Career

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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. 


Be a STAR

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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Sophie teaches two young children in a classroom.

Continuing to Learn Outside the Classroom

As someone who has always loved learning, one of the aspects of post-undergrad life that I was most hesitant about was that I wouldn’t have the chance to learn. I thought this was just one of life’s given facts—learning happens in school. But, on my first day with Audubon Mid-Atlantic, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this isn’t the case, at least not here.

I had a pretty clear path in mind for myself when I started college: teach people about environmental issues. Although I thought about the environment on a daily basis and took almost all classes that had to do with climate and the environment, birds were not a topic that often came up. I had always been passionate about animals, but birds were not especially high on my list of favorites. Then, I got a job working for Audubon Mid-Atlantic, the Mid-Atlantic Region of the National Audubon Society.

I haven’t stopped learning and don’t plan on it anytime soon.

The National Audubon Society’s mission is to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Working for an organization that focuses on birds, I knew that I would have my work cut out for me. There is a saying “those who cannot do, teach.” I personally believe this saying is complete nonsense–in fact, in order to teach about a concept, one has to have a much deeper understanding. Because of that, I knew I had a lot to learn from my start date in July in order to teach students about birds starting in October.

If you thought that four months would be enough time to learn about birds, you would be completely wrong. As soon as I started to research, read articles, and practice my binocular skills, I couldn’t get enough of birds. At the center where I work, there are over 145 different species of birds that visit over the course of a year. This means that just to teach about birds at my center at an in-depth level, I have to learn how to identify them based on sound and sight as well as their behaviors. Then, there is the more general concepts of migration and adaptation. Who would have known there would be so much to learn about one animal!

I haven’t stopped learning and don’t plan on it anytime soon. I now have to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road when I spot a bird while driving and get the itch to identify it. I have a hard time going for a walk without bringing my trusty binoculars with me or whipping out my phone for a quick sound identification of a bird call. And best of all, I get to share this newfound passion with my students, friends, and family, while I continue to learn about birds every day.

Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein (she/her) is FAO Schwarz Fellow at Mid Atlantic Audubon's Discovery Center in Philadelphia.

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Jasmin reads to other Fellows at Reading Partners New York City.

Direct Service and Strategic Development in Social Impact Leadership

Entering my second year of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship this September, I have begun to reflect on many of the skills and opportunities for growth I have gained in just the last year. I am reminded of one of the program elements I was most excited for as a prospective applicant, a staple of the Fellowship’s structure that drew me to the program and to Jumpstart more specifically: the ability to split Fellowship responsibilities between direct service and strategic projects. This combination has become a valuable part of my experience, developed the important skills I have gained, and is an attribute of social impact leadership I now believe to be necessary for social impact leaders that seek real justice for communities.

 

Coming into the Fellowship, I was intrigued by the opportunity to work at the intersection of my skills. I was compelled by the program’s focus on engaging Fellows in both community and management through their work plans. Unlike many of the programs I looked into, the work structure of the Fellowship centered community advocacy and systems change simultaneously. Reading through the work plan listed for Jumpstart, I saw a combination of new skills and interests I wanted to foster that weren’t captured in other social impact or public administration programs. The work plan ranged from curriculum development to community event planning, and from program evaluation to Policy advocacy and lobbying. I saw the opportunity to combine strategic leadership projects with the direct, community-facing work that had originally drove me into the educational justice field.

The Fellowship experience has allowed me to build on both skills during my two years, developing an intersectional skill set that I feel should be necessary for all leaders in this sector.

Jumpstart as an organization prioritizes this mix of intervention efforts, combining the impacts of direct service and sector thought leadership and advocacy. With our organization’s focus on advancing the careers of Corps members as the main leaders in the direct service and education of preschool children, we are an organization with a foundation in direct service programming that through thought leadership, campaigns, and policy advocacy have advanced the early education advocacy system. This simultaneous connection between grassroots and grass tops work has both been a part of my role and has contributed to my vision that the balance between community-facing work and systems-focused change significantly and positively influences organizations like Jumpstart’s ability to achieve long-term, structural change. Connections to early education through our program partners, Corps members, educators, and communities influence our vision for structural change in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) system.

This integration of service and community engagement throughout the start of my social impact careers has been one of the most amazing parts of my Fellowship experience and has equipped me with skills I would not likely have gained in other spaces of work.  One of my current projects is working on garnering support for Jumpstart from University and Program partners around the country who can help support language we are crafting around increased protections for Federal Work Study students participating in service-learning programs. This policy-centered proposal requires leveraging skills in relationship building with elected officials, coalition building with grass tops peer organizations and simultaneously leveraging the relationships and connections we have made through serving children, teachers, and students at institutions of higher education. This advocacy effort has combined relationship and coalition-building skills on different ends of the sector, both coordinating grassroots voices of Corps members and educational institutions, alongside thought leadership and legislative support of elected officials. The combined strength of Jumpstart’s connection to college students, community service advocates and early education programs helps to create projects like these which connects community service and policy. While this work is complex, I have found that my most interesting, motivating, and challenging work rests between these spaces, and reminds me of the necessity of having skills at the intersection of strategy/systems-thinking and community-centered connection to create true change in the social impact sector.

The Fellowship experience has allowed me to build on both skills during my two years, developing an intersectional skill set that I feel should be necessary for all leaders in this sector. Importantly, this work demonstrates that nonprofits and community-based organizations have a unique power in the space of advocacy in social change, reaching both into grassroots and grass tops communities during intervention. From these necessary experiences, I encourage prospective and/or new Fellows to consider the value of the unique position to be immersed in the two sides of work that impact justice initiatives within our organizations. While many of us will continue into positions of management and leadership in the nonprofit world, or other spaces of leadership for social justice, these few years following undergrad are a great opportunity to remain grounded in service and to reflect on how best to center service in our future work. These few years post-grad have been necessary for gaining skills in work that remains grounded in community impact, in community voice, and that centers the leadership of communities I advocate for through policy. As I hopefully continue into leadership positions in this sector, I know this grounding will be necessary to inform my perspective on strategies for progress.

Jasmin Norford

Jasmin Norford

Jasmin Norford (she/her) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow Jumpstart in New York City.

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Abi reads a children's book to a Fellow at Reading Partners NYC.

Dear Future Fellow

H'Abigail Mlo (Fellowship '22) shares her perspective and advice with college seniors.

Dear Future Fellow,

Whether you’ve received an offer or are a prospective applicant: congratulations! You’ve come a long way from where you started, a doe-eyed college first-year, and you should be proud. You’ve worked hard, spent countless hours across countless desks, offices, and libraries, to be here. You’ve turned your tassel, or you’re about to, on an accomplished college career. The question of “What’s next?” has come up again and again from friends, family members, and professors. They mean well, but I’m sure it’s only making you more nervous for the future. I’ve been there.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary.

If I could describe my senior year in a word, it would be frenzy. Not only did my year stop short because of the pandemic, but I was also juggling several things at once. Classes, work-study, an internship, an honors thesis, two student leadership roles, and, of course, job applications. Seemingly everyone around me had secured jobs by winter break. Perhaps you can relate. Prior to submitting my application for the FAO Schwarz Fellow role at Trust for Public Land, I submitted applications for six other fellowships and three full-time roles.

By April, I’d heard back from all but two organizations with a rejection. I received an offer from TPL that month. Also that month, I moved from my college dorm to my parent’s house. There, I completed my classes and internship, defended my honor’s thesis, and ultimately graduated college. I started the Fellowship soon after.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary. Though these last two years have been challenging, I’ve had a fulfilling experience that has been necessary for my growth as a leader. I’ve learned so much about the field of environment and land protection, and about myself. I’m in a role I never imagined myself in–because I didn’t previously know it existed–and living in a city that I love. This is thanks to Trust for Public Land and the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Now, when asked, “What’s next?” I can proudly say I’m staying on at Trust for Public Land, taking on the position of Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator. I will also be closely connected with the Fellowship as an alumni mentor to an incoming Fellow.

I’m thankful to have grown alongside a cohort of incredible Fellows and to have met them in person recently for our retreat. My alumni mentor, Jen Benson, has been of immense support to me, as has the Fellowship director, Priscilla Cohen.

My advice is to cherish these next few years. Whether you’re in a Fellowship or with another employer, build strong connections within your organization and the community around you. Take advantage of the resources offered by your organization and the Fellowship, whether it’s a workshop, conference, or a coffee chat with someone you admire. Seek out learning opportunities, or ask for them. Lean into discomfort and into challenge. Take time off and rest for the sake of rest.

I’ve come a long way since June 1, 2020, just as you will in the years after you graduate. Trust me when I say time flies.

Good luck,

Abi

H'Abigail Mlo

H'Abigail Mlo

Abi completed her FAO Fellowship with The Trust for Public Land in Philadelphia in June of 2022. She has remained with the organization as Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator.

A person's red sneakers are shown ascending blue stairs.

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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Tips on Applying For The FAO Schwarz Fellowship

When I was in college, I went to every single event my career center offered: resume writing workshops, interviewing seminars, you name it, I was there. Coming from a low-income background, much of the academic or non-profit sector felt foreign to me, including applying to jobs and fellowships after college. I learned a lot of useful things in those sessions, but what was particularly surprising was how many of those things I would have never thought of on my own. Below are some of the things that helped me the most in applying for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship, in hopes they might help you, too.

Is the Position a Good Fit?

After you read through the job descriptions on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship webpage, which are announced on November 1, you should check out the host organization’s websites. Click around the different pages and ask yourself some questions about what you find there.

Here are some useful questions that I asked myself before applying to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at the Museum of the City of New York:

  • What is the mission of this organization?
  • How does this mission align with my values?
  • What type of work does this organization do with its community?
  • Is this the type of work I am excited to do?
  • What skills might I learn working at this organization?
  • What is the size of this organization? Is it local, or national
  • Do I have a preference?
  • Who staffs this organization?
  • What is the relationship between the staff and the community they serve?

In addition to these questions, you should take note of anything that catches your eye—something you like or dislike—that you find on the organization’s website.

 

Putting Together a Resume

The best piece of advice I ever received about resumes is to have one master resume, and create job-specific resumes for each application you submit. The master resume is one resume that has every job, project, internship, scholarship, prize, fellowship, and more, from your life. Under each of these experiences, list all the responsibilities you had, skills you used, and tasks you accomplished during that experience. 

When it comes time to apply to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship—or any job, really—pick out which of those experiences you want to highlight, ones that best demonstrate what you would bring to the position you are applying for. When selecting what responsibilities and skills from each experience to include, find the ones that most closely align with the responsibilities listed on the webpage for the specific host organization’s job description. For each item listed on your resume, ask yourself “does this show someone who has not met me what important skills and experience I would bring to this fellowship?” If not, rephrase so that it does, or replace it with something that shows your qualifications for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship specifically.

In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility.

Writing a Cover Letter

The reason I find cover letters daunting is because they’re a prospective employer’s first impression of me. How do you condense your entire person into a page? 

The short answer is: you don’t. Like a resume, a cover letter isn’t a comprehensive story of who you are as a person, your accomplishments, talents, or strengths. It isn’t even a complete list of all the reasons you might be a great fit for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Instead, you should aim for your cover letter to highlight a few of the most valuable skills and experiences you would bring to the fellowship.

Here is how I worked on my cover letter for the fellowship:

First, I looked at the responsibilities listed under the special project and direct service work sections on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at MCNY page on the Fellowship website. For each bullet point, I came up with one thing about myself that demonstrated why I would excel in that responsibility—this could be coursework, volunteer experience, previous work experience, a personal project, or something else.

After I had my list, I picked 3-4 of them, and focused on those in my cover letter. When talking about each experience, I made sure to explicitly describe how it would help me with the specific responsibility in the Fellowship role (e.g. “The skills I gained from working as a volunteer tutor will be invaluable as I teach museum field trips and create family programs”).

In addition to these tips, you should be sure to answer all three questions asked of you for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship. You can use your 3-4 experiences to weave in your answers to these questions, too.

Interviewing

Finally, here are some things that I learned from my college career center that were very useful in the interview process:

Pre-planned Talking Points. Working with your cover letter, come up with a few experiences or qualities about yourself that you are sure you would like to talk about. Look up some standard interview questions and think through how those experiences or qualities could be the starting point for answering these questions. This was a huge relief for me when interviewing—when asked a question in the interview, I already had a planned menu of experiences to choose from when deciding what to talk about. One less thing to worry about!

Come up with a Good Challenge. In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility. Even though it seems like a question that is asking you to talk about your flaws, use this as an opportunity to talk yourself up! Pick a challenge where you problem-solved effectively, one that the resolution is one that you’re proud of.  

Open-Ended Questions. Come to the interview with 3 open-ended questions you have about the host organization. An open-ended question is one that requires more than a sentence to answer. In most job interviews, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions for them. Always say yes. This shows your excitement for the job and is a way to demonstrate the research you’ve done about the host organization.

The Follow Up Email. After your interview (on the same day or the following day), write a personalized thank you email to your interviewer. Thank them for their time, and express how much you enjoyed hearing about the host organization.

I hope that you found some of these tips helpful, and best of luck in your application process! If you have any questions, attend one of our info sessions, AMAs, or reach out to contact@faoschwarzfellowship.org!


Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte (she/her or they/them) is an FAO Schwarz Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York.

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

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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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