Standing out during job interviews with the NRF Foundation scholarship

Published Apr 21, 2020

UPDATED on 4/24/2020: Due to the continued impacts of the coronavirus, the application deadline for the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship has been extended to Friday, May 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

As campus closures have created new challenges, the deadline extension gives students the extra time and support they need to complete the Next Generation Scholarship application. The application is completed online, and students can use this tutorial to see all the application steps and view a video series on how to produce a personal brand video during social distancing.

In addition to providing real-world experience, the Next Generation Scholarship features a top award of $25,000; four other finalists are each awarded a $10,000 tuition scholarship. Undergraduates of all majors at NRF University Member Schools who will be juniors or seniors at the time the scholarship is awarded in January 2021 are invited to apply now.

Courtney Nash, the 2018 top recipient, is encouraging students to make the application a priority.  Nash is graduate of the University of Arizona and now works in retail as an inventory analyst for Gap Inc.’s Athleta. She says the scholarship made her “stand out above the rest” during job interviews.

She talked with NRF Foundation Scholarships and University Relations Coordinator Annalea Soudry-Maurer about how the Next Generation case study provided “huge leverage,” giving her something tangible to demonstrate to interviewers. Read a lightly edited excerpt of their conversation or listen to the discussion below.

Annalea Soudry-Maurer: When you started hearing about the scholarship, what was it that attracted you and led you to apply?

Courtney Nash: I was a sophomore at the University of Arizona when I got involved in my campus NRFSA (National Retail Federation Student Association), and saw the president going through the Next Generation Scholarship application process. She got into the top five. When I attended the NRF Foundation Student Program, I got to see her up on stage and really understand what it is that she was going through.

During her entire application process, I got to see behind the scenes how incredibly helpful and passionate my advisors and faculty were. This just made me elated to apply. I couldn't wait to get on that level with my faculty and my advisors.

The application process, the case studies, the projects and the interviews are very creative. They're curated to the industry and well thought through. It was a passion for my advisors and then the challenge that the project was giving me that gave me something outside of my curriculum to expand my thought process and creativity with.

Annalea Soudry-Maurer: In what ways do you think this scholarship and participating impacted your career goals and led you to where you ultimately are now?

Courtney Nash: NRF is nationally recognized. All interviewers, for the most part, at least knew the name. It opened the gateway for me to be able to explain what it is that I do on my college campus and how I'm involved in an extracurricular in NRFSA. And then it got me to stand out above other candidates when I could show them my concrete projects and case studies that I worked on for the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship application.

I give this advice to a lot of students that when you're in an interview – you want to take control of that interview. Having those projects printed out, showcasing what it is, something tangible that you've worked on and showing your creativity really makes that interview stand out above the rest.

The scholarship gave me that opportunity to have those concrete projects and take control in my interview. I think it gave me a lot of confidence when speaking to my interviewers at Gap, saying this is what I've been working on, this is what I've exceeded at and this is what I want to share with you during my time in the interview – and then ultimately be a part of your company. It gave me a huge leverage when interviewing with Gap.

Annalea Soudry-Maurer: What are the lessons you learned through competing that help you be successful in your current day-to day-role? Any lessons that carry through from college to working at a retailer?

Courtney Nash: The most important thing I take away is learning that people in the industry are just people who are just as passionate and excited to hear and learn as you are.

So what I mean by that is during this application process you meet with a lot of different people, you meet a lot of mentors and you interview with people that have very high, very respected titles and can seem intimidating at first when you're going through the process. But throughout this whole application process and interview process, I learned that people are excited to learn from our perspective, with our fresh, new eyes as people entering this industry. I think that gave me a relaxed sense of confidence going through different interviews for full-time jobs.

And then now in my current role, if I'm giving a presentation on some type of big financial pitch that I want to give my VPs, I realize they really do want to hear from me. They want our perspective on the industry. They’re just people, the title is the title and ultimately they're here with open ears because they're just as passionate as we are. It gave me a relaxed sense of confidence.

Annalea Soudry-Maurer: How do you think students can capitalize on the platform that this scholarship offers when they're starting to look for jobs and exploring potential careers in retail?

Courtney Nash: Utilizing the name of the NRF and NRF Foundation. It really is something so recognizable and understood between many different companies, brands or people in leadership in the industry, so certainly leveraging that is the easy answer.

But I would also say, the next thing to really get out of it, is to utilize the communication opportunities. I touched on that a little bit with the people that you get to meet and even just getting on to a new level with your advisors and your faculty, and learning how to find true, genuine mentor-mentee relationships. That’s something we can all always improve on.

Leveraging those types of relationships and building the confidence in those relationships allows you to stand out in interviews and also gives you a better picture of what's out there – what’s in the industry that interests you and get your feet wet in every direction. All that stems from confidence and passion.

Building on all those blocks along the way allows you to go into an interview feeling like you are the best student walking in that room. You have all this great experience. Whether it’s the first application process or the first interview with the judges, it is every step you need to build that confidence and build your portfolio with creativity and extra stretch projects. I think it makes you stand out so, so much among other candidates. And ultimately capitalizing on that is the best thing you can do.

Applications for the 2021 Next Generation Scholarship are open to undergraduates of all majors at NRF University Member Schools who will be juniors or seniors at the time the scholarship is awarded in January 2021. As in-person help shifted online amid campus closures, the NRF Foundation created new virtual tools for students to access anytime as they complete the application. The deadline to apply is May 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

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