Women and men from across the world (some as far as Bombay) were sitting on the edge of their seats at our first ever "How to Make it in Fashion" conference a few weeks ago. The topic? How to network (the right way) in this competitive industry.
Trust us, the advice was good--and that's because it came from industry pros like Melanie Bender, co-founder & partner of communications firm Post+Beam, Alisa Gould-Simon, co-founder of style sharing app Pose, Amber Venz, president & co-founder of affiliate link program rewardStyle, John Jannuzzi, a contributing editor at Lucky, and Ruthie Friedlander, the senior digital manager for The Row. They may be young, but they still have years of experience and had much knowledge to share. Read on to see what we learned.
1. Do Network With Your Peers
If reaching out to an editor at your favorite magazine seems daunting (understandably), try asking a fellow intern at the publication out for a drink. "If you are reaching out to like-minded people always remember that they want the same thing. There's really nothing to be afraid of," Jannuzzi, advises. The people you work with today will be applying for higher jobs down the road, so it helps to branch out and make friends.
"It's amazing to start out as an assistant or intern somewhere and in ten years everyone you know is now becoming executive editors and directors of ecommerce for retailers. You really grow with the industry. When you're young you can't be freaked out by the fact that you're starting out at square one," said Friedlander.
2. Don't Treat Networking Targets as if They Are Just a Job Title
In an industry with so much competition, it can be hard to look past a position on a masthead. It's important to keep in mind that these people, like you, have lives outside of the office. Take the time to get to know them personally instead of only sending an email when you are in need. "You shouldn't approach networking as much as what can this person do for me, but as really getting to know a person," added Bender.
3. Do Take Advantage of LinkedIn
LinkedIn can be a really helpful tool to build working relationships and contacts, as well as keep up with those you already have. People bounce around a lot in fashion--the website can help you keep track of who has moved to what company. (If you're going the extra mile, send a handwritten congratulatory note--or at least an email--to those who have moved.)
Newsle is another website worth taking advantage of. It tracks what your Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections are doing online. It sends updates on where they are working now, what they are talking about, and who they have connected with.
4. Don't Use the Internet to Harass People
"Never tweet someone and ask if they got your email," Jannuzzi warned. Besides being unprofessional, it puts the person you are attempting to get in contact with in an awkward position. Likewise, don't spam someone with a million emails. Wait at least a few days--or a whole week--before following up. If they haven't responded after three emails, throw in the towel.
5. Do Ask for Informational Interviews
"Ask everyone for coffee. If they're really busy bring coffee to them. Grab 15 minutes. If you are persistent people aren't going to want to turn you down. The more you get to know people the more you connect," Gould-Simon advised. Certain industry big-wigs have been known to take meetings from interns who want to learn a little more about the way things work. New Lucky EIC Eva Chen often suggests setting up informational interviews on her blog. Come prepared with a list of 10-15 questions.
6. Do Pick up the Required Reading
Casual conversation with peers or higher-ups can be an ideal time to make an impression. Make sure you stay up-to-date about what's going on in the fashion industry and outside of it. Slide it into conversation to show your bosses you're paying attention. Having a cache of interesting news tidbits and facts at your disposal is also a great way to ensure you have an "in" into any conversation.
"If someone comes to me who usually isn't involved in the conversation, but they say something really intelligent because they have been doing their due diligence outside of the nine-to-five, I recognize that they might be more valuable than I knew beforehand," explains Jannuzzi.
7. Do Try and Find a Mentor
"Having older more seasoned people within the industry to take you under their wing is super important," Gould-Simon said.
It should be someone who has taken an interest in your development and someone you can ask questions to. They don't need to be the top of the masthead--simply having someone on-hand who has been around the block can be a huge asset.
Be mindful of the fact that some people are very busy and might not want to make time to support your ambitions and don't get offended if your mentor-of-choice isn't able to give you the advice you want.
8. Don't Always Expect a Reply
For every 10 emails you send, you might get one reply. But don't fret about getting ignored. "Don't take anything personally," said Jannuzzi. "If someone doesn't respond to your email, it does not mean that they looked at your Facebook or they Googled you and thought you were weird. We all get a ton of emails and we are all really busy. Always follow-up, there's nothing wrong with doing that. Learn the line between persistence and annoyance."
9. Do Over-preform
Working even a little bit harder, will make you more memorable--especially when you're in a pool of many different interns. You want to be remembered as the one that worked until seven o'clock when all of the others went home at six. "Take the time to ask [your higher-ups] 'what's the biggest problem that you're working on now? What are you trying to solve right now and how can I help you do that?'" said Gould-Simon. Make yourself indispensable, and your bosses will want to create a permanent position for you at the company.
10. Don't Get too Comfortable
"It's so easy to stand out because so many people are not going the extra mile," Friedlander admitted. "For those of you who are still interning, the level of complacency with interns right now is so astounding to me. The bar is so low."
Work hard, and when you start getting recognized for it, work even harder.
Thanks to all our sponsors and gift bag donors for making Fashionista's first conference happen. JewelMint, Maybelline, TRESemme, Skinn Cosmetics, Evologie, Iokai, Essie, School of Style, Zico and BluePrint--we couldn't have done it without you!