Building Fortune’s Mock Interview Project: How Volunteer Eileen Kobrin Gives Back

Building Fortune’s Mock Interview Project: How Volunteer Eileen Kobrin Gives Back


“Did they give a firm handshake?” “Did they express enthusiasm for the job?” “Are they speaking with confidence?”

These are just a few questions that Eileen Kobrin, a founding volunteer and subsequent donor at The Fortune Society, asks herself when she conducts simulation interviews with clients. Through the Mock Interview Project, an initiative Eileen helped spearhead seven years ago, hundreds of participants have successfully navigated through one of the most daunting steps of the employment process: the interview.

“The whole idea is for the clients to develop a rapport with the interviewer…” says Eileen. “We encourage them to not give one-word answers, to develop some kind of a relationship, to smile. Just to smile during an interview is a big deal.”

As a native New Yorker and certified Career Planning and Development Coach who has managed projects for Merrill Lynch, Eileen knows that first impressions matter. This is especially true for people with justice involvement, who might lack interview experience and who could be asked about their criminal backgrounds.

For Fortune’s participants, the Mock Interview Project is a game-changer. Volunteers like Eileen—all seasoned professionals—advise, counsel and prepare people reentering society for real-world interview experience. Thanks to their feedback, clients learn to develop a story of their skills and experiences. Confidence, a key factor, builds—so that when the real interviews come along, they are prepared.

Last year alone, 558 individuals were placed in new jobs through our Employment Services program, many of whom participated in mock interviews.

The seed for the Mock Interview Project was sown through a national women’s organization called the Transition Network (TTN). Fortune’s then Board Chairperson Betty Rauch, who also held a position with TTN, recruited Fortune staff member Ann Travers to give a presentation to the network and answer questions from potential volunteers.

“It turns out [TTN] was a fertile ground for finding volunteers,” says Eileen. “Our women wanted to give back.”

Soon after, Ann, Senior Director of Care Management, who at the time was Director of Employment Services, was flooded with inquiries. So, Eileen, Betty, and Ann began sorting through resumes and matching their expertise with Fortune’s needs. Before they knew it, what started out with just five volunteers has since burgeoned to about 60. They now contribute to departments from Admissions to Education and Employment Services. You might also find them sitting near the Welcome Desk, smiling and waiting to assist anyone who walks through Fortune’s doors.

This success would not have been possible without Eileen, who harnessed Betty’s enthusiasm and created structure behind her idea.

“[Eileen] is really good at turning ideas into action because she is specific, she is detailed,” says Betty. “She was bringing the corporate discipline to this really complicated project to make it work.”

Today, Eileen is also co-Chair of the Volunteer Committee, charged with growing Fortune’s volunteer team. For Eileen, building is second nature.

"I build things,” she says. “That's what I like to do.”

It has been the cornerstone of her entire career—a career in which she frequently found herself taking the threads of ideas and bringing them to fruition.

Just as Fortune clients have learned lifelong skills from Eileen, they have also profoundly inspired her, teaching her about perseverance and privilege.

“I stand in awe of these men and women who've got everything going against them…” she said. “And yet...they're still trying. They're not giving up.”

It is the people at Fortune, from clients to friendly staff at the Welcome Desk, that keep Eileen coming back—and devoting her expertise to build programs that give second chances.

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