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If this is what you think fashion is like, you're already doing it wrong
At Friday's "How To Make It In Fashion" conference, held by Fashionista, a panel of top magazine editors-in-chief kicked off a day of insight on how to impress when you're trying to break into the fashion world.
Elle's Robbie Myers, InStyle's Ariel Foxman and Teen Vogue's Amy Astley each offered up the sage wisdom that only longterm employment and ace ladder climbing skills can impart. If you, fashion industry hopeful, don't feel like reading their advice for landing that internship or entry-level position, here's the shortcut: Go watch The Devil Wears Prada. Then do the opposite of everything you see.
SOMEONE GRACIOUSLY GRANTED AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW. Now what?
Know who you're talking to and know their work: An informational interview has almost no benefit for the interviewer, so the easiest way to assure them that they're not wasting their time is to know their work inside and out. "Take the time to get to know the product. It's the bare minimum," said Astley.
A great place to start, for example, is having the ability to reference specific features from specific issues of Teen Vogue. No one's going to believe you're "obsessed" with Teen Vogue if you can't remember what happened in this past March's Teen Vogue.
The takeaway: Just for safesies, don't use the word "obsessed."
YOU'VE FOUND THE JOB YOU WANT AND ARE READY TO APPLY. Now what?
Cover letters should be brief if they exist at all: Foxman said point blank, "I don't read cover letters. I don't understand them." If he wants to know what you're about, he turns to social. More often than not a social footprint tells an editor how well a candidate will fit on the team.
Astley and Myers do read them and they both noted that cover letters "should be brief" and they should be genuine and interesting.
The takeaway: Nobody can agree on what a cover letter is or their definitive purpose, but it's definitely not the place to wax poetic about anything.
YOU'VE LANDED AN HONEST-TO-BISCUITS INTERVIEW. Now what?
No one's going to say this to you, but don't make them think it.
Put some clothes on: It almost goes without saying, but Astley explained, when working in fashion, "your clothes speak volumes" and they "should tell a story, beginning to end." She looks to the interview outfit for "hints about what you're thinking" and "your point of view." Foxman seconded her sentiments, saying, "If you're thoughtful about your outfit, it comes through."
Still, as Astley pointed out, it's crucial you're able to sit down without any struggle or giving a peep show. While it's an opportunity to showcase your personality, "You should still be professional." She concluded the interview outfit rundown by debunking one fashion myth: "I don't care if it's all designer. That can often be a turnoff on a young person."
Stop complimenting everything: Foxman knows he has a great desk. There's no need to compliment it the minute you enter his office.
The takeaway: Check your nervous habits at the door.
Follow up in a thoughtful way: Foxman reminds everyone to write a handwritten note. Period. Also, if you promise to send him something (a clipping, a link to a blog you chatted about, whatever), do it.
The takeaway: Seriously, write a handwritten thank you note.
YOU GOT THAT INTERNSHIP. Now what?
Network with your peers: Astley assured the audience that while it would seem obvious to impress the people in charge, an intern is far more likely to get a job offer thanks to a lower-level person. "I have seen it happen again and again. Your peers are the ones that'll get you hired," she promises. Astley explained that because she's "not in the fashion closet" she doesn't always know when she has a truly ace intern. Talent is brought to her attention by the assistant, the associate editor, etc.
The takeaway: You know that other people in the industry are the ticket to your job offer, but you never know who it'll be. It's like a fun game of fashion industry Guess Who? and the winner gets dental.
Speaking of networking, you can do that online: "We live in a time when their are so few barriers to communication," said Foxman. You can "network in the virtual space without being invited...but without being creepy about it." He reiterated that those who take this route should strike a balance between "aggressive and sheepish."
Astley seconded the point by telling a story about a young girl without a college education who shares her love of the ballet. The girl wrote heartfelt and genuine comments on Astley's ballerina-inspired Instagram pics. Astley is now mentoring her as she tries to make the crossover from the ballerina world to the fashion industry.
Make it work
Do as much as you can handle: Myers is always looks for the person who does his or her work competently and then takes on more.
The takeaway: Do as much as you can well. Pretty straightforward.
That's the spirit
Have a sense humility: Myers says that the trait she admires the most in someone just starting out is a humble attitude.
She recalled a conversation with Elle's former creative director Joe Zee in which he described how he was one of the few that truly enjoyed running the samples on a rack down Fifth Avenue. He understood—unlike some of the more surly assistants or interns—that every person he met would lead to another person in the industry. The interns who trafficked the samples met the assistants who know the publicists who know the designers who know the upper-echelons of the brand who will one day be hiring.
The takeaway: You might have already graduated with a serious-sounding degree and have nine notches on the internship belt, but nothing is beneath you. Be nice to everybody and say yes to everything. Even volunteering for that coffee run. Again.