Internships are an important aspect of any career in fashion because they give a behind-the-scenes look at a particular facet of the industry. In a broad sense, they help you determine what your strengths are and eventually, help you decide what you will be doing as your full time career in the future.
In a much more specific sense, they give you a chance to be part of a team’s day-to-day assignments, the overall environment and the company’s core values. As someone who is just starting out, you will need career guidance, work experience and industry exposure. These are all things that an internship can and will provide if you do it right.
Unlike the majority of students, I didn't have multiple internships during college...
Back then, most, if not all internships were unpaid. I needed money to pay for school so, my freshman year, I started a full time job working as a visual merchandiser at Neiman Marcus.
It wasn’t easy, but I was able to convince the Dean to allow my job to serve as my internship throughout my first 3 years of college.
My senior year, I decided to change things up a bit. I left my full time job and accepted a corporate Public Relations internship at Ralph Lauren.
During my internship, I realized that by implementing 3 specific strategies I learned at my full time job and applying them to my day to day responsibilities, I stood out from the other interns.
It got my boss’ attention.
It got HER boss’ attention.
And eventually…it got HR’s attention.
Shortly after my internship was over, I was offered a permanent role that was created specifically for me within Ralph Lauren’s marketing department.
It can be done and I am here to tell you exactly what worked for me.
So, let’s break down the 3 specific strategies you have to implement in your internship – whether you have one now or will be starting one in the future – to ensure you are the MVP.
And who knows? …Maybe you too will get a job out of it
STRATEGY 1: BE RESOURCEFUL
As an intern, you will often be asked to do all types of tasks. While some of them will teach you valuable lessons, there are others that will be… intern work. Do it all and do it well. Complete that boring task with as much enthusiasm as you would the most amazing assignment in the world.
When you’re first starting out, there are lessons to be learned and connections to be made with every task you complete. Every single assignment is an opportunity.
Sometimes the opportunity will teach you something new. Other times, it will show your boss who is dependable and eager to learn versus who is only there for the ‘glamorous’ tasks.
For example, you may be asked to organize the fashion closet. Now as an intern, this is a rite of passage. You are being trusted to organize the room that will be utilized for any number of things, from editor walkthroughs to photo shoot garment selection.
…But, don’t roll your eyes just yet. There is a reason interns are asked to do this and no, it is not just to waste time or because your boss had nothing better for you to do.
Organizing a fashion closet – no matter the company – will have you memorizing cuts, styles, colors and seasons better than anyone else especially after you’ve been at it for hours.
This will help you be more engaged, whether it’s through email communications or at meetings where this information is mentioned.
And, while you may not be able to offer input at these meetings just yet, you will understand what is being referenced and therefore, use this information in a resourceful way when your boss least expects it.
In the end, 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.
STRATEGY 2: KNOW IT ALL
There are two very important parts to this strategy.
Let me explain:
While it’s true that as an intern, you are there to learn, knowing basic terms that are used within the industry, especially within your particular field, will show your superiors that:
- you are invested in the industry as a whole
- you’re serious about your career and
- that you are involved in all aspects of the industry even outside of internships or jobs
With social media and all of its tools literally at your fingertips, you have no reason not to know this information. There are tons of fashion sites and companies that post regularly. And if you read enough of them, you will pick up on the language.
Words like, “comp cards” or “run-of-show” should not be new to you. If they are, make it a habit to read fashion blogs, informative industry sites or magazines everyday, even if it’s just a headline or two.
Get familiar with current events within the industry. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to memorize an entire industry schedule, but you should know about recent and upcoming noteworthy events. The trick here is that this information can be used to your advantage in two very specific ways:
First, if an event is brought up as a topic of conversation around the office, whether at a meeting or at lunch, you will have an opinion to offer in the discussion or at the very least, information about its details. Things like this not only make you seem more invested in the industry, but it also gives you a chance to open up and form connections with your coworkers, which can sometimes be hard to do as an intern.
Secondly, if you’re in a situation where you have to make small talk with anyone, especially a senior member of the company – you know, while you’re waiting for an elevator or before a meeting starts, you will have a great topic to bring up that isn’t just asking them about their weekend or mentioning the weather. Not only will they will appreciate it, you will make an impression.
The silver lining to all of this is that you are bound to pick up on industry terms while learning about news and events. It’s a win-win-win.
The second part of this strategy involves knowing more about the company you are interning for. The idea of an internship is to gain experience from companies that interest you or that you can see yourself working for in the future.
While there is no set rule about how much you should know about the company you’re interning for, doing so shows your supervisors the eagerness you have for growing your career. Doing your homework before starting – especially for the interview – shows that you have initiative and are invested in this new experience.
Learn the names of the key players in the company AND their competitors. If you can, learn a few details about the company’s history too. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to answer any questions and understand the dynamics of the company.
It’s important to note that if you’re considering applying for a full time position with this company, you could also look into turnover percentage, diversity and estimated length of time people have been with the company.
STRATEGY 3: LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR TIME
Again, many of you may think that an internship is where you will learn how to manage your time better, but this is not necessarily the case.
While there are basic time management skills we acquire from childhood jobs, school and even from doing things around the house, time management within a fashion company is different and demands a much faster pace.
Before we get any further, there is something I need to say. Now, I know this should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway because it’s just that important:
Whether it is your first day or your 100th; whether it’s your internship or your full time job, ALWAYS be on time. Punctuality is a sign of respect no matter who you’re working for or what you end up doing.
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 me, 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.
There are a few ways to master time management as an intern. I’ll break it down for you with some specific examples:
Plan out your day giving yourself additional time to get to where you need to go.
If you need to take public transportation to get to another building for a meeting, leave lots of extra time, just in case there are delays that are out of your control. As someone who has worked in New York City the majority of her life, this one is so important, especially as an intern.
If you’re interning at a new city, be sure to have an understanding of the public transportation system.
It can seem daunting, but many times public transportation will get you to places much faster than walking or taking an Uber will.
If you see there is a meeting scheduled on your calendar, but you’re working on a project that takes up all of your attention…
Set an alarm or an alert on your computer 15-20 minutes before your meeting so you can step away, save your work and come back to it later. This one is always a culprit as it’s easy to be so focused on a project that you lose track of time.
If you see you have back to back meetings scheduled in one day…
Let the meeting organizer and 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.
Plan out your lunch break.
Many companies have set schedules for their interns, but some offer a more laid-back approach. If the latter sounds more like yours, be sure to leave time in your day for a lunch break that doesn’t interfere with any meetings or tasks your manager has set for you. This is an important time management tip that many people don’t mention.
Base your break time on your assignments and meetings so that you can ensure you give yourself enough time to eat and take a breather from the day’s work, while also fulfilling all of your tasks in a timely manner.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT.
These strategies were fundamental to my success in getting a permanent position from my internship at Ralph Lauren and I know they can be for you, too.
Remember: every company is different, but how you carry yourself as a professional, no matter your experience level, is the most important thing that WILL set you apart from the rest.
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