“You have to sacrifice to be successful” is the career mantra for Celeste Northern, the current Retail Events Assistant at a megabrand luxury jeweler. To get to her position, she left her job at a media firm in Detroit, swapping financial security for a chance to make it in New York. We spoke to Celeste about making the leap from internship to full-time, moving to the Big Apple, and her advice for current internship seekers.
With a passion for event planning and fashion, Celeste realized that while her job at the media firm was stable, she needed to move into a different sector. Celeste researched a university and moved to Italy to obtain a Master’s Certificate in Fashion Management and Luxury Goods. Armed with a background in Spanish and Rosetta Stone, she began to pick up Italian. “I’m a close-knit person, so it was difficult during the holidays,” she recalls. “I knew it was temporary, but I also knew it was something that I would have to experience to be the person I wanted to be.”
After earning her certificate, Celeste returned to her job for a year before shipping out to New York City. “I walked into it knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy,” she says. “People move to New York to pursue their career aspirations – I looked at that as motivation; when you see people working hard, you work just as hard, if not harder.”
Celeste began to help with her friends’ companies, recognizing that she would have to work from the bottom up, and that advancement would require a few steps back. Celeste took smart, calculated career moves. When she heard about the Global Marketing and Communications internship with her current company, she did a little research about the educational opportunities built into the program and the work environment. Celeste landed the position and worked for five months under the Vice President of Marketing and Communications.
Celeste’s hard work paid off. “Then [my supervisor] pulled me into her office,” she says, “and asked, ‘What is it you want to do?’ I said I wanted to translate over to the Events Department, and she said, ‘As soon as I find a new assistant, I will transition you over to them.’ I was lucky; some people don’t care about your goals.” After being promoted to the Events department, Celeste found that her work in marketing had been excellent preparation: “Because I worked under the VP, I was exposed to different arenas of the company, so I knew how to get quicker results. It was awesome to transition from intern to salaried employee. It added value to my current position.”
“When you’re working towards a goal, naturally you want to see results. You want to know what the next step will be,” says Celeste of her career path. “But living [in New York] has definitely taught me to be much more patient. It was all about timing. I had to determine where specifically I wanted to be, and [my supervisor] was willing to help me get there.”
“My mom would ask, ‘Why are you an intern when you graduated from one of the best universities in the country?’ But my dad always told me, ‘Only gravediggers start at the top,’” recalls Celeste.
From her experience, Celeste has seen the professional value of internships rising—and with it, the ratio of paid to unpaid internships. “Unpaid internships are dying out now—and companies are now offering other incentives like offsetting travel costs or giving you a lunch stipend,” she says. “It’s definitely a bonus. There should be some type of compensation so you can focus on the internship, and not how you’re going to alleviate financial constraints. Juggling work takes away from the experience, but sometimes that’s a sacrifice people have to make.”
For fashion internship hopefuls, Celeste offers sound advice: “It’s really important to understand that any career move is going to be a journey. No results that are instant are going to be valuable to the future you. Get around your financial situation and be persistent, especially in the fashion industry. The people who prevail are the ones who stay on the path and focus on the goal.”