Q&A with Felix Liang,
Manager, Teach for America
Once a month, Steppingstone Alumni/ Board Members will share insights on their career journey and provide career tips and guidance for Steppingstone Scholars. For this month, Scholars will get a chance to learn more about Felix's journey to working for Teach for America for the past six years.
Q: Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What were your post-graduate high school plans?
Hello fellow Scholars! My name is Felix Liang, he/him/his. I’m Steppingstone Class of
2006. Given that we’re all from Boston and the importance of representation, I think its
important to share that my family was located in Chinatown for the first couple of years of
my life, after which we moved to South Boston and then the South End after my second
grade year, where we still are now!

My post-high school plan was definitely college. Although my parents, who immigrated to
the US from China, never actually put pressure on me to do well in school, academics
was always the one responsibility I felt I was tasked with shouldering, simply because
school was always the main topic of conversation in our family. Interestingly enough,
looking back it seems like getting to college was an end goal in and of itself, rather than
a particular means to something else, which might explain in part the very topsy turvy
path my career has taken since graduating college.
Q: What has the journey to your current role been like for you?
As I just mentioned, my career has been anything but straightforward. I have worked at
Teach For America all 6 years I have been a working professional, but have held 3
distinct roles. While a lot of people will say this, I truly mean it when I say that I had no
idea what I wanted to do post-college. Senior spring, I got an email out of the blue from
someone (Mariel) who wanted to gauge my interest in joining Teach For America’s
program as a teacher. Since I was unsure of my post-graduating plans, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to hear her out. We got on the phone, and lo and behold, it turns out she is
a Steppingstone alum herself and went to the same middle and high school I did (Noble
and Greenough School), and she actually got my contact information from Steppingstone. I ultimately decided teaching was not the right fit, but I was really inspired by Mariel, her background, and how highly she spoke of Teach For America, so I stayed in touch and after expressing my interest in contributing to the organization in a different way, connected with a couple of other staff members one of whom ended up having an opening on her team which I was lucky enough to get hired for.
Q: If your plans after graduating high school involved pursuing a college degree, how did your experience or studies while in school prepare you for the roles you have been in and/or are currently in?
College prepared me for all of the positions I have had since college in a number of
ways. I was a double major in Government and East Asian Studies and minored in
philosophy. While what I have done in my career has not directly been related to what I
studied, my focus on humanities elevated my critical thinking particularly my ability to
understand different perspectives and step into them to examine things from different
viewpoints. It also strengthened my writing considerably. I have often been praised by
peers for my written communications. But my college experience also developed me
beyond the courses I took. Juggling a lot of different extracurriculars and other
commitments honed my time management and prioritization skills, and I improved in
being able to connect with people from different backgrounds. When I interviewed for my
first job, I had to do a take-home assignment that tasked me with planning a large event,
and I was able to display all of these skills through my submission.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your current position?
Three things: the people, the day-to-day variety of what I do, and the culture of my
immediate workplace.
Q: What tips might you have for Scholars hoping to pursue a similar career path that you’ve taken?
This is a tough one, because I feel like, as I’ve alluded to already, I did not plan the
career path I have taken so far. But generally speaking, for those of you who might be
interested in working in the education non-profit space (if you don’t know, Teach For
America, like Steppingstone, works to transform the education landscape and make
educational equity a reality), the first tip I have is to play up your background. Because
you are a Steppingstone alum, that means you have a leg up because you have lived
firsthand the issues these organizations are trying to address. Your background is
always an asset but especially in this space, so don’t be afraid to leverage it. The
second tip is to figure out what you are good at and enjoy doing. Even in an education
non-profit like Teach For America, we have lawyers, tech specialists, etc. so you can
work in a particular industry but can do a number of different jobs, and that is the case
with a specific company as well.
Q: What tips might you have for Scholars looking to strengthen their resume-building or interview skills?
As far as resume-building, taking the last thing I just shared from a different angle, you
never know what skills will be in-demand at a company or within a field or industry.
Always stay alert for and open-minded to opportunities to learn and grow, even if those
are volunteer opportunities or internships, because you want to be able to point to
instances when you’ve actually proven you can apply/put into practice what you’ve
learned. Remember that the best applicants for any job are those who can tailor their
resume to specifically show off the skills and abilities they have that the position
demands (you never want to just use the same generic resume for everything you apply
for). Having a broad skillset and knowledge base will enable you to be able to put your
best self on every application.

For interviewing, practice, practice, practice…and you don’t need to get fancy. You can
have a friend, classmate, or relative help you. Actually, the more diverse the people you
practice with are, the better you will learn to communicate about yourself in a way that
everyone will understand.
Q: Networking can be hard…how do you recommend Scholars connect with others in the fields they’re interested in and strengthen their relationship-building skills?
Networking often conjures up an image of people dressed to the nines in a fancy
ballroom talking business, but that is not what it is in my personal experience.
Networking to me is just a fancy word for making friends, and you can meet people
anywhere: at Starbucks, at the library, at church, etc. And like any relationship, you want
to nurture it, so you have to invest some time and energy, show initiative, and take an
interest in what people do. After all, as I can attest firsthand, you never know who
might be someone who can be your advocate down the road. Finally, be honest about
what you’re looking for. For example, if you meet someone who works on a team with an
open position you’re interested in, it’s okay to let that person know and ask if they can
make an introduction to the hiring manager. People can’t help you if they don’t know
what you want/need help with.
Q: What are some questions to ask of your future employers?
Building off a number of responses above, the questions you want to ask of a potential
employer are whatever questions will help you decide whether working there is the right
fit for you. One piece of advice I’ve gotten a number of times over the years is that you
should always figure out who the people you will be around are (your coworkers), what
you will be actually be doing in the job you are applying for (e.g. what does day-to-day/a
typical day look like), and what the culture of the workplace is (e.g. do people hang out
after work or does everyone go their own after 5pm). Again, the point is to see if you can actually see yourself working there and spending 75% of all the hours you’re awake

That is why I would also recommend you also ask an employer whether there are
opportunities to shadow someone or follow someone for a day who is in the same or
similar position you’re applying for – any chance to get to experience firsthand what your
life could be like as an employee there. Some other questions that could provide useful
information are what benefits are offered as part of the job package or just generally for
all employees, and what the trajectory for people in the position you’re applying for
typically looks like (do people usually stay long-term at the company and grow into
higher positions, or do they leave after a couple of years), and, relatedly, whether the
company offers opportunities outside your formal responsibilities for professional
development, or reimburses you if you seek learning on your own initiative, to get a
sense of what your bigger career picture could look like.
If you want to connect with Felix to learn more about his experiences or for more advice, feel free to reach out to Thai Luong at [email protected].