Ask any person working in the fashion industry today how they got their start, and the popular answer will be “through an internship.” An unparalleled avenue to enter a world that’s notoriously difficult to break into, landing and making the most of an internship can be the very thing that launches a career. Sharing her advice on how to do it right is Audrey Okulick, founder of boutique recruiting agency The Workshop LA. Read on for her expert tips that just might land you your dream gig.
Fashion Internships 101
"The best way to break into the industry is starting with an internship—the problem is that in most cases, fashion internships can be equally as hard to get as a paid job fresh out of school. The best way to start your search is with your local network of friends and relatives. Do you have a friend who works for a company you like? Can they get you a personal intro, or even an email address of someone to reach out to? In many cases, these internships aren’t advertised so the seeker has to do the digging. You’d be surprised by how far a little initiative will get you. Also, a manager will like that you personally reached out—it shows you are resourceful, a hard worker and a great (potential) employee."
"Since fashion is one of the most competitive industries out there, unfortunately you will most likely need to work an unpaid internship. When I graduated from college I moved to NYC and worked for free for three months at Zac Posen. Some days, I worked 12-hour days and couldn’t understand why I agreed to do it. In the end, it was that internship that allowed me to break into the business and get hired in my next paying job—one in fashion, none the less. Keep in mind, I had a sociology degree and no fashion experience prior to that internship. Internships allow you to meet people that will give you a foot in the door either at their company, or a future one when they move on. Be nice to everyone, because you never know who is going to need an assistant and remember you as a potential candidate down the road."
"Check out our Instagram @theworkshop_la for all our latest and greatest fashion job postings. We also post internships and can personally share your info with specific clients if you know exactly what you want. Make sure you follow the social media accounts of companies (and their recruiting pages if applicable, like @revolvecareers, @sketcherscareers, etc ) you're interested in and engage in their posts. Other great places to search for job postings are Stylecareers, Linkedin company pages or your college alumni job board, like FIDM and Otis. Social media is an untapped resource in job searching—more info on that here."
"The first thing to consider when picking an internship is where you want to learn and what you want to learn. If your dream is to live in LA for the summer, I recommend securing housing three months out from your desired start time, and also securing a part-time, flexible job in case your internship is unpaid. About one month out, start aggressively sending out your resume to internship posts and explain that your housing is secured (very important) and you will be in LA ready to work starting on x date. Companies want facts, not just broad statements like 'I will be moving sometime in the summer and don’t know where I will be living.'
As for the what: Is your dream to attend a runway show and watch what goes down behind the scenes? Do you want to see how a stylist interacts with star talent? Do you want to get hands-on experience working in a fitting with a model? Pinpoint what experience you want. All of these goals are possible through internships but as the intern, your responsibility during these events might involve picking up coffee or answering phones versus being the person assisting in the actual work. Soak it all in because most internships are 75% observing, 25% doing. It is a crucial part of learning process and is how you start to work your way up the fashion ladder."
"A common mistake when it comes to applying for an internship is sharing too much information. An employer doesn’t want to see the names of the people you babysit for every Friday night. In your cover letter, you should clearly spell out why you are the right person for their internship and what you hope to learn and bring to the table. Are you flexible with your schedule? Have you admired the company since you were young? Do you have a special connection to the brand or company mission statement? Make sure you express this in your cover letter and in person if you land an interview. Companies love to hear why you are passionate about their product or brand.
Another no-no is asking for too many special requests. If you are interning, you better be available, willing to roll your sleeves up, and not asking to leave work at 4pm every Friday for happy hour with your friends. Make sure your interviewer knows you are serious about the opportunity and won’t let them down."
"A common misconception about internships is that your duties will be spelled out and you will be trained in exactly what you want to learn. People need to remember an internship is not like school—it’s work. There are no 'teachers.' It’s your responsibility to show up, ask questions and make yourself useful. A great intern makes him or herself indispensable so that when the internship is up, your manager is begging their boss to let them hire you on.
Another misconception is that you have to intern for a big name company or else there’s no point. In some cases, working for a small company is better because you will get to observe a broader range of tasks. People in small companies wear many hats, so that means you will too. It’s all about making personal relationships with the people in these companies because you likely will cross paths with them again."
"For an interview, come prepared with questions. Look up the background of the person who is interviewing you. Were you in their same sorority? Did you both grow up in the same town? Did you also work retail in college? Point out your similarities. It shows you spent some time seeing who they are too. It’s also very important to look up the company and bring questions to the table about the organization and the position. Some of our favorite questions include: 'Is there a routine or will every day be different? Will I be assisting the entire staff or a specific person? Have any previous interns been hired after their internship? What makes someone successful in this internship? Has any of your current staff previously been an intern here when they were starting out?'
Another very important part of the interview process is sending a thank-you note after a meeting. I prefer email notes, so you can make sure it gets to the right person within 24 hours of meeting them."
"Expect the unexpected—as cliché as that seems, it’s true. Instead of dressing to impress in uncomfortable shoes and tight jeans, I would be prepared to roll your sleeves up and volunteer to do the things the other interns don’t want to do. You have to stand out: It’s the only way to get ahead, and will get you noticed. Also, bring your own personal ideas to the table if you think a project can be accomplished a different way. Innovative thinking shows you are using your brain to problem solve for the interest of the company.
Also expect to make some great new friends. Companies usually hire more than just one intern for a term, and these people may become some of your closest confidents as your career blossoms. Never eat lunch alone. Be the one to speak up and suggest an intern get-together. They are in your same shoes and it’s always more fun to go through a new life experience with a companion."
"The best way to benefit from your internship is to stay connected with the people you met along the way. Add them all on LinkedIn and then move to social media if you have developed a friendly rapport. Ask for recommendation letters at the end of your internship, or if you can list them as a professional reference. Send over friendly emails if you think something might catch their eye. Attend similar events they do within the fashion community. The main point is to keep in touch with these contacts—these relationships are earned, and if a heavy hitter has your back, your professional future is golden."