Our "How I'm Making It" conference kicked off on Friday morning with a very frank conversation with three of the industry's most esteemed editors in chief — Robbie Myers of Elle, Ariel Foxman of InStyle and Amy Astley of Teen Vogue — who spoke about their unique career trajectories, and offered invaluable advice about how to get your foot in the door at a fashion magazine.
The advice they offered was a mix of common sense (be humble, say "yes" to everything and learn from your mistakes) and surprising points that you'd never learn from a career counselor. Read on for the best no-bullshit tips from the very top talents in the publishing industry.
If you want to work in fashion because you like how it seems on TV or movies, don’t bother. You've likely heard this before but it bears repeating: Working in the industry is nothing like what you've seen on "The Hills" or in "The Devil Wears Prada." Most of the time, the job will not be glamorous, and if you're not truly passionate about writing, styling or another aspect of the industry, you probably won't last long before you burn out. "If you’re not obsessed [with fashion] to the point where you’ll be happy getting coffee, you’re going to be miserable," Foxman said.
When you’re an intern or an assistant, pay attention to what’s going on in other department besides the one you’re in. "You don’t need to be the editor-in-chief's assistant as your first job, but it is a nice place to start because you get a broad view of the whole magazine," Astley explained. There are so many different departments within editorial‚ and then there's the entire publishing/marketing side, and the more you absorb from listening in on meetings with all of them, the better.
Don’t bother writing a cover letter. No matter what sort of advice you've gotten about crafting the perfect, page-long cover letter singing your praises: ignore it. The editors recommend sending a resume along with a short and sweet note about why you're perfect for the job, and they also would rather you get in touch digitally — Astley says she rarely opens an envelope that contains a cover letter. "I search you online, I don’t read cover letters," Foxman added.
Beef up your social media presence. All that time you spend on the Interwebz — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — is not for nothing: It can prove to be a major advantage when it comes to getting a job, as it gives a genuine peek into your personality and point of view. Also, if you don't have those networks set up and use them regularly, it can make you look completely out of touch. "I think its weird if you don’t have social media," Foxman said about potential job candidates. Just keep it clean, OK?
Use digital networking to your advantage. "You're living in a time with so few barriers digitally, so take advantage of that," Foxman said. "Find the people on Twitter who are creating the conversation and get involved — you will have a voice. Then, you will get invited off Twitter to meet people and become part of the circle. Just be sure to find that balance and don’t be too aggressive." Be sure to create a profile carefully, and have a consistent voice.
Majoring in journalism will not give you a leg up when it comes to working at a fashion magazine. Honestly.
Try not to have a "master plan." None of the editors on the panel knew that they wanted to be an editor at a particular magazine when they started out, and they all took winding paths to get where they are now. They also made sure to note that they had mentors or bosses they looked up to help to guide them along the way. "Listen to people who have a bird's eye view that you don't have," Foxman said. "Allow them to influence what you should or shouldn't do next. Trust that they have a lot of information about your talents — if they recommend strongly that you do something, pay attention." Myers agreed, saying, "Be willing to take a risk or make a move — be open and curious about what’s next, even if it's not the most glamorous."
This should go without saying, but learn the brand you’re interviewing for inside and out. Not only should you know a lot about the editor whom you're meeting with, you should know the stylists, photographers and writers that regularly work for the magazine. If you don't, chances are slim that you'll get a call back. "Candidates say they’re obsessed with fashion or the magazine and they can’t follow up," Foxman said. You should be able to name your favorite designer on the spot, as well as your favorite pieces from past issues of the magazine — not knowing the latter is a huge pitfall. "Sometimes a candidate only looked at the last issue. It’s not about wasting my time — you won’t get the job, you shouldn’t be here," Foxman said.
Don’t stress too much about what you wear to the interview. "People stress too much [about what to wear], but you want to tell a story from beginning to end, and fashion is a part of that," Foxman said. "If you’re not thoughtful about it, comes through." Astley added, "What you wear is important, but being a 'super fashionista' is not a requirement for every single job." That being said, if you want to be a stylist or a market editor, the interviewer should be able to see your personal style and give a hint into what you're thinking. But be careful: Astley noted that designer goods can be a turnoff, especially in a young person. "If you’re looking for an entry-level job you might not have a lot of money, but dress for the job you want, not the job you have," Myers said, pointing out that looking professional and well-groomed are the most important things.
At the end of your interview, tell the person you’re interviewing with that you want the job. Foxman said that if you want to make a real impression, make your intentions clear. "When the person interviewing you asks if you have any questions, make sure to say to them, 'I really want this job and I will be great at this job.'" Also, Myers is always impressed with candidates who ask smart, thoughtful questions at the end of an interview — it can mean the difference between getting the gig and not.
BONUS TIP: Be nice! All of the editors agree, this is by far the most important thing to keep in mind. "An assistant with a sour attitude is a real bummer," Astley said. "Pleasant isn’t only nice to be around, it gets the job done." Myers added, "Be nice to everyone, even as you move up the ladder. There is no one in the industry who is beneath you."