You got the fashion internship of your dreams, congratulations! …Now what?
As with everything in life and career, in order to get the most out of this new experience, you need to do it strategically and with a game plan in mind.
First things first, you need to understand that there are certain things you should never do, especially when you’re starting a new role at a company. Keeping these things in mind will help you become a stronger professional and candidate when you begin applying to permanent positions once you have completed your internship(s).
TOP MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN STARTING YOUR INTERNSHIP:
MISTAKE #1: NOT BEING PUNCTUAL
Whether it is your first day or your 100th; whether it’s to your internship or your full time job, punctuality is a sign of respect. The fashion industry can be touch and go, but handling time is key to having everything flow. As an intern, you may think that it won’t make a difference if you are late, but believe it or not, a late intern can delay more than you realize. The last thing you want is a team waiting on you. Additionally, as part of your internship, your goal is to learn and absorb as much as you possibly can. If you’re in a rush or arrive late, you risk missing out on important information.
Do this instead:
Always plan out your day giving yourself additional time to get to where you need to go. Need to take public transportation to another building for a meeting? Leave lots of extra time, just in case there are delays that are out of your control. Working on a project that takes up lots of your attention, making it easy to lose track of time? Set an alarm or an alert on your computer 15-20 minutes before your meeting so you can step away, save and come back to it later. Have back to back meetings scheduled in one day? Let the meeting organizer or your supervisor know that you have to leave at a certain time (whatever that needs to be in order to make it to the next meeting on time) or let the organizer of the other meeting know where you are coming from and that you may be a few minutes late. It always helps to prepare and communicate in advance rather than trying to send emails or texts at the last second saying you are running late. Time management is key here.
MISTAKE #2: NOT ASKING QUESTIONS
When you are first starting out, you won’t have all the answers. Actually, you probably won’t have many. There is an easy fix though. Just ask! Too many new interns shy away from asking questions instead of using every opportunity to ask why things are done a certain way. Some companies offer fashion internship programs that have been running forever and if you don’t ask, they may not realize you (and so many other interns before and after you) need further clarification on something in their program. Additionally, depending on the work or who is training you, there may be details that seasoned professionals are used to doing in their daily tasks and may skip over it, unintentionally. Asking compelling and thoughtful questions tells your supervisor that you are not only listening, but that you are trying to understand and you care about the content.
Do this instead:
Rather than just asking ‘why’ for everything (no one will appreciate this), listen to what you’re being taught and take the time to truly understand. If there is something that needs to be explained further, ask then and there. However, it’s ok to ask questions after the fact as well. Read over the notes you took and jot down thoughtful questions on anything you still didn’t understand. The next day, ask your supervisor if you can take some time with them to discuss yesterday’s training and ask your questions then. They will be impressed with your work ethic and level of professionalism.
MISTAKE #3: NOT SETTING GOALS
This one is important and is something that should always become part of your professional career procedure. Before starting anything, an internship – a new job – a new project, you should always set goals for yourself. Setting goals will help you measure your progress and understand whether you are on track for success or if there are things you need to change in order to achieve them.
Do this instead:
When starting your fashion internship, ask yourself, “What do I want to learn and achieve by the time I complete this internship?”. Keep in mind that your goals can be broad, they don’t need to be super detailed and specific, especially if you are not sure what you will be learning or how your supervisor will teach you. Additionally, your goals will differ depending on your field of work within the industry. A solid (broad) goal for anyone just starting could be to grow your network by x number of people or to learn how to better manage your time. A merchandising or design intern can create a goal to learn a specific program while a marketing or public relations intern can strive to understand the steps involved in creating an event.
MISTAKE #4: NOT BEING FLEXIBLE
As an intern, you will often be asked to do all types of tasks. While some will teach you valuable lessons, there are others that will be, well – intern work. Organizing the fashion closet or entering data into a spreadsheet probably isn’t your idea of learning a fashion skill, but it will make you a more well-rounded worker. That tedious task of organizing the closet? It will have you memorizing styles, cuts, colors, seasons and trends better than anyone else especially after hour 3. Entering data into a spreadsheet? Spreadsheets are a merchandiser’s bible! Learn the skill now and be better prepared for your career once you start applying to jobs.
Additionally, supervisors can immediately see who is dependable and eager to learn versus who is only there for the ‘glamorous’ tasks. A quick side note here, if it’s glamour you’re after, you better quit while you’re ahead. The behind-the-scenes of the fashion industry is oftentimes anything BUT glamorous.
Do this instead:
Fashion internships require you to be adaptable, one moment you may be locating different wardrobe pieces for your supervisor the next you may be on the phone to another department. Jump on tasks that need help. Be resourceful and use your initiative. The reality is, as an intern you will be asked to do all manner of menial tasks, some with lessons and others because no one else wants to do it. Do it all and do it well. Complete that boring task with as much effort and professionalism as you would the most amazing task in the world. Take your work seriously and you too will be taken seriously. When it comes time for supervisors to decide whether to extend a job offer after the internship is over, the intern who treated their time with the company like a job will always win.
MISTAKE #5: NOT KNOWING IMPORTANT FASHION TERMS
While it’s true that as an intern, you are there to learn, knowing basic terms used within the industry, especially within your field of study, goes a long way. Being knowledgeable with industry jargon shows your superiors that you are invested in the industry as a whole, that you’re serious about your career and that you are involved in the happenings even before having internships or jobs.
Do this instead:
Social media has revolutionized how we receive information. Fashion blogs, sites or companies post regularly and if you read enough of them, you will pick up on the language. Words like, “comp cards”, “time for prints” or “run-of-show” should not be new to you. If they are, make it a habit to read information on fashion blogs, information sites or magazines daily, even if it’s a headline or two. Not only will you know current events (perfect for making small talk while waiting for a meeting to start, while in an elevator with someone, etc.), but you are bound to pick up on industry words while reading. It’s a win-win.
MISTAKE #6: DRESSING INAPPROPRIATELY
Even the most laidback internship will still have some measure of a dress code. I mean, you’re in fashion… and while it’s important to have your own sense of style, it’s even more important to understand what you can and can’t/shouldn’t wear to work. Your internship is not the time to try out new trends involving crop tops or sheer anything. Some companies are known for sending their workers home to change for violating the dress code while others only allow their employees to wear their brand (they usually get a pretty nice employee discount on said clothes).
Do this instead:
Take the time to understand the brand heritage and aesthetic. What is the company known for? How can you incorporate some of their look into yours? When in doubt, take a look around the office and see how others dress. This will give you a sense of whether the office is very conservative or if it’s more on the casual side. Also, be sure to take note on days where there are specific dress code rules. For example, Fridays could be casual and all other days of the week could be days where you can’t wear jeans. If you’re stressed out about what to wear before your first day, companies will always include dress code in their employee handbook. Reach out to the HR employee who hired you for your fashion internship and ask about a handbook, maybe they have one for interns? Or ask them what the dress code is for a better, more direct answer.
MISTAKE #7: NOT DOING YOUR RESEARCH
The idea of an internship is to get experience with companies that you like or want to work with in the future. Based on that, it can then be assumed that you’re interested in learning about these companies outside of just the possibility of getting an internship opportunity, right? Well. You’d be surprised at the number of new interns that start their experience knowing absolutely nothing about the company they are interning with.
While there is no set rule about how much you should know or should have researched on the company you’re working with, doing so shows your supervisors the level of dedication and passion you have for the industry and the eagerness you have for growing your career within that company. Doing your homework before starting, especially for the interview, shows that you have initiative and are invested in this new experience. On the other hand, not knowing anything about the company shows employers that while you can be a great candidate, you are not fully invested in the company, which could set you back when competing with others for a place with the company, even at the intern level.
Do this instead:
Research, research, research! Learn the names of the key players in the company, their competitors, the company’s opportunities and threats, the organizational hierarchy and some key milestones within the company’s history. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to answer any questions and understand the dynamics of the company.
This is especially essential if the company is one you are seriously considering applying to for a full time position. Aside from the research points mentioned above, you could also look into turnover percentage, diversity, length of time people have been with the company, etc. These are important when considering working for a company and since you have the in, why not take advantage?
MISTAKE #8: NOT ASKING FOR FEEDBACK
At the end of your fashion internship, some companies will make time to give you the ‘intern’ version of an exit interview. Essentially, they will ask you about your time with them: what you enjoyed, would have liked to learn more of and your overall experience. This gives the company a chance to better understand what worked and what needs to be changed within their internship program for future students. Take note: this is exactly what you need to do for yourself and your career.
Do this instead:
Before your internship ends, be sure to schedule time with your direct boss and ask for feedback on your performance. This is imperative to helping you improve and grow as a professional. Getting performance reviews at the intern level will prepare you for all the performance reviews you will need to go through as a professional (usually 2 per year, one at the halfway point, the other at the end) and will prepare you for the questions you should be asking. These include: what tasks you excelled in, areas where you could have done better, strengths and overall performance.
Note: asking these questions and sitting through performance reviews are nerve-wrecking for everyone no matter the experience level. So, take a deep breath, answer all questions as honestly as possible and put on a brave face when going in for yours. You’ve got this.
From the Founder
Internships are a wonderful part of being a student where you get to see firsthand how certain companies do their daily activities while getting an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at campaigns, collections or events. When searching for your ideal fashion internship, it’s important that you see the opportunities from two different angles.
First, you must look for an internship you are interested in that will help you grow in your career and teach you what you need in order to do so. This is where research will play a vital role that will benefit you greatly in the long run (this is also the case for any future opportunities, both as internships or jobs).
The other perspective you need to consider is what you look like to the company. Based on your resume and cover letter, what can you bring to the table and how can you benefit the department you are looking to work with? Consider this when filling out that application, writing that resume and crafting that cover letter.
The level of dedication you put into the entire internship from search to completion will show potential employers how serious you are about your career and their company. However, keep in mind that this is not only done for their benefit. The more you get into the habit of doing all of the above from the time you are an intern, the more well-rounded a professional you will be. By the time you are searching for full-time opportunities, you will possess skills other candidates will only be starting to learn, giving you the edge against your competition and getting you those coveted jobs.
I can’t stress this enough, especially at the internship level: people will treat you as professionally as you act. If you show them from the start that you are serious about your career and growing with the company, you will be seen as a candidate for consideration rather than a temporary intern who is just passing through.
The choice is yours.