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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!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

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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A group of patrons at an exhibit about activism at the Museum of the City of New York

Passing the Torch: From One Education Fellow to Another

My name is Jaiwantie Manni and I am the current FAO Schwarz Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York. My direct service work involves working with students and teachers who visit the Museum on field trips.

For my special project at the Museum, I incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities into our field trips, and plan and implement our Family and Community Engagement Programs. I also have the pleasure of working with, and learning from, Joanna Steinberg, who was one of the first Fellows funded by the Foundation. Joanna completed her fellowship at the Museum in 2008 but has continued to be an integral team member of the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at MCNY in her role as Senior Education Manager.

Then: The beginning of Joanna’s Fellowship

Joanna chose to work at the Museum not only because she had previous experience here but also because she wanted to work in a dynamic museum in a large city. Having grown up in New York City, she was particularly interested in urban and local history and working with students from across the boroughs. As a Fellow, Joanna’s direct service duties included leading fields trips—The Grid: Urban Planning in NYC and Life in New Amsterdam, which I also teach—and work on developing programs that aligned with the NYC Department of Education’s curriculum. The notion of having a direct service focus as well as a special long-term project, which the Fellow focuses on for the two-year period, is a concept that has been incorporated into the fellowship since it was established in 2006.

One of her special projects was coordinating an educational program at the Museum called New York City History Day. This annual citywide event brings together hundreds of students from across NYC to share their research in the form of exhibitions, documentaries, performances, papers, and websites. Joanna expanded participation in the program by over 100 participants and developed relationships with many schools who were new to the program. To help new schools prepare, Joanna led workshops with teachers and student groups about how to research and interpret primary sources and develop thesis statements to make a historical argument. As a former history major, Joanna was excited that the program creates a community of young historians in the making, and recognizes and ignites their interest in history.

It’s been wonderful to see the program grow under Stephanie Dueno, also a former FAO. Schwarz Fellow, who served as the coordinator after Joanna until 2017. She created an extensive curriculum that teaches students how to conduct historical research and develop their own perspectives, in addition to strengthened partnerships with the Department of Education and schools across the city.

Like myself, Joanna had previous experience working in museums. Joanna was a history major and an art minor at Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio. During her time at Oberlin, Joanna completed a Museum practicum at the Allen Art Museum, which is where she led tours as a Museum Educator and worked as the Assistant Registrar in Collections. During one summer, she worked at the Museum of the City of New York in the Urban Peer Docent Program mentoring high school youth who learned to teach in museum exhibitions for the first time. However, being a Museum Educator isn’t something you learn overnight. Joanna mentioned that it takes time and practice to hone your pedagogical skills, which involves fine-tuning questions to elicit lively discussions, learning to listen closely to students and having them respond to each other, while also building on their comments and observations to enhance their engagement with the exhibitions and discussions about New York.

For Joanna, the Museum has provided an amazing laboratory for developing interactive learning strategies, thinking about accessibility and how students interact in the spaces and identifying optimal moments for learning. Even though I’ve worked in two museums before coming to MCNY, I find myself also seeking advice on how to fine-tune these skills and learning how to make connections between students.

After the Fellowship

Today, Joanna is the Senior Education Manager of the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at the Museum of the City of New York. After her fellowship ended in 2008, Joanna continued to work on teaching and developing new field trips, particularly ones in conjunction with Activist New York, Jacob Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half, City as Canvas, and Hip Hop Revolution, in addition to History Labs. Joanna says that “working on educational programs where students and chaperones see cultural movements of their own generation and their own communities across the boroughs represented in the Museum have been powerful and have changed the way students experience the Museums.”

Years later, Joanna has developed many lesson plans for Activist New York and recently worked with a team of educators to develop lesson plans for Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics for teachers to use in their classrooms. She has also worked on developing some of the components of the Future City Lab field trip that I am working on. The Future City Labis one of the Museum’s new permanent galleries that’s part of New York at Its Core, which allows visitors to examine the city’s current challenges and develop strategies to respond to these challenges using interactive digital games.

Now: My Fellowship

Today, Joanna is my go-to person for anything regarding field trips. She helps teach me the field trip content and is someone I seek feedback from while developing a STEM-based educational experience for students visiting the Future City Lab for my special project work.

Throughout these past six months, I have worked with students from grades K–12, and have learned to lead five different field trips. Using STEM concepts, I have also developed a new interactive display for theFuture City Lab to help students learn about the strategies New Yorkers are using to address major challenges that the city is facing in terms of the environment, housing, and transportation.

My hope is that the inclusion of tactile objects, like concrete and materials from green roofs will help them understand the inner workings of the city and the choices professionals and community members are making to solve problems. Having the opportunity to look at photographs and touch urban materials will not only resonate with students but will draw a real connection between the exhibition and the city beyond the Museum’s walls. I’ve worked with Joanna and other members of the Schwarz Education Center to make decisions about what to include in this display so that the concepts featured in the exhibition are more accessible to our students of all ages. Having Joanna’s expertise on how students grasp information has been extremely helpful and has made my project more meaningful.

It has been delightful to come into the Museum and work with Joanna to develop a more STEM-based educational experience for students visiting the Future City Lab. Every day, I get to work in a professional setting where everyone is each other’s cheerleader and everyone is given room for professional growth. I not only get to collaborate with other Museum Educators but also our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellows who are trained as Museum Educators to utilize their doctoral research in a public history setting by engaging the Schwarz Education Center’s audiences.

This summer, I will be working with some of the Museum interns who are young adults being trained in Museum Education techniques as a first-time job opportunity. They lead field trips to camp groups and Family Programs in July and August. I am looking forward to being a part of their training and supervisory team where I can impart my recent knowledge as a new staff member to this new cohort of interns.

With the support of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation, the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center at the Museum of the City of New York offers career development opportunities to a wide range of professionals at different levels of their career. I feel fortunate to be the beneficiary of one of these opportunities. From the Foundation’s resources to my colleagues at MCNY, I’m learning how to hone my creativity, experience, and knowledge to contribute to the important educational programs offered by the Museum.