I have now wrote a book on fashion interning, containing 75 pages of my top tips and insider advice for aspiring fashion interns!
As your manicured helping hand, The Fashion Internship Guide offers all the advice on how you can gain valuable experience to build your CV, cultivate your USP, create a fantastic application, and excel in an interview; propelling yourself towards the working woman or man you wish to be.
Despite not being able to blog during the internship and work experience I did in May and June, I've referred to them quite a bit. I don't get hundreds of emails from readers but often I'm asked about the course I do at Uni and about working in fashion. I study Management and Marketing of Textiles but it's a BSc (Bachelors of Science) instead of a BA degree (Bachelors of Arts). Therefore I don't really study fashion, and most of my modules hardly refer to it at all. Maybe because it's part of the Materials school and most degrees are materials science, engineering or medical based, but Manchester seems less keen to have a true fashion arts subject on the bill. Other textiles courses have design based modules, but of the four offered, mine definitely doesn't. When I say I study textiles and people assume I make clothes, they are very wrong! I just had a look at the Manchester site and now they offer Management and Marketing of Fashion Textiles, so maybe some modules have changed. Even so, the main thing readers really ask me is about whether to study fashion and how to decide if you want a job in the industry and what's the best thing to do. Many readers will be bloggers and I know many want to get a job in fashion. I haven't even finished my degree so I cannot advise on whether doing a degree and working in fashion is the way to go, but I have interned, and it seems it's a hugely valuable stepping stone into hopefully the career you want, whether that's in fashion or not.
The hot topic in the news right now is that there are over 50 people applying for each graduate job, and it's obvious that just a degree to your name will not cut it for employers. I really wanted to share my thoughts and tips on interning as they're so popular today, especially in fashion. Shows like The Hills and Running in Heels have demonstrated that internships get your foot on the career ladder and give you access to events and features, while fictional films and shows like The Devil Wears Prada, SATC and Ugly Betty have glamourised the fashion industry, making it the most attractive and exciting place to be. But it worries me that so many people are influenced into thinking it would be sooo fabulous to work in fashion, or usually at a fashion magazine. It's like the go-to career for some girls and guys who aren't pulled in another direction but really like shopping, or feel it brings fame, fortune and fun. I've created a guide to all things concerned with interning, from why you should and shouldn't intern, how you organise an internship, how to prepare for an interview, how to prepare if you get the role, and how to survive the experience and dazzle your employers. It will hopefully give tips for all interns and people taking up any work experience placement, and as I was an intern, I can show the truth! I've read many sources around the subject and most information comes from employers or existing interns. As I completed my internships, I can give practical advice from a normal point of view. It's a chance to share all the things I found out while being right in the hub of the fashion industry so you may find it useful and interesting even if you're not thinking about a career in fashion!
To make a few things clear though, I'm not going to say exactly where I did my work experience as firstly, I'm not officially affiliated with the places so it's not fair for me to openly share things about them or associate myself with them now, and secondly, they would get loads of applications from people who are reading this with an intention of finding an internship, and it wouldn't be fair if they would have never gone to apply in the first place! Also I'm not saying I was a star intern and I am the best of the best, I w0n't say what's right or wrong but I'll give tips that I found out were true. My placements gave really good feedback and invited me back but I can think of ways I could have been better and improved myself, so it's quite cool to give the tips to others. My first work experience placement was in the fashion department of a huge national daily newspaper, including a prominent Saturday magazine, and the second internship was at a fashion PR agency, which had international brands, designers and labels, some veeery appealing! I wish I could say! This meant at the newspaper they were receiving promotions and samples from brands and PR agencies, and at the PR agency they were sending them out, so I got to see things from both sides.
I hope you enjoy this guide and that it is useful to you! I've got all areas planned that I can think of and will have a special question and answer post and also some interviews with other interns hopefully, but if you have any special requests, please comment them below and I'll do my best to help!
What is an internship?
An intern will join a company for a short period of time and take on a small role, usually helping others or completing day to day tasks. In Britain they're usually unpaid, so the main gain for the intern is the chance to observe existing employees and find out how the company works and progresses, the routine of their job, and how the industry works. They gain knowledge that they can take onto other positions when they apply for jobs in the future, as they will know the general practices of the work industry they are aspiring to join. Once you've completed a placement, it will grab attention on your CV and show future employers that you are capable, willing and productive. There are also opportunities for the intern to make contacts through the people they meet and possibly, if they impress their employer enough, they may want to keep the intern in their company and offer them a job. The employee benefits as their staff members will have extra help and can delegate their more mundane and time-consuming tasks to the intern while they deal with their important work load.
Why do I need an internship?
When you take on an internship, you not only observe and gain an understanding of the work industry you have chosen, but you develop your own skills to apply to the working world. You don't come out with just a knowledge of how everything functions and what job roles entail, but your own attitudes change as you learn how to deal with a full time job, multi-task, receive direction and instruction, and meet many new people who will be living the dream, or at least living your dream!
Some industries require a strict educational path and others, like fashion, are a bit more diverse. Put yourself in the shoes of your employer always, and for this example think of what you would look for in an employee. If they have already been in a similar setting for a period of time and been given responsibilities there, they require a lot less training and adjustment. They know what is expected. But if you have spent the past years in school or working in a different area, you will need time to be trained and to adjust. If you have already interned, it is highly attractive to an employer as you are already capable in many areas. You personally will be a more rounded person in the field as you have observed the actions that are appropriate and positive, and have had time to adjust and feel comfortable.
It's also useful if you want a taster of the industry or the role you aspire to work in. You see the real day to day demands of an employee and get to figure out if you'd love to contribute too or if it's just not for you. And quite importantly, it's exciting! You get an inside peek into the world you'd love to dedicate your life to and meet people who inspire your studies. You may get to contribute to whatever your company is creating and you learn SO MUCH it's unreal. Even just knowing what the setting or office looks like is exciting. You'll walk away with a real sense of achievement and maybe like me, you could look at future magazine issues and say, 'I ironed that dress!'. The fashion industry is very networked and integrated as everyone uses other companies for different things. A brand will need PR agencies and manufactures and retailers to promote, create and sell products, and a magazine works with brands, retailers, and PR agencies to source stories and items. Everyone has a similar end goal: to create fashion trends that people buy into and enjoy, so people work together and create professional relationships. Once you have your foot in one door, you are exposed to hundreds of others, and so a fashion internship in one area will award you knowledge of how many different other areas work too.
Should I get an internship?
First you have to analyse your industry and determine what an employer looks for. Then analyse where you are right now in your studies or career. Do you already have skills that you can apply to the industry or could you do with more knowledge? Do you have experiences related to the industry or could you be more versatile?
There are many other alternatives to an internship that you might want to consider first. In terms of the fashion industry, your projects and coursework may showcase your talent. You might consider applying for a graduate scheme offered by many companies, where you jump straight into a paid role. When I applied to contribute an article in the fashion section of my University paper, I assumed there would be tough competition, when in fact they were asking for people. I'd assumed almost all girls on my course would head to the fashion section straight away, but then again I suppose not everyone is interested in fashion journalism or print. When one of my employers was looking for the next intern, after one interview she noted that the girl was the fashion editor of her university newspaper and was obviously impressed. It's all well and good putting your fabulous personality into words but some employers will look for practical experiences and accomplishments.
Do I need fashion qualifications?
Maybe the course or subjects you study are not immediately related to fashion but you want to work in the fashion industry. A lot of the members I met didn't have a degree in fashion and had qualifications in areas like Law, English and Economics, which have transferable skills. When choosing a subject to study, especially if you are paying for it at University, make sure it's something you enjoy and something you can excel at. I was originally going to study Maths at Manchester and it already felt a little off when at the interview, everyone was in suits with their parents and I'd just explored the Northern Quarter for vintage buys to see in my eBay shop. I got my place but by about May I realised I would always have to work to keep my head above water in the subject as I'm not a maths genius but I love sums and numbers!! Give me a quadratic equation any day my friends! I knew deep down that I wouldn't get the offered grades to get onto the course and didn't want to chance on them lowering them through clearing. I changed my degree and started looking for something involved with management or finance, and really chose it on a whim. In the beginning I didn't even want to work in fashion as I didn't think there were enough jobs in the field, but over time I realised I really wanted to be part of the industry. I don't think any course will turn out to be what you expected though and you should go on your instincts and whether the department and the city feel right for you. You don't need a degree in fashion to work in the fashion industry at all, so an internship would be a good bridge into it. Don't forget you could still work in a different area that dabbles in fashion, for instance law or accounting.
Do I want to work in fashion?
Also ask yourself why you want to work in the fashion industry? You may think it looks like a cool industry and want to be part of it, but do you have what it takes? I'd love to be a famous pop star but I definitely cannot sing, and I'd absolutely love to be a model but I don't look like one. TV shows like The Hills make it seem like it's for everyone. To work in fashion you have to be totally forward thinking, as the industry works seasons ahead. You have to have a natural drive to find out what's cool and what people are buying and wanting, even if it's not your style. You must be confident in talking to new people and dealing with the unknown, and have a cool head in tough situations. You need to feel a drive to put things out there and give other people inspiration and incentives to view and consume fashion. You must have the want to dedicate lots of time to a full on job as there are many girls ready to put in more hours than you and go that extra mile to complete the work load. You have to have the ability to turn things out well and complete all your tasks to your best ability, along with being responsible and mature. Fashion doesn't sleep, and neither will you for a few years while you are low in the fashion food chain!
There are many different jobs in fashion and if you want to work in the hub of the industry then generally you need to get experience, but you could work just outside the industry and in other areas of retailing or finance or creative arts. If you just see yourself at a well known magazine or brand, than you need to rethink because it's the glamour that is attracting you, rather than the key characteristics of the job.
Do I have what it takes to be an intern?
Even if you think 'yes! I'm ready to dedicate my whole young adult life to fashion!', then do you have what it takes to be an intern? Being an intern is tough stuff. I'll go into this later but interning is very stressful and quite scary! You are thrown in at the deep end in a real life fashion setting and it's never how you imagined. You're dealing with real clients and real money and if you loose a garment or forget to send an email or address the wrong package, the repercussions are on you. Other employees have their own jobs to do rather than spending valuable time training you, so you must be a fast learner and make an effort to be precise and observant. You must have a cool head and mature attitude to given tasks. You need loads of respect for your company and must put 100% into your time there, and not have the sort of thinking where you have one late night with friends at the end of the week and show up a little worse for wear one morning. If this all sounds daunting, you just need a natural can-do attitude and realise that these jobs need to be doing; you are there to help in any way given, even if they are tiring or tedious.
When should I get an internship?
In the UK, generally a work experience placement will be for a few weeks and a company will set them up with government backing, whereas internships are usually more flexible. First you should consider your age and when you'd be free to dedicate time. If you're still in school, you do some work experience in Year 10 and your school will help you find your ideal place, but you also have the summer holidays. If you're at college or Uni, you may have longer holidays and fewer hours of class, so you could apply for a placement where you dedicate a few days a week or a whole holiday at Christmas or Easter. You'll really be able to give a useful amount of time and get your teeth into a place if you can give your whole summer, or a couple of months. Some courses require a year in industry for school credits and certain companies offer these, such as River Island and Debenhams. If you are applying for University courses, it may be useful to ask if a year in industry placement is available.
I didn't do my internships until one year before I graduated so don't stress! You could do one after you've completed your studies or even not at all; by the looks of Facebook show-offs, girls on my course seem to have jobs lined up now they've graduated without interning. You should consider the types of job you'd like to do and whether you need experience to be the best at one. Some places train you or like qualifications, some will want to see that you know what the job entails and have developed skills already.
Don't be too ambitious and imagine you'll spend a whole Christmas holiday working every hour or an entire summer long. Be realistic and put your main priorities first. I'd love to do another internship but I know I'll have to spend my Christmas and Easter holidays revising for final year exams, and they sadly take a lot of dedication. You should organise an internship when you can really put 100% into it and have time before to plan and prepare. I was back in the UK for a month before mine.
It's essential to apply in as far in advance as possible. Some placements are booked up even a year in advance! I applied for mine in February but I was at an advantage because most students were doing exams in May and June, whereas I'd completed all mine over the year. I'll go into it more in another post, but you should state when you are free as clearly and accurately as possible, because you may be offered something at short notice.
Where should I get an internship?
I was quite open minded about my placement as there were many areas that I wanted to try out, so I started by making a list of the dream places I'd love to be at and applied to them first if possible. I then started brain storming and thinking outside the box. There's not just the ten high street shops and designers that come to your head or the magazines stocked in your local newsagents; many different companies make up the fashion industry and you need to really pinpoint what angle you like the best; marketing? forecasting? merchandising? buying? finance? law? graphics? design? manufacturing? The list is endless, so you need to figure out where your talents lie and match them up to what's out there.
One major flaw in the whole plan could be where you live. Sadly, if you don't live in London, your chances of getting one outside the city are low. Most fashion companies in the UK are based in London so you could commute if you live close enough or plan to stay there for a bit. I rented a room that I found on Crashpadder (tip: zoom out of the map for more houses) for some weeks and stayed with friends also. Because my placements weren't paid, I essentially paid to be there. As I left Sweden early, I had some money that I would of spent on rent there to spend on rent in London, but don't forget you need living costs and transport costs, but luckily one of my placements paid my travel expenses. I took the gamble and paid my own money because I know I'll make it back in the future by hopefully having wider job opportunities. Also, like I said before, it was exciting and fun! I could have stayed with friends the whole time but I knew after a week of sharing beds with my mates in a student house, I wouldn't be the best worker!
Unfortunately internships may be a bit elitist then, as not everyone can afford to do them. Like I said above, there are plenty of ways to get involved in fashion and demonstrate your skills otherwise. Before you apply, again don't be too ambitious with offering time or money, as it's tempting to say yes yes yes to every offer so people definitely take you on. The last thing you want to do is cancel your placement well down the line when you realise you have no where to stay or no funds, as people are relying on you and it will already give you a bad name with one company.
How should I get one?
One of the skills you need during an internship is to be good at researching and creating ideas, using the internet to your advantage. I had a little debate with myself on whether to actually create this guide because I never read one before my internships and I still haven't graduated and (cross fingers) got a job, so really all the people reading this will be in competition with me! It might not be wise to give a helping hand to others in the race for jobs with me but as the oldest of four and being generally productive myself, I like to give advice! So I'm not going to give a list of all the internships available and spoon feed here, as if I can find internships, you can too! There are sites that companies advertise on, and most brands will have a special section on their own sites that give information on their work experience policies. In the next post I'll give tips on your application. One thing's for sure, you need to keep applying as you might get lucky on your fifth application or your 100th. You may get replies the same day or four weeks later. It's foolish to dwell on one reply, get onto the next one!
Hope that was useful! Tell me what you think and if there's anything special you'd like to see!