Ask any person how they got their start in the fashion industry and the most common answer you’ll hear is through an INTERNSHIP. In many industries, especially in fashion, internships are invaluable to your career. They are the stepping stone from student to workplace professional. Often, they are what helps you find your dream job, or at least one that you highly enjoy doing. However, in order to start your journey into the world of internships, there are some things you will need to understand first.
Most Internships are Unpaid
Unfortunately, it is normal for fashion companies to offer unpaid internships or college credit opportunities. Although some companies are starting to change after legal issues have arisen in the industry for overworking interns, many continue to offer opportunities at an unpaid or college credit basis. The reality is, there are just too many people willing to accept almost any conditions for an opportunity to break into the industry.
Every company has a different way of working with their interns. There are some companies that provide dedicated internship programs – offering learning opportunities, special outings and networking events specifically catered to helping interns grow and understand what area interests them the most.
Other companies may provide internal perks, such as attending fashion shows or events, employee discounts and transportation or lunch stipends in lieu of payment.
Don't be discouraged!
There are many benefits to being an intern in the fashion industry.
⇒ Build your resume, making you more appealing to future companies
⇒ Help you get into a company if you have limited experience
⇒ Give you first hand experience that you can take to all future jobs
⇒ May provide possible employee discounts or additional perks
⇒ Build valuable relationships that can translate into a job after college
⇒ Help expand your industry network and professional connections
⇒ May give you a first look into campaigns, events or upcoming seasonal designs
⇒ Provide the opportunity to try different career paths and see which you like best
REALITY VS EXPECTATION
INTERNING AT A FASHION COMPANY
Interns are often hired by fashion companies to assist in the day-to-day operations of the brand and can include tasks varying from fetching coffee to assisting with photo shoots.
Personally, it frustrates me to hear stories of interns who were solely hired for the purpose of grabbing coffee and dry cleaning. As someone who interned at the start of her career and learned so much as well as someone has worked WITH interns for years – I understand the importance of a quality internship in the professional life of a student. Who better to learn from than someone in the industry?
Unfortunately, there are still some employers out there that don’t see it this way, meaning you may be one of the unlucky ones who has to grab coffees and order lunches on a daily basis. If this happens, try to weigh the good against the bad.
Are you getting learning experiences from your work surroundings and the overall day-to-day? Is there any part of the job that gives you insight into the position you’re interning for? If yes, then grin and bear it – even for a little while. Get the most knowledge and experience possible out of your internship before you move on. The most important thing to remember is that you should be learning, whether this means from your manager or simply from your surroundings.
One of the best things about internships is that you will get direct exposure to the day-to-day within a specific department or facet of the industry. Spending time at your internship will help you to confirm what you like or don’t like about a specific role. Similarly, it can help you build valuable relationships that can translate into a a great recommendation or even a job after college.
ON THE JOB
While there are many different types of internships that exist in the fashion industry today, these are just a few to give you an idea of what you could possibly end up working on. Keep in mind that all internships will be different depending on the company.
Depending on the location, photo shoots can be complicated and expensive projects for fashion companies. Interns are brought to the shoots to make sure that everyone has what is needed so the shoot runs smoothly. As an intern, you may help to dress models, locate accessories, provide the staff with drinks and snacks and run any additional errands that are necessary to help keep the shoot on schedule and the staff happy.
A big job that is often given to interns or entry level professionals is the coordination of samples. This is especially important for marketing and PR roles as they are the teams that deal with samples the most. The most important part of the role is keeping track of who checks out each wardrobe piece or accessory and to make sure that everything is properly arranged/easy to find. From time to time, you may be asked to steam samples before sending or using for meetings and photo shoots.
While it may seem strange (or not so glamorous), it’s actually very common to help your team with research. Depending on the size of the department, there may not enough staff or time to sit down and get necessary information, which is where interns come in. The level of research you are asked to do could be as specific as looking for event venue options with criteria given from the client to as broad as researching international product facts and information in preparation for a new product launch.
SOME ADDITIONAL INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCES INCLUDE:
• Becoming familiar with the ins and outs of clothing, accessories, footwear lines within a company
• Learning how to determine and keep up with the latest trends in the industry
• Sitting in for market meetings where sales teams determine what merchandise will be sold in stores or boutiques
• Field visits and access to restricted areas, such as production factories, to see how they operate
• Learning how to merchandise product properly within a showroom or sales floor based on inventory or focus
• A chance to assist with fashion shows and events or seasonal campaign launches
• Learning how to select and combine fabric swatches, buttons, and any add-ons to create unique designs
• Working in showrooms that feature designer clothing lines and accessories sold to boutiques, department stores, and online
IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER
These days, it’s easy to jump on your laptop and google search what you’re looking for – internships are no exception. While it may seem easy to look for them online, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
JUST AS EASY AS IT IS FOR YOU TO SEARCH, SO CAN THOUSANDS OF OTHERS.
Think of yourself as a brand you are marketing to a company. Your job is to make sure you market your ‘brand’ as completely, professionally and confidently as possible. Create a killer resume, making sure to add keywords from the job description and a cover letter (most people will request this, some won’t) that clearly states what you will bring to the table while also mentioning the connection you have to the brand or role. Companies love to hear why you are passionate about their product or brand. The key is to give them something to remember you by that will set you apart from the competition.
INTERNSHIPS ARE NOT ALWAYS POSTED.
In many cases, internships aren’t advertised, which means the seeker has to do some digging. What this means for you: it’s time to ask friends or family if they know anyone in the industry that could be looking for an intern or assistant. Once provided a contact, be sure to reach out as professionally as possible. In this case, it’s not only your reputation you have to think about, but especially the person who referred you. Why this approach works: sending a message to a potential employer will show your resourcefulness, which could automatically put you ahead of your competition. More importantly, it will show you are direct and a great (potential) employee.
WHERE TO FIND INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
DIRECTLY ON COMPANY’S SITE
Whether you love their products or their company motto, sometimes you know exactly the company you want to work for. If this is the case, the company site is the first place you should look. To take it a step further, see if you can locate the email address for the HR department (sometimes, it will be provided on the site itself, while other times, you may have to do some digging) and reach out inquiring about possible internship opportunities. Keep in mind, you may get a refusal or no answer at all. Always be gracious and professional.
There are sites dedicated to providing an endless number of job opportunities. Sites like these are so helpful when you’re searching for internships or even full time jobs because they offer current available opportunities along with job descriptions and sometimes, even the company’s background. Some of these sites even take it a step further and let you upload your resume for easy application as well as request specific search results be emailed to you personally. Top job sites include:
FASHION JOB SITES
Some sites are exclusively fashion-based and can cut out all the other opportunities, making it easier for you to search. Be aware that sometimes this means broader roles, such as digital marketing or social media, could potentially be cut from showing up on certain sites due to their non-fashion exclusive nature. Overall, these are a great place to look, even if just to get a better idea of what roles companies are looking for and their requirements/descriptive keywords. Some fashion favorites include:
YOUR SCHOOL’S CAREER CENTER
There’s no better place to start the search than with your school’s career center or career advisor. Many times, you will be able to work one on one with an advisor who will take into consideration what you’re searching for in addition to your skills. The best part of going to an advisor is that they usually have the best list of available internships and can get you an interview faster than if you did it on your own (this is not always the case, but most of the time it definitely is).
These days, you can literally find a Facebook group for just about any topic. Believe it or not, the number of groups dedicated to a specific field or industry is growing everyday. Do some research and find the tools you need for your internship search. You’d be surprised at what you find on different social platforms.
Shameless Plug: Want to get weekly fashion internship opportunities, job threads, industry spotlights and so much more? Join our private Facebook community where we work together to help our members find and cultivate their dream careers in the fashion industry.
FOR A CAREER IN FASHION
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A GUIDE FOR EVERY EXPERIENCE LEVEL
HOW TO SUCCEED AS AN INTERN
TREAT YOUR INTERNSHIP AS SERIOUSLY AS A JOB
Be there on time, be responsible and take it seriously. Many times, even when you think your employer isn’t watching – they are. Hard work will land you a killer recommendation letter for future potential opportunities. It may even land you the job.
Basic office rules apply here: stay off personal social media, dress appropriately and do every task with enthusiasm. Most importantly: pay attention to office culture. This can be a guide for dress code and attire, how and when to meet with coworkers or senior members of the team (do you need an appointment, etc.), lunch breaks and where/how things are placed or put away around the office. While many of these are common office etiquette, you should always be mindful of yourself and others around you as each office experience is unique.
NETWORK AND MAKE CONTACTS
Interning gives you the chance to come in contact with so many people. Due to the nature of the business, you’re talking to people on a daily basis which allows the opportunity to build relationships over email and over the phone. Don’t be afraid to connect with them on professional social networks, such as Linkedin. Bonus points if you ask for a recommendation. (Note: only do this if you worked together, don’t just ask random people at the company for them!)
GO ABOVE AND BEYOND
Just because you are there doesn’t mean you have to do your basic job description. Doing more than what is asked of you will help you get noticed and be valued. It will also show your colleagues that you want to be there and you’re not just doing it to pass the time. Going above and beyond the regular job description will also help you stand out. Many companies employ interns on a rolling basis, so it is vital that you set yourself apart from the other groups of interns. The idea is that you make yourself indispensable to your superiors so that when the internship period is over, they will want to offer you a place on the team permanently.
TRY NEW THINGS, BUT KNOW WHEN IT’S NOT A FIT
It’s completely normal to do an internship and realize that it’s not right for you. The reality is, you would never have known if you hadn’t done it. If you find that you truly didn’t enjoy it, ask yourself why. Was it the brand? Your colleagues and the overall culture of the office? The role and overall scope of work? Realizing you didn’t like a particular role or company can help you immensely, especially at the start of your career. This will give you the opportunity to understand what direction to turn to next.
FROM THE FOUNDER
In the end, internships are a great way to get firsthand experience in the role of your choosing while also learning about how a company works. It’s the perfect low-commitment way to test out a job and career path. Are some of the Devil Wears Prada horror stories true? Sure, some of them are. After all, the fashion industry was built on drama, glamour and very big egos. However, for most of us, even with all the dramatics of the industry, we do it because we love every part of it and could not imagine doing anything else every single day. If this sounds like you, be prepared for a wild ride where no two days are ever the same. Grow thick skin, stay curious, learn everything you can and work hard. As long as you take internships seriously, you are sure to benefit.
Want to feel more confident about applying to an internship and breaking into the industry in general? Sign up for my personal coaching services where I break down step by step actions you can take to ensure your transition into fashion is seamless.
It’s important to remember that in the end, even if you don’t get hired from an internship, each one you work on will increase the skills you learn and grow your professional circle of connections. Down the line, these are the key factors that will get you the job. Good luck!