How to Parlay Your Fashion Internship Into a Job: 7 Tips From People Who Did It

It takes more than hard work.
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Dhani Mau
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It takes more than hard work.

I don't think I know anyone in my age group who currently works in fashion and did not intern first. And a lot of those people, myself included, landed jobs at the very places they interned. This obviously doesn't happen to everyone. It's a mix of timing, having the right skills, and, well, being a good intern. So we thought we'd pick the brains of some of the people we know who did it to assemble some tips to turning your internship into a job. 

Internships are a hot topic lately: It's summer, which means hordes of college students (like you perhaps) and recent graduates are embarking on new internships--but also, the legality of unpaid internships has come to a head with a recent lawsuit. In Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, a federal judge in New York ruled that unpaid interns in two production crews, including one from Black Swan, were entitled to payment, and that by not paying them, Fox Searchlight had been violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the case did not specifically involve the fashion industry, its implications do. Could unpaid internships become illegal across all industries? It's possible.

Internships are considered an important and necessary stepping stone to entering the job market--especially in the fashion industry. The hope is, generally, that an internship will eventually turn into a job. (At least that's what you're telling your parents, isn't it?)

Or maybe they're a useless waste of time and money.

Intern at a small company.

When you're at a smaller company like a startup, you're typically given more responsibility and are more likely to get noticed by your superiors. I know people who have interned at very prestigious, well-respected fashion publications, whose supervisors never even bothered to learn their names. I've definitely benefited from only interning at smaller companies. My last two internships--Fashionista and a PR company--were basically two-person teams when I joined. And I was lucky enough to have joined Fashionista at a time when it was experiencing pretty rapid growth (and I was about to finish school).

Rachel Adler, who started at Stylecaster as an intern and is now Beauty Director at the site's beauty offshoot, Beauty High, had a similar experience. "I personally started my internship at a time when our company was pretty small, so I was able to take on a lot of responsibility while I was still interning," she said.

Do those extra little things.

Don't go overboard or try to restructure the entire company, but do little extra things like help to keep things organized or be the intern who volunteers to do things that aren't mandatory.

"We got thrown into Fashion Week pretty early on in our company's existence, and my bosses saw that I was a bit OCD and loved a nicely organized Excel chart (which is crucial in Fashion Week planning), said Adler. "These small things are remembered by your mentors and peers."

Nora Crotty, who's now our Assistant Editor, found that making an extra effort helped her as well. "I put an emphasis on coming up with funny, original story ideas for the site and volunteered to do party and event reporting as much as I could," she explained.

Shinye Suk, a designer at Derek Lam, really went the extra mile while interning at the company, doing quite a bit of extra work on her portfolio outside of her internship that later came in handy. "I kept updating my portfolio professionally and made one special project focused on Derek Lam’s design aesthetic. After six months of interning, I asked Derek if he could review my portfolio and he did it and offered me an apprenticeship. Thus, I got to work much closer to the design team and I did everything I could to prove that I was a needed person in the team. I especially tried to show my design aesthetic when they asked me to drape something or make mock-ups or fabric treatments." After six months of apprenticing, she was hired as a designer.

Socialize.

Depending on what type of job you're trying to get, going out after work to events and parties within your industry--at least every now and then--can be important for putting faces to names, accumulating contacts that can be valuable to your company, and, of course, growing your network. Your boss may also want you to attend events with them.

One field in which this is particularly important is PR. "Grow the power of your network," advises Tiffany*. "If you're someone that doesn't enjoy being social after work, it's not the industry for you. You have to be able to go to dinners, launches, cocktail parties, openings, premieres, shows, etc. at sometimes a last minute notice. Be prepared to have your personal life not so scheduled as you'll have to be active in the evenings for work."

Don't go out too much, though. Partying late into the night does not an effective work day make.

Do your best work--even if it feels like you're not being recognized for it.

Your boss is probably really busy if he or she needs interns--perhaps too busy to remember to recognize all the hard work you do. But that doesn't mean he or she isn't noticing. Adler advises, "Take your time as you learn and grow in the company, and don't ever think any task is too small. There is a lesson in everything, and if you were assigned a job, it was clearly important to someone. They will appreciate a job well done and hopefully recognize you for it someday, whether it be hiring you or recommending you elsewhere."

"Work, work, work, work, work," emphasizes Tiffany. "It won't go unnoticed. You may think 20 hour work days are unappreciated, but the right people will notice and those are the people that happily support you in your future career plans."

Be yourself and be heard.

While it's definitely important to know when to take a step back and just listen (A tip from Tyler: "What was really important--and what I would tell anyone who wants to get a job--is that I had to learn how to listen and just soak up what the people around me were doing rather than always trying to be a part of the action."), it definitely doesn't benefit you to be completely silent, or try to be someone you're not.

"Be humble, but don't compromise yourself," suggests Tiffany, wisely. "Be humble because the glamour of what we do is attractive, but it's a very small portion of what we do. If you go out too much and focus more on your social ethic than your work ethic, it'll show at the office. But be yourself. That's the best quality an employer can invest in. If you're trying to be an idea of what it means to be a publicist [for example], then you're working against yourself."

"I always made sure my voice and opinions were heard," said Nora. "I think it's really important to make yourself a part of wherever you are (though truth be told, I can be quite a Chatty Cathy)." It's true, but we find it super entertaining.

Show that you really want to be there.

Tyler shares her story: "I had been interning with Fashionista for nearly 10 months total, both in office and long distance, when I got hired. I think the main thing that got me hired was that I really, really wanted it; I sold my car and a pretty good chunk of my stuff to move to New York, and once I was here I just went where ever I was asked to go and covered whatever needed to be covered. I didn't leave the office until I was sure that everything was done and that no one needed my help."

Nora also made sacrifices to show she really wanted to work here. "When I had been interning for seven months and slaving away at retail for exactly one year (I refused to allow myself to stay there any longer than that), I quit the store and told the Fashionista peeps I was all theirs from that point on. Et voila--one month later, they hired me."

Here's how Marissa Stewart, an assistant editor at Stylesight, landed her job: "Towards the end of my internship, which lasted six months, I decided that I wanted to stay on with Stylesight for as long as possible. I wrote a letter to the Fashion Director asking if there was anything I could do to be a part of the company. Luckily, Fashion Week was just about to start, and they needed someone to help out as a freelance fashion assistant. I made a really good impression, so I continued freelancing for a few different departments and got a good grasp of how everything worked. When a job opened up five months later, I was immediately recommended for it and have been at Stylesight ever since."

Interning as frequently as possible shows dedication as well. "After interning a few months at Derek Lam," Suk said, "I realized how much I loved working here and became a full-time intern after I graduated. I interned five days a week because I wanted to be really involved and recognized."

Think long-term and strategize.

Make sure that you actually want to work at the place you're interning. Make sure it's a good fit for you and you're not just taking a job out of desperation. Let's just say Fashionista turned out to be a much better fit for me than another place I interned. Had I wound up working at a PR firm, it probably would not have been a good fit for anyone involved.

Some questions to ask yourself: Where can you see yourself in a year or five with the company? What benefits do they offer? What reputation can you build with that company? Are they meeting your needs? Where is the company headed financially? Strategize as much as possible because sometimes companies that you may think sound like the perfect place to work can often be a mess internally with poor management, bad office politics, or financial mismanagement.

*Name changed for our source who asked to remain anonymous