s the same issue).

That being said, does AmeriCorps have an agreement you have to sign? Can you talk to the internship people and see if there’s a workaround (e.g. start during a period after your AmeriCorps commitment?) I assume you can re-apply again to the internship.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@CubeRootOfPi Stuff like this happens all. The. Time. In what fields will it cause someone to get blacklisted? I can see that happening if someone is constantly pulling stuff like this, but quitting one job before the start date shouldn’t cause anyone problems. Particularly for something like Americorps – all he has to do is explain that he realized it wasn’t the right job for him, and pretty much everyone will understand.

katiekate (#1,051)

@annev17 Yeah I would say for LITERALLY any other job, sure, feel a little guilty. But again, it’s not going to hurt his future in ANY WAY to turn down this Corps position, and it’s not like he’s a big ol slacker who’s going to do this in the future – I mean, he wrote to a blog for advice, people. He owes them nothing. He has taken no money – jobs are agreements to do work for pay. He has taken no pay, and done no work. He’s not even quitting a JOB, but a “volunteer” position. Seriously, its a living stipend. Again, he owes them nothing.

SKIP AMERICORPS, GO WITH THE JOB! And yes, I did two terms. AmeriCorps doesn’t have their shit together enough to blacklist you. Take the job, don’t think of it again.

emmabee (#2,008)

I’m in publishing, and unless this internship is *exactly* what you want (not just a house you like, but a specific imprint or editor, with lots of opportunity for facetime with the particular people you want to hire you for a full-time job), I say stick with the Americorps job. Then use these few months to read tons and tons of contemporary books in the genres you’re interested in pursuing, and take lots of informational interviews with people in publishing. Between your previous internships and your friends in the industry, it sounds like you already have the seeds of a publishing network. That network will help you get the job you want much more than one three-month internship will, and if you start out by telling people that you have an Americorps gig for the next few months and are genuinely just looking for advice and contacts in the industry, they’ll likely be receptive. Sticking with Americorps is the right thing to do, and it demonstrates that you have the ability and organizational skill to stick something out long-term – those traits are very important to people in publishing.

As an AmeriCorps program director, I say that you need to think this decision through, and do so quickly. The people who say that you can be replaced are correct. But that’s only if you tell them NOW. Since you’ve already accepted the position, it’s likely that the person in charge has already notified all of the other candidates that they didn’t receive the placement, and it’s not going to be easy to figure out how to get someone else on board. It’s more important that if you decide to serve with AmeriCorps, that you stay the entire year. Depending on the program, once you start, it’s possible that you can’t be replaced for a full year.

@katiekatie I’m very sorry that you had a bad experience with AmeriCorps. Just like any other program, organization, basically anything in life, there are definitely some bad programs out there. There are also some really great programs that are making a positive difference in the world. AmeriCorps members in those programs have more responsibility than typical 1st year employees, build relationships with non-profit professionals during their year, have tangible results to put on their resumes and typically get hired immediately after their year. Almost all of my 20 members who finish their terms in October and November have great jobs lined up for when their terms end. Most of the members on an anonymous survey said that AmeriCorps prepared them for their career. And that’s just the self-serving piece of the puzzle. My 20 members will have helped 6,000 individuals who are going through foreclosure this year. It might not seem like much, but it’s definitely something :)

katiekate (#1,051)

@langedangereux I agree with what you say about your corps experience, but I feel the same way I feel about unpaid and underpaid internships: it’s exploitation. There is absolutely no excuse to work young people in this economy (or EVER) 40 hours a week and pay them less than $1000 a month, and forbid them from taking outside jobs (I know there are sometimes exceptions to that rule).

Furthermore, this kid is not looking to help people with foreclosures. He’s working with at-risk students, which is what I did, and led to a career in youth development and education. And I can guarantee you, after ten years in the field: encouraging mentoring relationships with at-risk kids that are set to end by contract after a year does more harm than good, 90% of the time.

AmeriCorps was started in the 60s as a way for rich kids to learn what it was like to be poor – they would live in the communities they served, under the poverty line, for a year. It was an admirable program, if it were still only rich kids joining AmeriCorps. Increasingly, young people are joining the program as it is seen as an excellent way to break into the nonprofit world. IF they are not rich kids with parents supplementing their income, they live on food stamps, and rack up debt. If they need a car (they frequently do), they have to pay for it’s upkeep and insurance on less than $1k a year – maybe gas travel within he job will be reimbursed. In many cities where AmeriCorps is very popular (Seattle, hello!) they then graduate the Corps into a market where positions that with any justice would be entry level jobs, are frequently AmeriCorps positions.

You do get insurance (though not eye or dental), so there is that.

And don’t even get me started on Teach for America!

I believe he various Corps (Apple, Food, Reading?Corps, CityYear etc) are generally more legit and worth a persons time – you work as part of a team, you are very well managed by a program that does the same thing year after year (so they know what they are doing) and of course, you are doing the kind of direct service work that is more rewarding and not likely to be a former full time paid position before AmeriCorps came alone.

My beef is not with bad programs, but with the concept of AmeriCorps as a whole. It’s outlived its original purpose and is a bastardized version of what it should have been. If they US govt wants kids to serve their country for a year, pay them minimum fucking wage.

katiekate (#1,051)

@katiekate FURTHERMORE, that VERY paltry education award is taxable income. Which is a slap in the face after living in poverty for a year.

katiekate (#1,051)

@katiekate But yeah, he should absolutely be decent and make up his mind ASAP so he doesn’t screw an office over – I don’t think anyone is debating that fact.

lizil (#2,780)

I just put in my two weeks at my AmeriCorps position and will be terminating my service a month and a half early because of a job offer I got that is exactly what I want. My supervisors were sad, but also understanding and encouraging. Stuff has come up during my term of service that makes the living stipend especially difficult to deal with. If this is really what you want to do, go for it. You have to take care of yourself.

katiekate (#1,051)

@lizil Seriously, any decent human being will understand if you are following an amazing opportunity – just make sure that that is exactly what it is.

megj (#4,845)

Absolutely take the internship, you’re an educated adult looking to start a career and as wonderful as americorps can be, it’s a temporary job that doesn’t pay a salary. If they really want you to work for them, they can offer you a salaried position. If an organization doesn’t offer you sufficient compensation for your time they can’t expect too much loyalty.

I did a year of service w/ City Year before I went to college and it was absolutely the best thing I ever did. Then when I graduated college it was almost impossible to find an entry level job in the non-profit field that wasn’t an americorps position, which I found infuriating as a college educated professional with years of experience in the field. Take the internship.

I guess I should add that americorps positions (esp. VISTA) can definitely lead to employment. I almost certainly have my current job in large part because of my City Year experience and many of my colleagues can say the same. But it doesn’t sound like you want to work in the non-profit/ education realm, so this isn’t necessarily a reason to stay.

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