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Trading his books for a job in retail, Eyoeal Zewdo dropped out of college just months after getting started.

He watched as his friends earned their college degrees four years later and started jobs that far outpaced his salary — despite being promoted to store manager.

Searching for a new path, a friend working in tech told Zewdo of his experience with Year Up, a free, 12-month intensive program for 18-24 year olds without a bachelor’s degree.

“I thought it was too good to be true,” Zewdo said. “He said it was free school and they trained you to be ready for the professional workforce. I said ‘why not?’”

With nearly 90% of its student body composed of people of color, non-profit Year Up is committed to closing the opportunity divide that cuts off more than 6 million young adults from a stable career path despite having the talent and drive to achieve more.

Recognizing that U.S. businesses face a significant skills gap of 12 million jobs through 2025, Year Up offers tracks in business and tech to fill this pressing need for more skilled workers.

Pursuing Year Up’s IT track, Zewdo took classes at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus for six months. Zewdo and his classmates then embarked on six-month internships with local companies to sharpen the skills they’d learned in the classroom.

As they neared the program’s conclusion in June, this Year Up cohort had the unique opportunity to ready themselves for their upcoming job hunt during a day of mock interviews with over 150 Capital One associates. 

Closing the Opportunity Gap and Launching Careers

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While Capital One has typically hosted around 50 Year Up associates for internships each year since 2013, Naomi Smouha, Community Relations Manager at Capital One, aimed to expand this partnership to assist every student.

“They are untapped talent,” Smouha said. “They just haven’t had the same opportunities to network and have access to the corporate workforce. Year Up provides them the training and companies like Capital One opens the doors.”

While Year Up students are given ample professional preparation through classroom and internship opportunities, Capital One’s mock interview session aimed to simulate the unfamiliar feeling of being interviewed by a prospective employer.

Zewdo’s nerves locked up on him when he sat down with Kerry Osborne, a Senior Audit Manager at Capital One.

“I always killed it in the classroom so I didn’t really practice much,” Zewdo said. “When I spoke with Kerry, I went in really confident but then I got really nervous and started choking up. I stumbled on certain answers I would’ve assumed I’d knock out of the ballpark.”

While those mock interviews were designed to be as realistic as possible, Osborne saw him fumbling on his words and felt the need to help.

Zewdo sat stunned as Osborne paused the interview. He had unknowingly found a new mentor. 

“I’ve been so lucky in my career to have a number of coaches along the way that were really invested in helping me to grow my skills and achieve success,” Osborne said. “This was just a small way for me to give back and help someone as they’re getting their career underway.”

Osborne offered Zewdo a mental framework to use when answering any interview question. Reflecting how candidates for positions at Capital One are asked to walk through their experience, Osborne suggested he answer each question by presenting the situation, action he took and results he achieved. 

For Osborne, she felt comfortable to break away from the mock interview structure because she realized it would provide Zewdo with an opportunity to hear real-time feedback, after which he could practice the new approach in further mock interview questions. 

Towards the end of the interview, it became apparent to Osborne that Zewdo had spent ample time going through her background after connecting on LinkedIn, as he asked her specific questions about her career and how it translated to her work at Capital One. From there, the conversation quickly turned from interview tips to a chat about life and Zewdo’s goals for his professional and personal future. 

Just one week later Zewdo found himself following Osborne’s guidance during an interview for an IT Support role with a DC-based law firm. 

Three days after that, Zewdo received his very first offer letter in his new field.

Helping Students Become Better Versions of Themselves

“If it wasn’t for that mock interview with Kerry, I promise you, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did,” Zewdo said.

Zewdo’s gratitude to the Capital One associate that helped him grow is a recurring sentiment felt by Year Up associates, according to Year Up’s employment placement manager, Yolanda McCleary.

“Capital One has proven their commitment to helping our students become the best versions of themselves,” McCleary said. “Our students often share how the care, dedication and mentorship provided from the Capital One staff has left a lasting impact on their lives.”

The strength of their connection shined through when Osborne learned of Zewdo’s big news.

“I just kind of squealed when I heard he got the job,” Osborne said. “He shared the wonderful news and I felt so honored that he thought of me as being an important component of his success.”

Just one month after starting his new job, Zewdo is already looking to pay forward the help he received from Year Up and Capital One in realizing his goals.

“For me, Year-Up was a second chance that helped me figure out what I want to do and sparked my interest in getting education,” Zewdo said. “Seeing that there are people like Kerry that are willing to take the time to give me the pointers to have success in my own life, I feel like one day I have to repay that to people in my similar situation. I owe that.”