Oh, Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE). A Critical Language Scholarship Program alumnus may have first encountered this term, like I did, during the CLS pre-departure orientation in DC. I remember a distinguished man representing the State Department on a panel all about the opportunities CLS and language-learning would afford us; the topic of NCE came up and he very briefly said we will be granted NCE once successfully completing our program. That was the last I heard about NCE until two months later, when my resident director in Japan struggled to articulate exactly what NCE was — he only knew that when we returned to the US, we would be sent a certificate that proclaimed that we had NCE, and this would be our ticket to… jobs? Or something. Wait, what?! Since then, NCE has been this sort of amorphous, vague idea that has floated around my post-CLS Program experience.
I’m here to elucidate NCE as best as I can and provide some helpful tips and links to job boards so that you can make the most of your NCE status!
What is Non-Competitive Eligibility?
The Peace Corps official website reassures its readers that we don’t need to understand exactly what NCE is to reap its rewards. I love that they keep it real. But knowledge is power, so here is a quick explanation of NCE:
NCE status gives you the advantage of less competition when applying to some federal job opportunities, and the opportunity to apply for some jobs otherwise only open to federal employees. On top of access to jobs that may have been inaccessible to an external applicant, our NCE status may also, depending on the listing/agency, place your application in a smaller, more exclusive pool than the general competitive pool, thereby increasing your chances of employment.
It also cuts down the time it takes to go through the hiring process for these jobs. If you want to read an exhaustive breakdown of what the federal competitive hiring process is generally like for the average applicant, click here: https://federalsoup.com/Articles/2012/02/19/C08S01-Hiring-and-Placement.aspx Otherwise, just know that when your NCE status is in play, you may skip through a big portion of this process.
NCE can also potentially signify to a federal employer that your accomplishments and experiences make you a strong and unique candidate. NCE gives you an edge that only a select group of others can also claim; when you network, this can be a benefit.
*** NB: NCE does not guarantee you a job with the government. Federal agencies can choose to consider NCE candidates or not consider them for any given listing; it is at their discretion. NCE also does not apply local or state government jobs. ***
Your NCE status generally lasts one year. HOWEVER, if you’re still in school when you’re granted NCE status and won’t be able to take advantage of your status within one year, it’s possible to extend your status for an extra two years. This also applies if you’re in the middle of military service or another approved activity.
If you have any questions about your own case and what activities may get you an extension, reach out to the CLS program (or the program that earned you NCE status) and they will likely be able to speak to your situation.
Who gets NCE?
Very cool people like yourself — people who have successfully completed US State Department exchange programs! The programs that grant you NCE upon completion are as follows: Critical Language Scholarship Program, Gilman Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, and volunteer service such as AmeriCorps VISTA and the Peace Corps.
The NCE certificate, which is your ticket to NCE opportunities, was emailed to me last year around October: three months after I completed the CLS Program. Star that email, download that certificate, and be prepared to attach it wherever you can. If you have questions about receiving your certificate, send an email to CLSalumni@americancouncils.org.
Tips for making the most of your NCE status:
Most basic and necessary: attach your certificate that verifies your NCE status to every federal job application, email, or job board profile you fill out. If you’re applying to a job on USAJobs, for example, and you see a box or space to expand on any achievements or experiences, list your NCE status. And then upload your official certification.
And mention your NCE status in every cover letter, resume, or email you send when applying to, or inquiring about, those jobs. List it on your LinkedIn page (thank you, NationalService.gov, for that great tip). If reaching out to a HR person for any reason, bring it up. Don’t forget it!
A couple State Dept. employees have advised CLS alumni to do the above things as a bare minimum; they are simple yet effective ways you can make sure no one overlooks your status. Give yourself every advantage by talking up your NCE status and showing those receipts wherever you can.
AmeriCorps VISTA Campus has an amazing resource for NCE-bearing job hunters: their NCE FAQ features a sample cover letter that demonstrates how an applicant can briefly discuss their NCE status. https://www.vistacampus.gov/sites/vistacampus/files/Non-Competitive%20Eligibility%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions.pdf It’s on the last page. Definitely take note of the language and details used in the cover letter to present the NCE status.
NCE Job Boards
- USAJOBS: https://www.usajobs.gov/
USAJOBS is the first and broadest option for searching jobs that honor NCE. When searching for listings there, check out the filter for “Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA.” These jobs are for applicants like you who have NCE.
That little purple globe symbol is your friend. Keep checking back on USAJOBS for listings that feature the globe, because you never know what may pop up there that speak to your career goals.
If you apply to a job that does not feature the globe, attach your NCE certification anyway, and mention your NCE status within your cover letter or additional information section(s) if you can. You have nothing to lose.
Otherwise, below are couple job boards I found that feature NCE job opportunities! Bear in mind that these job boards are specifically tailored to other, non-exchange program alumni; that could mean some of these opportunities may specifically intend to hire, for example, AmeriCorps VISTA alumni. Nevertheless, the boards are well worth keeping an eye on throughout your job hunt:
- RPCV Career Link: https://www.peacecorps.gov/returned-volunteers/careers/career-link/
Returned Peace Corps volunteers enjoy NCE status, too, and the Peace Corps career link’s listed opportunities may reflect this. There is a little box near the search bar you can check: “SHOW ONLY NONCOMPETITIVE ELIGIBILITY JOBS.”
- VISTA Campus Job Board: https://www.vistacampus.gov/jobs
AmeriCorps VISTA’s job board! Check here for openings that may be of relevance to you. Again, keep in mind there will be some VISTA-only listings. Look for the filter on the left side of the page: “FILTER BY NON-COMPETITIVE ELIGIBILITY (NCE).”
The State Department website also recommends checking in with your college or university’s career services to seek NCE-friendly opportunities.
And that’s it for now! I will update this space if I come across any other NCE-relevant resources/job boards, but I am pretty confidant that the three above speak to the NCE status most explicitly. As always, leave a comment if you know of any other sites that may be helpful to someone with NCE status.