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How to Make It as a Beauty Editor

It takes more than a love of makeup.
Photo: Gomainstream/Creative Commons

Photo: Gomainstream/Creative Commons

Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion industry.

In this series, we look into what it takes to succeed in a specific field within the fashion industry by speaking to several professionals who've done it. Read on for your unofficial guide to becoming a beauty editor.

One of the biggest misconceptions about beauty editors is that they sit and play with makeup all day long. Sure, testing products is part of the job, but there's a lot more to it. "I'm sitting here building my own slideshows and putting in photo requests and also doing an interview and putting together an awards package," explains Megan McIntyre, beauty features director of Refinery29. Increasingly, editors are also looking to hire people who can juggle several things at once. "You need to be able to demonstrate that you do have the ability to write, edit, do market work, do all those things that you're going to need to build your career," explains Marie Claire's Beauty and Health Director Erin Flaherty

While beauty editorial positions are still few relative to fashion, there are several ways to break into the industry. Byrdie's Editorial Director Faith Xue started off ghostwriting for celebrities at a digital media agency. From there, she moved onto writing for a branded content site called before eventually landing at Byrdie. "There are more and more people like me who go to digital through nontraditional means," she explains. Take Fashionista's former beauty editor Cheryl Wischhover, who had a career as a nurse practitioner before joining the site as an intern.

It's not easy being a beauty editor, but thanks to technological innovations and a boom in wellness, it's a particularly exciting time to enter this field. Still interested? Read on for some tips on getting your foot in the door, and what to keep in mind to succeed in the beauty world.

Intern, network, maintain those professional relationships.

All the editors that we talked to couldn't stress the importance of internships enough. "Because my resume had so many internships and [writing] clips already, I think I stood out among the other applicants," says Flaherty of landing her first job as the editorial assistant to Allure's beauty director, a position she had heard about while interning.

They also stressed the importance of informational interviews. McIntyre says that she landed the interview for an editorial assistant position at Beauty Biz under WWD (now Beauty Inc.) thanks to a connection she had made during an informational interview. "You've got to make those calls, you've got to make those e-mails, you've got to send those notes because what's the worst thing that can happen? Someone is going to ignore you?" (FYI, both Flaherty and McIntyre say that they try to take as many informational interviews as possible.)

Build your byline and develop your voice.

Here's an important thing to consider: you might have to freelance for a while before you land that editorial job. "People get their hearts broken because they don't get a staff job, [but] the reality is that there aren't a lot out there," explains McIntyre, who's seen young graduates start their careers as freelancers or take on internships to build their byline. 

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Rather than being discouraged, think of freelancing as a way to develop your voice in the meantime. “[Freelancing] really helped me kind of find my voice when it came to writing about beauty products,” says Xue, who went out of her way to find as many freelance opportunities as possible while working full-time at "I felt creatively, I needed some sort of other outlet and I really wanted to develop my writing portfolio and expand my clips." When it came time to interview for the position at Byrdie, she says being able to show those clips from different outlets was very helpful.

Also, keep in mind that freelancing is another great way to network; McIntyre says that editors will sometimes refer a freelancer that they've worked with when they hear of an open position.

Be nice to publicists.

Think of publicists as "gatekeepers" to interviews and exclusives; treat them nicely. McIntyre says that she tries to respond to every email addressed specifically to her, even if it's to let a publicist know why a particular story might not be a good fit for Refinery29. "[What] a lot of editors don't know or choose to ignore is the fact that we're all doing a job and public relations executives are working with a client," she explains. Some other recommendations from editors: take those desk side meetings even if it's with a smaller brand, schedule those coffees with publicists and be kind even if a publicist offers an exclusive and takes it back.

Learn to juggle several tasks at once.

If you only want to write, freelance. But if you want to be an editor, understand that a lot of responsibilities come with that role. On any given day, an editor might be attending market appointments, testing out new products, requesting products, responding and communicating with publicists, meeting with publicists, working with the social media and graphic design team, interfacing with advertising and marketing, creative directing photo shoots, attending events or press trips and, in the case of a beauty director, managing the beauty editorial team. That's all in addition to writing.

Put it this way: beauty editors might make it seem easy, but it's a lot of hard work. (Though, if you stick with it, you could end up with a beauty director salary, ranging anywhere between the high 90s to six figures, according to McIntyre.)

Back your stories with research, statistics and interviews.

Yes, you work in beauty, but don't forget that you're still a journalist. McIntyre and Xue say that what sets beauty editors apart from, say, a beauty blogger or an online personality, is that as journalists, it's their responsibility to support their stories with statistics, interviews and more. "A piece that we write on SPF is probably going to contain interviews with more than one expert, extensive research, studies, anything along those lines," explains Xue. That's not to say that beauty bloggers or online personalities aren't knowledgable, but their goals and audiences are different. Which takes us to the next point... 

Be inclusive.

"[Readers] don't all come to us for one specific thing," says McIntyre. "Whereas [with] a beauty blogger, [readers] come to them for their specific opinion or method or what have you." So if you want to be a beauty editor at a website or publication with a massive audience, keep in mind the idea of inclusivity, and don't tell readers to adhere to one beauty ideal. "[I]t's very easy to write a story that's like, 'Oh, here's how to get the smoothest, shiniest hair.' Well, not everyone wants and/or can achieve shiny hair," explains McIntyre. "Just because something's trending doesn’t mean that it works for everyone… And the goal of the beauty writer is to always feel like you're getting information that's useful and that's representative of your audience." 

At Marie Claire, Flaherty says editors focus on global beauty and that, thanks to the slightly more forgiving deadlines in print (relative to digital), they have time to travel the world and take a deeper look at the anthropology of beauty.

Lastly, keep in mind that beauty is a universal language. "I think that the biggest misconception is that beauty is superficial," says Flaherty. "[But] the truth is there's nothing more intimate to women and it doesn’t matter where I go in the world. Beauty is always a universal language. It's kind of like food. It's just something very personal and confidence-giving that makes women feel good."

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