Beyond the Fellowship

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Tips for a Successful Interview

Table of Contents

If you’re like most people, you find interviewing exciting but nerve-wracking. This is your chance to share who you are, your passions, motivations, and qualifications, so naturally, you want to get it right. 

We created this guide to support you throughout the interview process, whether you’re applying for the Fellowship or not!


Before the interview

Update Your LinkedIn

Before the interview, you should take some time to update your LinkedIn profile. Your interviewers will more often than not look you up in an effort to prepare for the interview. And you should do the same! Be sure to research your interviewers (if you know who their names ahead of time) and develop a sense of their professional experience and career journey. This will also help inform the specific questions you ask (more on that later!)

Resource: Jonathan Javier and Jerry Lee of Wonsulting frequently share helpful tips for LinkedIn, resumes, and interviews.

Review Your Social Media

You’ve heard it before–make sure your social media is something you’re comfortable with potential employers seeing! Be sure to review all accounts associated with you, and decide whether the content is something you should keep public. You can always make your accounts private!

Prepare, but don’t overprepare

This one is a balance. You need to know the story you want to tell, but not so well that you’re practically (or literally) reading from a script. Once you feel like you have the gist of your story, you should be all set. You want to know the key points while maintaining authenticity. This is how you set yourself up to shine!

Whether in person, virtual, or on the phone, it’s fine to have some bullets for you to glance at. In every interview I’ve done (and I’ve done quite a few!), I’ve had bullets to glance at to make sure I’m sharing all of my qualifications for the role. 


The STAR Method is a great way to frame your responses to open-ended questions like “tell me about a time you lead a project.” This technique will help you tell the story of your experiences while hitting all the information interviewers are looking for. 

The STAR Method consists of sharing the

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

I like to prepare 3-5 versatile STAR scenarios to springboard from. Sometimes I end up using the same one twice, but with different framing. Point is, you want a pool to pick from, in case one doesn’t align well with the questions they ask.  

Tidy Up

Take a moment on the day of your interview (if you have time) to tidy up your background. Make sure it is quiet, tasteful, and/or clutter-free, or be ready to use the background blur feature that most video interview platforms have. Be sure to turn your notifications off–there’s nothing worse than a text chime coming through, especially if it makes you lose your train of thought. 

If you’re doing a phone interview, remember that they cannot see you, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can ensure maximum comfort levels for your conversation, and on the other, you need to express yourself through your voice. Phone interviews strike me a little like acting–you have to make sure they can hear the emotion (excitement, happiness, passion, etc.) in your voice–you can’t rely on your facial expressions to tell that story for you. 

Early Bird Gets the…

If it’s a video interview, test your equipment well beforehand, making sure your camera and microphone work on the chosen platform. You can usually run a test on these sites/platforms without having to join a specific meeting. This will allow you to seamlessly tackle my next tip for any interview type: show up early. 

If it’s a video, log on to the meeting at least 5 minutes in advance. I can’t tell you how many interviewers shared their excitement when I was ready to go when they were–virtual interviewees often left them waiting. Same goes for in-person interviews, make sure you arrive at the agreed upon location well in advance (typically 10-15 mins unless they provide other instructions).

For phone interviews, typically the interviewer will call you, so you should be ready to go a few moments before you’re expecting the call. 

If you’re unable to join or arrive at your interview on time, be sure to communicate with your point of contact as soon as you can and let them know when they can expect you to join/arrive.

During the interview

Be Yourself

You know it, but it bears repeating: be yourself. The organization requested an interview with you because they want to meet you, the real you. Let your personality shine through your interactions and responses. 

Take it from me, I talked (at length) about how much I enjoy watching the train that goes by my apartment every day, and felt like a total dork after I logged off. I still got the job. 

Ask tailored questions

Okay, so technically you should prepare these in advance, but it’s fine to think on the fly, too! Be sure to prep 3-5 tailored questions, using them to both show your interest in and research on the company, while gathering information to learn if the role/organization is a good fit for you.

Resource: Here’s an article from Harvard Business Review to get you started.

Take Notes

For interviews, I always have a pen and notebook at the ready–typing notes can make it look like you’re multitasking, or cause your computer to shake in a distracting way. I usually like to disclaim that I’m taking notes so that they know why I may be looking down repeatedly while they’re speaking. This sets my mind at ease–they know they have my full attention (and that I’m so interested and engaged I’m taking notes!)


After the interview

Give Thanks

Be sure to follow up with your interviewers and share your gratitude for their time and the conversation you had. If you don’t have their direct contact information, you can share it with your recruiter or talent acquisition contact and ask that they pass it along. There are a lot of great resources on how to craft the perfect follow-up note. (Here are a few of our favorites: The Muse | HBR | Career Contessa

Take Time to Reflect

Once your interview concludes, and before you rush off to the next thing in your busy day, take a few moments to reflect on the experience and jot down any final notes. Think about whether the organization seems like a good fit for you, and if you’d enjoy having your interviewers as coworkers. Note any remaining questions you have, and find a way to get them answered if they’re pressing. 

Finally, remember and rest in the satisfaction that you did your best! 

As you embark on your job search and attend interviews, doing research will keep you sharp and prepared. Some of our favorite resources were already mentioned:


Taylor Reese

Taylor Reese

Taylor Reese (she/her) was a Fellow at Year Up from 2019 to 2021. Upon the completion of her Fellowship, she joined Year Up full time. She now works at Jobs for the Future, and is the part time manager of the Fellowship.


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Opportunity Beyond the Fellowship

When I became an FAO Schwarz Fellow I didn’t have a firm view of my path forward. I knew a few key things, that I cared deeply about the social impact space and that I wanted to do whatever I could to better the world around me. The Fellowship was a great way to take those key tenets of what I cared about and start to develop tangible ways to achieve my goals. As I worked in direct service at Breakthrough Greater Boston, I began to peel back the layers of what made a non-profit successful.

Learning about the range of nonprofits that others in my Fellowship cohort worked in allowed me to look beyond my organization and at the needs of the social impact sector as a whole.

When I was in college, I always assumed that if the direct service was strong, then that would be directly linked to success. However, as I watched leaders grapple with strategic issues such as funding and organizational culture, I began to realize that direct service was just a part of a larger machine, and I was extremely interested in how that machine worked.

As I began to dig deeper into the strategy of my work, and started to develop key questions and then eventually think through potential solutions, I wondered how my organization had grown it’s strategy in the past. This was how I discovered the world of social impact consulting. As I explored the work, I found myself so excited by the solutions and tools that now were essential to how we operated. It was motivating to know that I could work somewhere where my impact was bigger than just one organization.

After countless case studies and a few interviews, I can now say that my work as an FAO Schwarz Fellow allowed me to land a job as an associate consultant next fall. My close proximity to both direct service as well as strategic thinking exposed me to a side of nonprofit work I never knew existed.

Additionally, learning about the range of nonprofits that others in my fellowship cohort worked in allowed me to look beyond my organization and at the needs of the social impact sector as a whole. I’m excited to begin the next chapter of my journey and can’t thank the FAO Schwarz Fellowship enough for the experience I’ve gained over the past two years.

Serena Salgado

Serena Salgado

Serena Salgado (she/her) is the College Success and Alumni Support FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash


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Crises and Creativity: What we can learn from 2020

At Jumpstart, we emphasize the importance of young children’s capacity to learn during those critical early years, when their minds are flexible and open to new experiences. As adults, it can be easy to settle into our patterns and believe that our time to learn and change has passed. The pandemic has affected every aspect of my work and personal life, but rather than focus on the way things haven’t gone according to plan, I’m considering the ways my perspective has changed.

At the end of my fellowship, I’m thinking about how I can continue to challenge my expectations, habits, and ideas, even after leaving the crisis-mode of this past year.

I remember the dread throughout the nonprofit and education world as we entered the pandemic last spring. Without in-person classes, how could students learn effectively? Without in-person services, would families fall through the cracks? Before there was time to conduct research, we began planning how to address the expected learning loss. When things go sideways, it’s easy to catastrophize, freeze, and just wait for things to go back to normal.

Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth.

At Jumpstart, once we realized that “normalcy” would never return, the work of redesigning programs for a virtual setting began. Tech averse folks (like me), had to let go of our resistances and become fluent in virtual platforms. Rather than create a temporary replacement for traditional community engagement, we were able to develop something new. Over the summer, I worked with Jumpstart volunteers who created astounding educational videos for children. Throughout the year, I collaborated with the Reads Alliance in Brooklyn and Queens to host trilingual Zoom events that often gathered nearly one hundred attendees and distributed hundreds of book kits. Although the in-person interaction was missing, we were able to create entirely different experiences. Virtual engagement gave us the ability to have translators for multiple languages, host guest speakers who live across the world, and connect with families who may not have had the time to travel to a traditional event.

This is not to force a silver lining onto a year that was devastating and traumatic, but to point out how the learning potential we see in children still exists in adults and organizations. Unimaginable events can lead to previously unimagined (or unimplemented) ideas. Knowing this, I hope to hold onto the mindset that every person or system still has a huge potential for growth, even though they may have exited that “critical period.” I hope that we can carry forward the innovations that have stemmed from this disaster, along with a new openness to adaptation. I’m excited to return to seeing children and families in-person, to have the side conversations and irreplaceable interactions, and I’ll bring a new sense of resourcefulness and creativity with me.

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones

Meredith Jones (she/her) is the Policy and Community Impact Fellow Jumpstart for Young Children in New York City.


Photo Raul PetriUnsplash

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Becoming a Young Professional During a Pandemic: One Year In

When I applied to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship in the winter of 2020, life was different. I submitted my application before heading over to a friend’s house to have a gathering of 15+ people, no masks involved. In late February and early March, as I was interviewing for my position, sanitizing surfaces was a new normal, but still, I did video calls from a classroom at Northwestern, not knowing that I wouldn’t return for a spring quarter. 

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