Fashion is one of those industries that can seem near impossible to enter—whether your dream is to become an editor, stylist, designer, photographer, creative director, buyer, publicist… (okay, so there are a lot of options). Even here, we get emails every day asking about potential internships, opportunities to freelance and possible jobs. And we get it; we’ve been there. Getting your foot in the door is the ultimate challenge, which will lead (fingers crossed) to the ultimate reward: your dream job. So we started asking around because everyone has to start somewhere. Herein, how people who work at some of our favourite companies in fashion, from Net-A-Porter and Moda Operandi to Teen Vogue and Paper Magazine, talk about how they got in the door and what they look for when they’re hiring. Prepare your resumés accordingly, friends!
“The year that I graduated from the University of Illinois I enrolled in a summer residency program in photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I had a BFA in Graphic Design, but I’d also dabbled in photography in college and was interested in honing my skills. On top of that, I wanted to see if I could cut it in the Big Apple.
That summer I got an internship at the talent agency Jed Root, which represents some of the top fashion photographers, stylists, and hair and makeup artists in the industry. I worked in the photography department and basically organized prints and updated the photographers’ portfolios all day. I remember my manager apologizing about how mundane my tasks were, but I couldn’t have been happier to get up close and personal with the work of these talents I so admired. I spent most of my time in a small back room filled with filing cabinets, drooling over prints of Michael Thompson’s work.
I got the internship by… applying! I was really determined to get some experience in the fashion industry under my belt while in New York. I must have applied for 15 internships that summer. I still have a folder on my computer with every thoughtful cover letter and resume—Vogue, Interview Magazine, Milk Studios, etc. Most of them never even contacted me, but Jed Root did and I jumped at the opportunity.
After that summer, I went back home and lived in Chicago for a few years before making a permanent move to New York City. At that point, even though I had been working as a professional for several years, I still had to start from scratch trying to get my foot in the door of the fashion industry. I reached out to my old manager at Jed Root to see if he had any connections or leads. Even if you’re not a ‘networking’ kind of a person, it’s so vital to make relationships. The industry can be surprisingly small, even in New York City, and referrals and word of mouth can really spark all kinds of opportunities for you.
Be persistent. You just need one person to take a chance on you and then you can quickly prove your abilities and worth.
All experience is good experience. Your internship may not be as glamorous as you expected, but you have to start somewhere. And sometimes the bad experiences teach you more than the good—the kind of people you do or don’t want to work for, the kind of environment or industry you do or don’t want to be a part of. Those experiences help you pivot and take the right next steps for yourself.
Work hard and be nice to people. I always say this, because it’s truly my only motto: work hard and be nice to people. [When I hire I look for] authenticity, drive and enthusiasm.
In my specific line of work, my attention is always captured by people who put time and effort into the presentation of their portfolio. Nowadays, that’s a well produced website or an iPad presentation. I’m the person who notices if you’ve written extra thoughtful descriptions of your work on your site, if you’ve labored over the typography in your resume or made sure all of your portfolio imagery is color corrected and crisp. To me, it’s a reflection of your work ethic.
I also look for people who are independent. People who take initiative to solve a problem, bring something new to the table and go beyond what was asked of them.”