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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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