The competition for those entering the fashion industry is fiercer than ever, and graduates often find to their dismay that they are still expected to intern when what they really need is a job. Preparing students to get the most from their internship opportunities is the focus of a Kent State University event in which Carla Carstens, founder of FreeFashionInternships.com, addresses a group of junior designers and merchandisers completing their study away semester at the school’s NY Studio. Carstens has 13 years experience in the fashion industry working with brands such as Chopard, Jennifer Fisher, and Gucci. Here are FashionUnited’s 5 takeaways on how to snag an internship that can launch your career.
Not all internships are right and vision-boarding can be highly effective to project yourself into the job or company of your dreams, as well as a way to set goals and accomplishments. Never be afraid to reach out to specific designers. We live in a world of connectedness and have never had this much access to people before. “Slide into their DMs,” says Carstens. Decide what your learning objectives are and create a focused search, otherwise tailoring the resume to every position will be a huge time suck. Don’t discount smaller brands and businesses as they can offer a chance for more hands-on learning.
Once inside a company you are meeting people who are co-signing you into your future job. They are the gatekeepers to your career and later, when you are applying for the dream position, it’s enormously beneficial to be able to call on your intern supervisor to write an email on your behalf. This means you are essentially vetted and ahead of the pack. Get on LinkedIn early in your education and connect with your classmates as you never know where they’ll be in five years, and connect with recruiters in your graduating year.
Displaying creativity on resumes with fancy layouts and fonts should be avoided. Stick to professional, readable fonts such as Times Roman and Cambria. Many big brands use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which cannot read the beautiful templates, and even InDesign can prove tricky so a pdf is the safest option. The resume must never be more than one page. Attachments are best added to your LinkedIn profile, not to the resume. Don’t underplay the skills and interests section as these qualities can set you apart from another candidate, and don’t forget to list all the programs you know.
The objective statement and resume summary are not interchangeable so consider which is best for you. The objective outlines what your goals are with the company you’re applying to. The summery is a short recap of your skills and experiences which highlight your value to an employer. Cover letters although daunting are important and people often open the resume and, if interested, read the cover letter to confirm their choice. Include the name of the job description and implement the key words the company uses from the job description. Remember to change the file name of the resume to a professional one as this is seen when opening it. Consider putting your first and last name to make it easier for the employer.
Jump on a posting when you see it as companies tend to gather the first 15-20 candidates of interest and make their selection from there. Confirm appointment and location the day before, research the company, even the individual you’ll be meeting. Bring two copies of the resume. Print out a list of questions regarding the interview so as to look prepared but this can also help to overcome nerves: What is a typical work day like? What qualities are you looking for in an intern? How will my work be evaluated? Hope did you get your start in the industry? This last question allows you to connect with the interviewer which can make them remember you.
For interviews via Skype and Google Hangouts, add the company’s information in advance. Phone interviews allow you to connect less with interviewer which actually creates more uncertainty. An in-person interview allows you to judge the environment and gives you more power as you can pick up on cues and body language and can elaborate on points you might have made earlier. Treat phone interviews like in-person interviews because employers are trying to weed people out. Stand up or pace if necessary.
Send a thank you email the same day. If you think you didn’t sufficiently answer a question, this is another opportunity to do so. Follow up once, then let it go. If unsuccessful, try asking for feedback.
If your job is steaming clothes, steam like you’ve never steamed before. When you master the tasks you’re given, suggest others if you see an area where you can be useful. Don’t say “I want to do more,” but notice inefficiencies and propose solutions. See what the assistants are doing because those are tasks you are eligible to do.
Regarding paid versus unpaid internships, the trend is that the bigger companies, frightened of getting sued, are the ones who pay, usually minimum wage. But there is much more competition to get in. However the bigger the brand, generally the more boring the tasks.
Try interning in a variety of places to expand your network. If you stay long enough, you might get the coveted assistant job when one opens up but it doesn’t always work out that way. Half of interning is staying in touch. Shoot supervisors a note around the holidays. Ask your old boss out to coffee when you graduate.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.