Step # 2 Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!

 Step # 2 Move Recruitment To PC/Washington

 Today, Recruitment for the Peace Corps is divorced from the role of the staff in  PC/Washington. Few people at HQ (beyond those doing selection) have any idea of what is coming down the pike. New recruits arrive at the airport ready to fly off to the developing world like so many free range chickens ready to be plucked.

The Peace Corps needs to return to the most effective recruitment system the Peace Corps ever used.

In April 1963, Bob Gale, who had been vice president for development at Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota came to the Peace Corps and sold Shriver on blitz recruiting.

Gale, who worked for Bill Haddad, then Associate Director for the Office of Planning and Evaluation, didn’t want to lose Gale, but Shriver told Haddad that recruiting was crucial to the Peace Corps. “The trouble,” Shriver told Haddad, “was that recruiting has never been approached creatively before. We’re thinking like the army and the navy. Gale knew the academic bureaucracy.”

Gale knew that the Peace Corps had to get college administrators and the faculty on the side of the Peace Corps. He set the standards for recruitment used by the agency during those first years.

  • A famous name led a team of recruiters;
  • An advance team arrived one week before the Recruiters;
  • Radio and television stations were booked, as well as classroom appearances.
  • Recruiting for the Peace Corps was like a political campaign.

The blitz recruitment idea was tried out first at the University of Wisconsin, and then the University of Michigan. It worked like magic. Within a few months, no major American campus would have failed to feel the Peace Corps presence. By the end of ’63 very few deans existed who did not know about the Peace Corps.

Since there were very few RPCVs everyone in the Peace Corps building, even secretaries, (yes, there were secretaries back then) were sent out on the road. Whatever job you had in the agency (and I had one after my tour in Ethiopia) you also  did a minimum of two weeks of recruiting.

This total involvement in recruiting efforts for the Peace Corps meant that the ‘building’ understood:

  • Who was interested in joining the Peace Corps and why;
  • What the talent and skills were from graduates of  American colleges.

However, the real benefit was that the Headquarters’ staff was connected in a personal way to the Volunteers being sent overseas. The Peace Corps wasn’t a lot of divisions and offices, each working separately. Recruiting Peace Corps Volunteers was everyone’s responsibility.

Ask any Recruiter and she or he will tell you that former Volunteers, whether they are friends, family, teachers, or strangers met on the train, are the best recruiters. Applicants listen to them and respect what they have to say about serving in the Peace Corps. Encourage and enlist RPCVs through the local groups to work with the Peace Corps by paying them to recruit!

Today, the Peace Corps Recruitment effort wastes too much time going to too many colleges. We know what colleges and universities produce the most PCVs directly off of a campus. The new Recruitment effort should targets these locations and concentrates on these school for the maximum effort. Use a combination of HQ staff and local RPCVs and focus on specific colleges, specific skills. This new direction and the Internet will take care of everything else.


[Tomorrow, Step # 3: What To Do in 2011]


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  • Former recruiter here, out of Boston, 1967-68, region–the northeast.
    It was just as you described. Only thing is, we ended up with people filling out our applications and joining from Yale and Harvard, but also from little Methodist Wesleyan schools in the Adirondacks. We put a face on the Peace Corps, and most important, we were just back! We were talking about what it was like to be a Peace Corps volunteer two months ago!
    [But then, it was Viet Nam, although one of the recruiters in the Boston office, my good friend Brewster Perkins (India, 1965-67), was drafted and allowed to finish out his recruiting contract before shipping out.]
    Also, we were carefully chosen by our Peace Corps directors in-country, and offered the job halfway through our second year when we had our final medical check. I have no idea what the criteria was for choosing a Peace Corps recruiter, but I must have filled the bill.
    We were paid a lot and that helped. We all did a good job except for sending thank-you notes to the colleges when we returned to our Boston apartments. The men though the women should do it so no one did it.
    A dialogue is in order.

  • A wonderful discussion. However, I don’t agree with the strategy. A Washington D.C. based recruitment model wouldn’t address the regional differences. I don’t believe the same recruitment strategy that works in Texas would work in Vermont. Therefore I think you hamper the regional differences we have across the country. Not to mention the costs of sending a multitude of recruiters from D.C. to California for weeks at a time to recruit in the manner you have described. Multiply that by each location Peace Corps should be recruiting at and you have some astronomical costs. It could prove to be more expensive than maintaining regional offices.

    I do agree that the recruitment model can be improved and that the staff in D.C. could benefit from contact with applicants from the beginning of the recruitment process. I think a better strategy is to distribute many of those roles in D.C. to the regional offices where they are more likely to interact with applicants. Or the role of a recruiter could be morphed into a Recruitment/Placement Officer.

    I would also encourage you to ask anyone who has gone through the application process recently whether they would like to try and reach headquarters or the regional offices to field their inquiries.

    I’d like to think that over the past 48 years Peace Corps has made adjustments over time to improve their recruitment processes. Simply going back to the way it was in the 60’s doesn’t make much sense to me. Nostalgic, yes…feasible and functional, not so much. I think recruitment has learned from the Blitz Recruitment days and incorporated those successes into their standard recruitment activities. Recruiters don’t simply show up to campuses for Events. Recruiters and regional staff make strategic decisions based on their territory’s make up and plan out campaigns in advance. Public Affairs is involved to make sure awareness surrounds a recruiters visit. Electronic means and traditional means are incorporated to make sure, professors, students, staff and the surrounding community are aware that a recruiter or recruiters will be on campus or in the community. Recruiters load up their days on campuses and in communities with class talks, organization talks, presentations and appointments with key campus and community members. And yes, they do use the Internet to accomplish many of these tasks, but it does take somebody to orchestrate and effectively use the internet to be successful.

    So, I’d say the times have changed, Peace Corps has made improvements over the days of blitz recruiting and every decade since. Centralizing operations for a worldwide organization seems counter productive in my opinion. But that’s just my opinion.

  • I agree that blitz recruitment from the 60s won’t work, and having nothing to do with the agency, but with the times. However, focus recruitment on larger colleges and small colleges that produce PCVs will work. We can’t afford as an agency to support these offices…What got closed last year? Two area offices when the Peace Corps needed money overseas. Recruitment is up now, having nothing to do with more Regional office–we have two less–and ten years ago there were offices in Denver/Detroit/Florida. In the next Step # 3 I try and address some of these issues. Many thanks for your good ideas.

  • I appreciate your opinion, but you certainly can’t say recruitment being up has nothing to do with the regional offices. How do you make that correlation? The Chicago and Dallas offices both increased staff to continue recruitment initiatives in the closed regions. Not to mention new recruitment strategies implemented in the closed regions that are managed by the Chicago and Dallas territories. There certainly is an Obama affect and the poor economy is leading more people to public service, but don’t you think the regional offices have recognized this and capitalized on it in their recruitment efforts? So, I would say recruitment is up as a direct result of the regional offices. And there wasn’t an immediately recognized savings by closing 2 offices. Office leases have contractual obligations, there was no reduction in force and there is a cost incurred to close an office. The savings came from eliminating volunteer positions, some hiring freezes and asking posts to make cuts. I agree that perhaps other models of recruitment can work, but not by consolidating recruitment in D.C. and incurring costs of sending folks out on the road from D.C. You still need regional presence to work with applicants and to work with RPCVs to help in recruitment efforts.

  • Using your information then…no savings with closed offices, and increase of staff in other regions….what money was saved? Was the Peace Corps lying then when they close the offices to save money? That is what they told Congress! The money was need for security overseas, and because of the falling dollar.

    And if you say, even with the closing of offices, you increased the number of Apps, then (using that logic) you could close all the offices and have recruitment go through the ceiling.

    If you go back to the figures of recruitment in the last big Recession, you’ll see that the numbers jumped then because of the tight job market, especially for new graduates joining as they couldn’t get entry level jobs.

    I’d like to say the numbers of Apps increased because of local efforts and hard hitting recruitment staff, but I know better.

    What were the new methods of recruitment that you did that turn the tide on the numbers?

  • Every organization incurs some costs in closing an office before savings are realized. Rent and some overhead certainly will be saved from the decision over time. Your post inferred they closed the offices for money needed overseas and I was just stating that the money needed probably came from more immediate areas, not from closing the offices. Regional offices filled the void of the closed offices by hiring more recruiters and transitioning to a Field Based Recruitment model in the closed regions. This in part has contributed to the increase in applications among other factors. Simply making the correlation of closed offices equals more applicants isn’t accurate.

    As for the recruitment staff, any organization would love to duplicate what they accomplish. It’s one of the most efficient operations I’ve seen. Their passion for what they do is unmatched.

    I look forward to Step #3; though I’ll probably still promote a decentralized approach. Thanks for the debate.

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