The world of fashion is cutthroat, competitive, and constantly changing. Anyone hoping to land a job in today’s fashion industry needs to understand and embody this dynamic, not only in their work but also in their online platform and media presence. It’s a difficult time in the industry, with university programs upping their output of graduates, and the job market struggling to keep up with the influx of applicants, but, as with any other job market, qualified candidates who stand out from the crowd will still be met with plenty of opportunities to work and thrive.
Whether you’re looking for an entry level internship or a specialized technical position, we’ve compiled a list of several ways to improve your odds of being looked at by executive retail recruiters and getting your foot in the door with industry professionals.
Pay Attention and Keep Abreast of Trends
Don’t wait until you have an interview to start looking around and researching what’s happening in the world of fashion. It can be difficult and time-consuming to keep up with the latest trends, particularly if you’re not currently in school or working in the industry, but it’s vitally important for any fashion applicants to demonstrate a solid knowledge of up-to-the-minute goings-on and hot commodities.
New York retail recruiters, in particular, are sharp—they will be able to tell whether your input and ideas are coming from a genuine place of understanding and creativity or whether you simply did some Googling the night before your meeting.
Don’t fall behind, don’t rely on clever buzzwords to tide you through the interview, and don’t show up without talking points planned ahead of time; research chops are important to fashion companies, and applicants who demonstrate a solid knowledge of the current industry, including what’s happening at the company you’re hoping will hire you, stand a much better chance of landing a second interview and a coveted spot on the team.
Keep Your Portfolio Up-to-Date
“If you’re a designer, a good starting point is great examples of work,” says Rachel Burr, a senior consultant with the London-based talent consultancy 24 Seven. “You’d be surprised at how many people come to see us with their graduate portfolio (now covered in dust!) and no up-to-date work.”
It should go without saying, but your most recent work is going to be what prospective employers in the fashion industry look at most closely when it comes time to hire. Post-graduate life can be challenging, particularly in expensive metropolitan fashion centers like New York and London; most people have to find “regular” jobs after school while searching for employment in their field, and it can be very easy during this time to neglect your portfolio and let it fall out of date.
NY retail recruiters understand this, which is why it’s so impressive when someone shows up to the table with a stunning portfolio and up-to-date ideas that could go into production right away.
The same goes for technical candidates like garment technologists and pattern cutters; even if unpaid or freelance work is your only option for a time, it’s still more impressive and demonstrative of a work ethic to have current or recent projects than to show up with large gaps in your work history. Recruiters want to see that you’re someone with the ability to shift and change with the industry, and nothing illustrates this better than recent, regular work in your port.
Be Smart with Social Media
In fashion, as with any modern global industry, social media savvy is an absolute must for anyone trying to land a cherry gig. Even if you aren’t branding yourself or your personal work via social media, a keen understanding of media marketing and its various strategies and pitfalls will put you leagues ahead of candidates who neglect this crucial paradigm. It can be a great way to showcase your point of view and to provide a carefully curated glimpse into your own style sense and creative direction.
Retail management headhunters know that applicants with a demonstrable knack for social media are going to be more up-to-the-minute and generally tuned in about what’s happening in the fashion world since so much of the industry’s marketing and news is carried out over various social platforms. You don’t necessarily need to be a high-powered “influencer,” but your online presence should at least show that you have a handle on how things work and the face that a fashion industry professional should present to the world.
Beyond this, it’s a given, in today’s job market, that your prospective employer is most certainly going to Google you before any face to face conversation. Before you even start looking for jobs, you need to scrub your social media accounts of anything unprofessional—all those Vegas pics and red cup parties might bring you fond memories, but they’re not going to do you any favors at the interview table.
Apply some simple logic and assume that your interviewer is going to at least skim your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter before setting up a meeting—and act accordingly.
Work Well with Others
So much of what happens behind the scenes in the fashion industry is team-based work; sure, a given collection might only bear one designer’s name, but professionals know that many people spend a lot of working hours bringing good ideas to fruition and collaborating on the best way to do so.
There’s no room for megalomania, particularly among entry-level candidates; a strong, outgoing personality is one thing, but executive retail recruiters aren’t going to hire someone who isn’t able to collaborate and roll with spur of the moment changes.
Ideal fashion candidates are flexible, and a big part of this consists of good listening skills. Absorbing ideas, taking direction, providing tactful and insightful input, and implementing changes on the fly are all part of what makes applicants attractive to corporate retail recruiters and team leaders, particularly in the realm of design. You need to be able to react and respond to changes in trends and the whims of higher-ups at a moment’s notice without becoming stressed and losing your ability to contribute.
Go Above and Beyond Once You’re In
You may feel a huge rush of relief once you land that job or internship you were gunning for, but getting in the door is just the first step; you’ll be expected to prove yourself in the sink-or-swim world of fashion starting on day one, and excuses don’t fly in an industry flooded with skilled and educated candidates chomping at the bit for your position.
A great way to ingratiate yourself with executive retail recruiters and new employers alike is to demonstrate a willingness to do the jobs that nobody wants to do. Volunteer for any job, not just the ones everyone wants, even if that means making copies, going on coffee runs, or running errands for the higher-ups; if you show yourself as consistently capable and solid in the smaller, more menial aspects of the workplace, you’ll have a much better shot of being called up to the plate when it really counts.
It’s absolutely vital to show initiative. If your employer consistently has to tell you to do things that you should be doing without direction, you aren’t going to last long in your sweet new job. Go out of your way to look for problems or things that need doing, and take care of them before anyone has to direct you to do so. Embodying this kind of go-getter spirit will not only showcase your general competence but will also illustrate that you’re a team-minded individual who’s focused on the details.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s absolutely vital for you to look the part of a fashion industry professional, from your online presence, to your interview, to your daily grind on the job. This doesn’t mean that you need to exhibit high fashion sensibility all the time, but you should definitely be mindful of your appearance and general presentation; after all, this is what you purportedly aspire to do for a living, so make sure to underline that by keeping on top of your own personal fashion sense.