This is a guest post by Alexandra Gámez for InternMatch’s Student Stories. If you’re interested in getting involved with Student Stories, learn more here.
This is a frazzling time for university graduates in the US. If you feel as though your stomach is in a constant state of overflow, about to erupt through your mouth at any moment, you’re definitely not alone. I too, feel this way.
I’m 24 and have recently graduated from a small, private liberal arts college near Portland, Oregon. I majored in English, though, most of my efforts were not on dissecting Alexander Pope political themes, but were, instead, focused on journalistic pursuits—writing for newspapers, magazines, and online outlets. For four years, I took pains to hone my craft— writing eloquently, intuitively, and concisely. I had experienced the first year lows of practically being ushered away from my exclusive major to the senior highs of finally gaining my toughest critics’—I mean professors’—acknowledgement of my legitimacy as a talented writer, and a coveted editorial-style internship with a lifestyle magazine here in Portland.
At the moment, I am in the thick of job hunting. I walked away from university with a Bachelor of Arts, but with that diploma, I have also walked away with student loans, familial expectations, and an insatiable personal desire to begin the trek up a lofty professional ladder in the fashion industry. My ambitions have cycled between fashion journalism—writing those editorial features on celebs you see in Elle and Interview, styling under the purview of aesthetic genius and former Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman , and buying for an e-commerce site like Net-a-Porter or my-wardrobe. As a budding professional, my options are limitless, and yet, they are strikingly limited to the opportunities that I am offered. I know that influencing a brand’s design aesthetic is what I’m interested in, and it’s one that I’ve been actively pursuing these past several months, but in what capacity, I am eager to find out!
While I’m not an expert in landing that first coveted gig, I can offer InternMatch readers like you some tips that I have picked up as I continue to search for my first entry-level opportunity in the fashion industry. I’ll assume that we’ve all heard the recommended bits about college career fairs, alumni networking, internship outlets, word of mouth, and informational interviews, so I’ll leave those out. Here we go!
Tip #1 Think big picture.
During my first and second years at uni, I was absolutely convinced that I wanted to write celeb editorial features for fashion magazines, and one day, be on the tip of that exclusive magazine masthead. Oregon markets, however, do not cater to the same high fashion audiences as New York does. I had to, therefore, think outside the box. Landing a fashion closet internship with W or a public relations internship with Alison Brod in New York was out of bounds, but what was the next best thing? I thought of Portland’s most prestigious publications that give credence to fashion, in whatever form. Two weeks later, I was seated in front of a senior web editor for a news editorial internship I later turned into an editorial and fashion-centered internship. I was able to partner with the magazine’s style director and publish several fashion features on the magazine’s style blog, many of which I pitched myself.
So, while the internship did not start out as a fashion journalism internship, I made sure that I did everything in my power to help it become one. Understanding the potential and then boldly pursuing it, I have learned, will often get your goals met.
Tip #2 If you find yourself without a network, seek those outside your geographical reach.
Barely a month graduated, I was stalking job boards that cater to budding fashion industry professionals. I noticed that one of these sites had an editorial mentorship program and I quickly applied. I knew that it was aggressively competitive—the advertising post said as much—yet I told myself that if this experience was meant to be, then I would jump on it, no holds barred. Three weeks later, I was accepted into the program and invited to a cocktail hour on a June evening in Chelsea. I flew to Manhattan, stayed with a gracious friend from uni, and soaked in the city for five days until I met with my editorial assistant mentors and several dozen equally ambitious, clever, and promising young grads looking to make a name for themselves.
There were interns from Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, and to everyone’s astonishment, there was me, from Oregon. “You came all the way from Oregon!??” was the general response when I told my new acquaintances where I came from. This fact only solidified my relevance to the program: I was there to make connections within my industry. Everyone, mentors and mentees, knew that I was serious, so they took me seriously and offered me business cards, emails, and phone numbers to stay in touch.
I was fortunate enough to make great connections with key professionals in a variety of social media, editorial, and design disciplines. There were fascinating mentees as well who interned for Vogue, Calvin Klein, and Michael Kors; some freelanced to make rent.
I understand that for many, putting yourself on the line like I did is physically, emotionally, and financially risky, but I believe that by running after stepping stones—like gaining a proper network in your industry— is an absolutely essential element to your professional journey. Nay saying does absolutely nothing but hurt your confidence. Instead, apply for multiple out-of-state internships or mentorship programs and see what your options are.
One strategy that I picked up in college was to give yourself plenty of options. Doing this is often difficult given the economy, but the effort is nonetheless important to your self-confidence—in knowing that you’ve made connections to real people who may be able to offer insight into their companies’ hiring trends if you find yourself interested one day.
Tip #3 Don’t be the only one working on your behalf.
Perhaps my best piece of advice for job seekers in this competitive market is find representation. As a newbie in your industry, your professional web is still young and fairly undeveloped. To add to your workload, you only have so many hours in the day, and you’re probably working a retail or food service job to pay your Verizon bill and your credit card, so sending out a dozen resumes a day is a bit unrealistic. I am affected by these limitations as well, so as a result, I have sought out additional advocates in my campaign for that first entry-level job.
I found a recruiting firm that specializes in fashion and creative industries across the US and into the UK. While I had to apply for representation, I was quickly admitted and had a lengthy chat with my agent about my background and professional goals. Two weeks after that initial chat, I sat in front of three product line execs from a global athletic wear company who interviewed me for an entry-level, salaried design position. Although the interview was a promising one, I did not end up getting an offer. However, I interpreted this interview as tangible proof that I was on the right course.
Expanding my outreach to a recruiting firm, highly connected to companies who go to recruiters for tomorrow’s talent, has been the most rewarding action I have taken thus far in my professional journey. Oddly enough, though, this step is often not even considered by hungry grads when tackling the job market.
I had my own reservations about seeking representation. Experience was a key element to my resume that I thought I was lacking. I had multiple internships and held a few leadership roles on campus, sure, but I had just graduated the previous spring and had merely worked retail and dabbled in model management. The process has taught me that I was wrong in doubting my experience and my skills. As a young grad like myself, finding temporary or permanent positions by teaming up with a recruiter is an effective way of building your resume and climbing that professional ladder. Remember: nay saying gets you nowhere. Explore your options and pick the one that most aligns with your vision for your future.
UPDATE: Shortly after this story was published, Alexandra succeeded in landing her first design internship with a French design house in New York! She’ll be relocating the end of April and looks forward to making Manhattan her home.
Alexandra Gámez is a recent grad from the west coast and is currently seeking an entry-level opportunity within the fashion industry. She invests her time in building an online presence with her classic-eclectic style blog, Posh and Polished, identifying editorial talent for a Portland boutique model agency, and meeting new people, wherever her interviews take her. Find her on: WordPress and Twitter.
Photo Credit: theglitterguide.tumblr.com