Conquering Your Peace Corps Interview

Conquering Your Peace Corps Interview

The Peace Corps interview is the next big step in the entire application process to becoming a volunteer.

We’ll first talk about the logistics of the interview experience itself, how to prepare for the interview, and my personal experience and preparation for this interview.

Get hyped that you’ve made it through the application process, so let’s start with logistics!

Part I. Logistics

The Peace Corps video interview will be done online. As far as I know, most people do their interviews through Skype’s Business Application, which needs Microsoft Silverlight installed. Here are some basic logistics that you should go over.

Your Computer

Any of the following machines are suitable for use, as indicated by Microsoft Silverlight’s compatibility.

Operating System Compatible Web Browsers and Notes
MacOS Chrome 18.X+
Safari 6.2.8 – 11.X+
Windows 7/8/8.1/10 Chrome 18.X+
Internet Explorer 11+ varies by version
Linux Depends on your Linux distro compatibility with Microsoft Silverlight. Safest bet, borrow a PC/MAC
  1. For the very few of you who will use Linux and cannot borrow a device:
    • Install or a Microsoft Silverlight equivalent plugin like Moonlight or Pipelight.
    • Use ChromeOS

All else fails, for Linux, VirtualBox may be appropriate if your computer can handle it. But going back to the first point, I would just keep it simple and borrow a computer, haha.

For more information on browser and OS compatibility, go here to Microsoft’s webpage on PC compatibility.

What did the Boxer Say to the Mirror?

You are my greatest enemy.

Don’t psych yourself out on the what-ifs, focus on the things you can control and you can make your interview that much better.

Interviews are always going to be stressful. Just because you can do it at home, a video interview isn’t any easier than being there in person. It’s probably more difficult.

Using the camera puts a limit on our non-verbal cues like haptics and hand gestures, especially if your internet happens to die and you’re forced to do phone interview (like me, more on that later).

Below is a table of tips general guidelines I follow whenever I go to interview, virtual or not:

Obvious Tips Personal Notes to Myself
– Make sure your camera and microphone work
– Have a suitable top. Think business casual.
– Practice your answers and get feedback
– Treat it like a real interview, no distractions
– Verbal fillers, don’t you dare use them (um, ah, yeah)
– Hardwire. Use an ethernet cable and wired earphones or headphones.
– It’s not a staring contest, blink
– Don’t forget to smile. You’re on camera 🙂
– Have some water, use it for breaks
– Asking didn’t make the U.S., declare your statements with confidence.
“I am good” vs. “I’m probably good.”

Is this the end…? What happens if my internet fails?

Whether or not the internet fails on you, or you fail at the internet, Peace Corps should offer you a chance to do your interview over the phone.

The cautionary thing I would say is to TAKE YOUR TIME speaking on the phone. You do not have any visual advantage, so non-verbal cues will not help you, at least from the interviewer’s perspective. Do all the hand motions you need to do as if you were doing it in person. Treat your words like gold, because that’s the only thing you can do at this point.

Part II. How to Prepare

Practice Your Questions

You should have been emailed some questions on how the interview will go. The interviewer did not derail from the questions that were given to you. These are some of the questions that I received during my interview process:

  • I will ask you about past and current long term experiences that relate to the following:

    o living or working with people from another culture;
    o working in an unstructured environment

    … etc.

Okay… it was actually more like topics, but you get the picture.

Your responses should be unique to your situation, you are in the candidacy stage and should treat this as a time to subtly “strut them feathers”. It’s probably the best place to do it. You are in a competitive environment, being selected does not equate to volunteer status, so treat it like an opportunity and give it your best shot.

What Do You Say When You Ask your S.O. for a Biiig Favor?

What is your commitment?

Are you prepared to commit to two years of consecutive service? Are you prepared to be declined your application? In either case, you must realize what your commitment to the Peace Corps is.

Try to imagine it right now, you’ve left home and are on a one-way trip to a place far away from friends and family. Mentally and physically, will you be able to handle it? You don’t need to have all the answers right now, all you need to have the right mindset to get them.

You will undoubtedly be asked about why you joined the Peace Corps. CREATE A ONE LINE RESPONSE TO THIS. I cannot stress this enough. If you are able to create a solid response to say “why did you join the Peace Corps,” it clears us up the entire sky for any recruiter to hear.

Houston, come again?

Try not to get lost in your responses, there have been many times where I have started a story to get a point across, only to find myself forgetting what point I wanted to make in the first place. To circumvent this, I would try to outline the points of your story, practice speaking it, and come off naturally, people hire people not robots.

Is forgetting the question bad? Well, not really, we all do it one day or another; however, imagine asking your parents how to stop your baby from crying and maybe you need some advice. Her first response:

“What? Say that again, I forgot what you said.”

Would you be put-off that she forgot the question? Frame it like that, treat it like so.

Find ways to ground yourself in the interview. You may get lost in speaking and forget what you’re doing. The mind wanders off, even when trying to pay attention to your significant other or parents! Take a breath, adjust your posture, do what you need to do in order to bring your focus back in the moment.

Final Jeopardy. One Question, One Answer.

For every question should equate to one story. Keep your answers 1:1.

Why? Story symmetry. When you match one story to one question, it becomes a lot easier to remember how to respond and a lot easier for the listener to recall.

Remember that one time we fell off the swing trying to do a 360? Yeah, now I remember that humans weren’t meant to fly.

Stories and analogies are the easiest ways to illustrate a point that is much more complex for anyone that you are explaining it to. Imagine explaining the inner-workings of how V6 engines work, how CRT televisions operate, or the techniques of wood lathing. Exhilarating…

In any case, link your questions with a story that you have from your college or work experiences. Find a story that clearly resonates with the answer you’re going for. Don’t try to subliminally a story to an answer you want to give. Binge drinking past your limit at 3:00am in your college years does not equate to the quality of perseverance and tenacity in times of struggle.

Make it exciting, talk about a story of triumph or failure that is in line with the question they are asking.

Well I’ll Be Damned. Punch My Arm and Call Me Skippy

Interviewers are looking for people that fit the bill. In most cases, they are looking for those that fit their needs, and are NOT simply looking for the best in the business, this goes for both overqualified and underqualified applicants.

If you’re the best in the business and working full-time as a heart surgeon for Straub in the metropolitan era, as the lead surgeon, it might not be in their best interest to pull you out of your position. Likewise if you’re an individual going from job to job every 3 months, who is always dissatisfied with the way their life is going.

The Peace Corps is a volunteer group under the U.S. gov with their main focus as:

  1. To help the people of interest ciountries in meeting their need for traind men and women
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. To help promot a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Ask yourself, can you fulfill these three qualities. How? How are you going to prove it to them? Now do it one sentence.

This is an international, culture-packed experience. They want to spend money on the people that will most certainly be able to do the job that they want, and do it well.

Any Last Words?

Ask Questions at Your Interview.

Asking questions indicates that you’re proactive. You’ve listened and you’re thoughtful about the information you’ve been given thus far so don’t hesitate to ask for questions. Whether it’s out of clarification or curiosity, figure out what you can ask.

Some guidelines would be as follows:

  • Ask about challenges and schedules
  • Particularly memorable stories that shaped your Peace Corps adventure
  • What are the biggest concerns most volunteers have?

Adopt the mindset of a volunteer. What would you ask if you were to serve?


Part III. My Interview Experience

You can completely ignore this part if you like. But if you love to learn from failure, I would suggest you continue reading 🙂

I’m an IT guy. I work with computers all day and night, and I can’t get enough of it. However, for the life of me, I could not understand why I was unable to connect ANY of my computers to the Skype Business App.

My interview was at 3AM Hawaii Standard Time.

I had just gotten home the night before my interview around 9 PM. I was tired, anxious, just days from thinking about work, coming home and preparing for interview six hours later.

I took a nap from 10 PM to 1230 in the morning, and from there I was her seeing and practicing for my interview. This was in the first time I had to go through this interview process, actually.

Two weeks ago I was actually supposed to be scheduled while I was in South Korea. But because of technical difficulties and a lack of cellular phone access, we couldn’t really go through with it so we decided to reschedule.

Fast-forward to my morning at 1230, I was having the SAME technical difficulties. My Microsoft Silverlight was not working as expected. The download was going through and installing was perfectly fine, at least from what I was looking at but every time I tried to run the app on a test run, nothing launched.

There was no video, my speakers weren’t working, my microphone was not having any input at all going through Skype, and I was feeling like a fraud. I have all this IT experience from the past two years, and I can’t even figure my own issues out? What a great first impression.

Thankfully my recruiter let me just do a phone interview. And at 3:07AM, it was showtime. Sitting there at my dining table with my blue pinstriped button up shirt, basketball shorts, and my dogs quietly sleeping in my lap. Hours upon hours of practice, don’t fail me now. But obviously, things just don’t go as smooth as we want.

I wish I could say that interview was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Maybe I was just unlucky, but my interviewer was the coldest, and most unresponsive interviewer I’ve had throughout the entirety of my career. I’ve been through quite a few interviews in the past few years, but I’ve never had this kind of treatment before.

Every story that I had concocted through careful, little word selections and tiny changes I’ve made over practice was met with silence. It was like I was talking to a wall. No response, no confirmations no little side comments about my stories, nothing. I was left kind of hanging after each story and response, only with a resounding “ok, next question.” did I ever really get feedback.

It’s 3:10AM with a tough interviewer, lack of sleep, full of anxiety, and an unwanted amount of doubt and despair, I had to chug along this ride.

The questions go by, I answer to the best of my ability, and from there on I could only hope that all of my work has paid off.

Around 4:02AM, we had wrapped up the interview and said our farewells. In a couple hours I was getting ready for work, with mixed feelings about the interview. I felt like I did good. What did I do wrong. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.

Thoughts racing in my head like the fast lane, I had knocked out from exhaustion.

//

Seven hours later at around 11 o’clock, while a network, I get an email from the Peace Corps. First line?

**Dear Joshua,

Congratulations!…**

I just sit back in my chair, eyes wide and mouth open. Holy… Shit.

Summary

Treat this interview with serious intent. The fact that you got to this stage means you show some promise, they want to know that who they pick are people that can represent America in good light. Line up your stories, get your point across, and take control of your interview.

I know I had a lengthy story, but I hope this gives you a view of what another potential volunteer did in order to get the invitation to accept. Hopefully, it goes much smoother than my journey thus far.

This entire article is not only for the Peace Corps, but by principle, it extends to ever meeting, negotiation, or statement that you plan to give in a formal setting.

Too lazy, didn’t read? Prepare. Prepare. PREPARE. Perform.


Resources

Here are some other resources I recommend that you can read if you want learn more about the Peace Corps application process.

  1. Ah, reddit. The never-ending source of information. Here’s a short discussion on other people’s experience with the interview process.
  2. Lianne Bronzo also has a more formal (and beautiful) Peace Corps blog than I have. Check out her tips on how to “Nail the Peace Corps Interview“!

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