VISTA Member Recruitment
It’s no secret that discovering, vetting, and selecting the right AmeriCorps VISTA candidate for a project is critical. It may be the most influential decision you make as a sponsor all year.
With thoughtful planning and a well-executed strategy, VISTA recruitment can be efficient and cost-effective while still landing you the appropriate person to get things done.
Browse through each of the five stages of recruitment below for resources to help you plan, market, screen, interview, select, and engage your VISTA members.
Thorough planning will help you determine the resources, time, and responsibilities necessary to recruit and select quality AmeriCorps VISTA candidates.
Tools and Resources
Use the Creating a Recruitment Plan Worksheet to map out the team members and tasks required to complete each of the five phases of the recruitment cycle. This fillable Recruitment Calendar will help you identify important target dates to keep you on track.
It is important to familiarize yourself with eGrants, the system that VISTA sponsors use to create and post Service Opportunity Listings (SOLs). Follow this guide on Creating a Service Opportunity Listing and browse these additional resources on our website to help you navigate eGrants.
Capacity Building vs Direct Service
One issue VISTA supervisors face is helping people understand how the capacity-building service VISTA members perform differs from the direct service that volunteers and other AmeriCorps members may do.
Knowing how "hands on" the job is could affect an applicant's decision to serve. It also may impact whether a new member successfully carries out the VISTA mission over the long term.
Click here to listen to two VISTA supervisors explain how they make this distinction clear so you can incorporate it into your recruitment plan and pitch.
It’s time to hit the street – and the web – to pitch your open AmeriCorps VISTA positions to quality candidates.
Crafting an effective marketing campaign is part art and part science. The art requires creating (or repurposing) messages and visuals to reach VISTA candidates across a variety of platforms, like websites, job boards, social media, and print. The science demands that you target your audiences strategically based on the qualities you are seeking in a VISTA member and then analyze how well your strategy worked.
Struggling to focus your message? Try to emphasize these three selling points:
- Be the Greater Good – Appeal to your candidates’ sense of altruism and their desire to create positive change in the community. VISTA candidates want to know how their service will make an impact. Sell your organization’s mission and be explicit about how your VISTA member will play a role in it.
- Professional Development – A year of VISTA service is a unique way to get valuable experience in a career field. Like an internship on steroids, VISTA service bulks up a resume and puts alumni at a serious competitive advantage for future jobs. Candidates are eager to know how your VISTA position will help them develop professionally.
- Tangible Benefits – We know it can be difficult to sign up for a year of service at the poverty level. Ease those concerns by emphasizing the benefits that supplement the modest living allowance, including the AmeriCorps Education Award and matching higher ed institutions; End-of-service cash stipend option; Relocation allowance; Healthcare and childcare benefits; Non-competitive Eligibility; and any housing assistance your organization offers.
Tools and Resources
The VISTA Sponsor Marketing Hub is your source for digital marketing materials, including:
- Impact Graphics
- Customizable Fliers
- Fact Sheets
- Email Sheets
- Email Template
In addition to downloading documents, sponsors can receive printed recruitment collateral free of charge. Click here to visit our National Service Ordering System to stock up on promotional materials like brochures, flyers, and postcards.
Still have lingering questions on how and where you should talk about your VISTA projects? The CNCS Communications Resources hub has additional branding guidance, PSAs, fact sheets, and a communications guide to get you started.
Order Free Recruitment Kits
Plaster VISTA posters around town
We offer free recruitment kits to sponsors featuring brochures, posters, postcards, tote bags, and bumper stickers. Request your kit by emailing VISTAOutreach@cns.gov and stating:
- Your Name
- VISTA Sponsoring Organization
- Mailing Address (cannot ship to P.O. Box)
- Size of Recruitment Kit (Small, Medium, or Large)
Small: 50 cloth tote bags, 50 brochures, and one set of four posters
Medium: 100 cloth tote bags, 100 brochures, and two sets of four posters
Large: 150 cloth tote bags, 150 brochures, and two sets of four posters
Note: AmeriCorps VISTA recruitment gear is government property and can only be distributed to the public for recruitment and outreach purposes such as at: career fairs, community events, information sessions, and conferences. Items are only available for distribution to the public by the following individuals: CNCS Staff, AmeriCorps VISTA Sponsors, and Supervisors. By requesting/receiving these items, you expressly agree to use them solely for recruitment and outreach of, by and to the public for the benefit of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Any excess items not used should be returned to AmeriCorps VISTA at: 250 E St. SW, Washington, DC 20525.
It is important for VISTA sponsors to be inclusive in their recruitment. Refer to our Disability Inclusion Resources to help you be proactive in your recruitment of persons with disabilities.
Proper screening of AmeriCorps VISTA candidates is a long process that begins from the point of first contact, continues during the interview process, and is completed once you have checked an applicant’s references and they are cleared through the CNCS Criminal History Check process.
Thorough screening ensures that applicants qualify for VISTA service, will persist throughout the service year, and most important of all, will be a good fit with your community and organization.
Many factors help determine whether an applicant is suited to a specific VISTA position. Common screening criteria include motivational statement, past job experience and performance, professional references, and legal background check. The Screening VISTA Applicants worksheet will help you determine if a candidate qualifies for VISTA service.
Living on the VISTA Living Allowance
It is difficult but not impossible to live on the VISTA living allowance. Living at the poverty level can take an emotional and physical toll on VISTA members. It can be a constant source of stress and frustration and is one of the most common reasons for early exits from the program.
As a VISTA sponsor, you should be frank about the challenges associated with supporting oneself on the VISTA living allowance when you screen your candidates.
At the same time, offer your candidates and future VISTA members tools and advice about how they can prepare a realistic budget based on the project’s location and associated cost of living.
Tools and ResourcesIt is critical that you familiarize yourself with the Sponsor Responsibilities for Criminal History Checks of VISTA Members and Leaders.
Come to the interview prepared to ask the right questions and make the right impression.
Interviewing AmeriCorps VISTA candidates may be a different experience than interviewing potential employees. Many projects find it helpful to use a phone or video call for pre-screening interviews and to interview candidates who would be relocating to serve.
The Interviewing VISTA Applicants guide will help you conduct a thorough behavioral interview while also demonstrating they types of interview questions you should not ask.
And remember, the VISTA candidates aren’t the only one selling themselves during this interview. Make sure your descriptions of the position are appealing while still setting realistic expectations.
You chose the best-qualified applicant, now get them on board!
Make the offer as soon as you are comfortable doing so. Applicants need time to decide whether to accept your offer. Be prepared for the applicant to have possibly changed their mind or to have been selected into a different VISTA opportunity (this happens to highly qualified candidates). It is a good idea to have back-up candidates in case this happens.
Once an applicant has accepted your offer, complete and submit the VISTA Sponsor Recommendation form immediately so the applicant can officially accept the offer, after which they become a VISTA Candidate. When completing the Recommendation form:
- Answer the questions completely using complete sentences.
- Share any pertinent information you’ve gathered from applicant references that assisted you in coming to your decision.
- Provide additional information that guided the selection of the applicant if the application is limited or weak.
- Add notes in the “additional comments” section if you select the “substantial reservations” or ‘some reservations’ options as your overall recommendation for the applicant.
Be sure to recheck citizenship, criminal background, and reference information (if you have not done so already during the screening phase). Be prepared to hear back from CNCS about any of these issues the agency may have with your candidate. Issues related to criminal history and citizenship can crop up, as well as prior AmeriCorps service that, for whatever reason, was not shared by the applicant earlier. In these cases, you may need to conduct an additional interview.
Also, be prepared in the coming weeks to address any problems that arise to ensure the VISTA candidate is able to overcome obstacles to service. Examples may include helping them find housing (or providing transitional housing), answering questions about the online VISTA Member Orientation, and developing an Onsite Orientation and Training plan.
Tools and Resources
The VISTA Relocation Factsheet will answer your VISTA Candidate’s questions about the relocation allowance.
Stay in contact with your candidates to help build their excitement for service until they arrive.
Keep your candidates engaged in the time between selection and service so they don’t lose interest or think that you have lost interest.
Here are a few ideas to get you started; there may be many more depending on your community and project:
- Invite them to attend organizational events, meetings, or gatherings, if they live in the area.
- Send a weekly email communication about different aspects of your organization –background reading, news articles, or stories about the VISTA project.
- Connect them with currently serving VISTA members or recent alumni who live in the area.
- Encourage them to join your social media sites.
- Check in on a weekly basis via email or over the phone, making sure that onboarding forms and pre-service coursework are completed on time.
For those who are relocating to serve:
- Assist them with finding housing and other services in your community.
- Invite them to join a meeting by phone so they can get familiar with the team and its norms. Send a fun group photo of the staff ahead of the meeting so that your VISTA can place names with faces.
- Send an email outlining useful information about your city or town, like info on various neighborhoods, transportation options, how to register a car, and other practical matters.
- Send a welcome package via mail or email from the local chamber of commerce or visitors bureau. Consider including information on attractions, restaurants, shops in the surrounding area.
Note that the VISTA candidate will be required to do the following once the CNCS Regional Office approves his or her selection:
- Complete onboarding forms (such as direct-deposit) in My AmeriCorps.
- Create a VISTA Campus login and complete the online Pre-Service Coursework there.
- Certify acceptance of the VISTA Terms and Conditions and Civil Rights and Responsibilities.
Tools and Resources
The VISTA Relocation Factsheet will answer your VISTA candidate’s questions about the relocation allowance.
- Additional Resources:
These tools and guides offer some options to make the AmeriCorps VISTA recruitment cycle run even smoother.
Alumni Ambassador Program
Our most effective recruiters are always the former VISTA members who can speak personally and passionately about their service.
The Alumni Ambassador program encourages VISTA alumni to share their VISTA story to potential recruits in hopes of inspiring the next class of VISTA members.
Ask your outgoing and former members to consider becoming an Alumni Ambassador and promoting VISTA service at schools, community centers, and career fairs around town.
Utilizing VISTA Leaders in Recruitment
For projects that have them, VISTA leaders can play an important role in the recruitment process. While VISTA leaders cannot replace the supervisor, they can provide useful support in recruitment. VISTA leaders can:
- promote positions
- access, download, and organize VISTA member applications for review
- track applicants through the selection process
- communicate with applicants, provide information, and answer questions
- schedule and participate in applicant interviews
- provide feedback to supervisor
VISTA leaders are not permitted to create service opportunity listings, select VISTA candidates, make an offer of a VISTA position, or accept or reject applications.
VISTA Leader Roles in eGrants
VISTA Leaders may be given the role of Grantee Recruiter in My AmeriCorps, through eGrants, to support a project sponsor’s recruitment activities.
In the role of Grantee Recruiter, a VISTA Leader is able to edit existing service opportunity listings, search for and contact VISTA candidates, and review applications. Although the role of Grantee Recruiter allows the user to approve or reject applications, a VISTA Leader may not do so. Only a project manager or supervisor may submit new service opportunity listings and approve or reject applications.
In addition, VISTA Leaders may not access eGrants to work on project-management tasks—progress reports, sponsor verification, etc.—as this is a project staff function. Under no circumstance can a VISTA Leader have “grantee,” “grantee administrator,” or any other eGrants roles assigned to them. Failure to comply with these provisions by a project sponsor or Leader can lead to project closure.
To hold the role of Grantee Recruiter, the Leader must apply for a separate eGrants account and the Grantee Administrator for the project may then approve the request by assigning the role of Grantee Recruiter to the Leader. VISTA Leaders may not use their supervisors’ accounts and passwords.
Steps to create an eGrants account can be found on pages 6-11 in the My AmeriCorps User Guide: www.nationalservice.gov/resources/americorps/egrants-my-americorps-user-guide-vista-sponsors If there are any questions or concerns regarding VISTA Leaders, please contact your Regional Office.