EXECUTIVES FIND PEACE CORPS WORK ADDS EXOTIC TOUCH TO CAREER RESUMES : CAREER PATH.
Help Wanted: International business consultants needed for 27-month assignments in Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.
The classified ad in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times seeks volunteers for the Peace Corps - ``the toughest job you'll ever love.''
Pin-striped suits are carving a niche among the more familiar tattered jeans as the government-sponsored organization recruits business executives to help developing countries move into the global marketplace.
The biggest demand is in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where one-time communist countries are revamping state-run economies into free-market systems.
Volunteers can use experiences helping businesses overseas to advance careers back home, goes the Peace Corps' pitch.
That idea works for Sheryl Spanier, an executive coach with The Strickland Group in New York who has found jobs for thousands of executives over the past 15 years.
In an era of corporate downsizing, she said that ``there's experience within the Peace Corps that will really help somebody gain what I call `career currency.'''
``This could happen at midcareer, toward retirement, for people who have been offered severance as they look for something else to do,'' she said.
Bill Naughton, laid off in 1992 after 17 years with Shearson Lehman Brothers, believes his work as a management trainer in the Fiji Islands helped him land a job when he returned.
``Training was not my background,'' he said. ``I got involved in analyzing systems. I reviewed civil service reforms. . . . These were skills I would not necessarily know that I had.''
When he got back home, he found prospective employers ``keyed on'' his experiences.
``They'd say, `Oh, the Peace Corps.' It definitely cut me out of the pack,'' said Naughton, now manager of the data center for Health Management Systems in New York.
But Naughton said he didn't enter the Peace Corps thinking it would help him get a job, and Spanier said the Peace Corps must change its 1960s bleeding-heart image and sell itself to the corporate world.
``It's a matter of overcoming a perception that's founded on the past, instead of current and future potential,'' she said.
Matt Losak, public affairs director for the Peace Corps, agrees that idealism isn't enough for today's volunteer.
``The Peace Corps volunteer must be a practical idealist, someone who knows how to get things done,'' he said.
The Peace Corps has about 7,000 volunteers in more than 90 countries. About 1,000 work with businesses, while others are assigned to agricultural, health and environmental projects, and still others are teachers.
The average age of volunteers is about 30, with 8 percent over 50. Of the total, 55 percent are women.
The corps began recruiting business executives in the early 1990s after the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and with it, the scramble by newly independent countries to fix their backward economies.
``Russia (and) the Eastern Bloc countries looked toward America to learn English - the language of commerce - and to get the skills so they could compete,'' said John Coyne, in charge of Peace Corps recruiting in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
``Banks had to be opened,'' he said. ``Companies had to be sold. We had a great need for entrepreneurs to come in.''
Countries also needed help in setting up tax codes, writing laws and showing businesses how to draft agreements with other countries.
``In their vocabulary, they don't have the marketing terms,'' Coyne said. ``How do you advertise if you've never advertised before? Going from demand economy to a market economy takes a lot of knowledge.''
In Poland, where potatoes are a big crop, Peace Corps volunteers helped local residents start a potato chip plant. They also helped create a Yellow Pages-style phone directory.
In the West African nation of Mali, volunteers helped set up banks in villages so money could move out from the capital of Bamako into rural areas.
In Chile, a volunteer worked with a tourist organization to develop tourism packages and brochures to draw vacationers from other parts of the South American country.
Photo: Annie P. Jones of Yonkers, N.Y., attends a seminar on the Peace Corps.