ITFI Career Development

Networking Strategies for Recent Grads: How to Use Your Network to Reach Your Career Goals

career goals graduate networking fashion career

Are you ready to make your career goals an actual reality?

Contrary to what a lot of people think, networking isn’t just about collecting business cards at industry events; it’s a skill that can transform your fashion career and help you reach all of your career goals. In this episode, we’ll unravel why networking is especially critical for recent grads and provide actionable strategies to navigate the industry with confidence. 

So get comfortable and grab your notepads because we’ve got lots to cover and I’m about to spill ALL the networking secrets!

Remember that moment when you tossed your graduation cap high into the air, filled with hope and excitement, ready to start reaching your career goals in the industry? You probably envisioned yourself diving into the world of fashion, ready to leave your mark. 

But the reality is – your degree didn’t come with a golden ticket to your dream job. It’s a scenario every single grad that is just starting their career in the industry has experienced, a classic Catch-22: we need experience to land the job of our dreams, but to gain experience, we need that very job first. Does this sound familiar?

This is where networking comes in. 

In the fashion industry, relationships matter as much as, if not more than, resumes. Networking opens doors to opportunities you might not discover otherwise. Whether it’s landing your first job, securing internships, or learning about hidden job openings, networking is your secret weapon.

Growing your professional community and connections can make a massive difference in landing those crucial first jobs and getting your foot in the door.

BUILDING YOUR CAREER GOAL ROADMAP

Take a minute to think about what networking means to you. When you hear the word “networking,” what thoughts come to mind? More importantly, what emotions does it stir within you? Does the idea of networking seem absolutely crucial yet simultaneously intimidating?

Chances are, as a recent grad or someone just starting out in the industry, you might not have the extensive experience or numerous internships that seem to effortlessly open doors in the fashion industry for other people. 

Your network might still be in its early stages, or maybe it even feels non-existent. And the prospect of reaching out to industry veterans or even complete strangers might not exactly fill you with confidence.

Does any of this sound familiar?
If so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Many recent grads in the fashion industry share these exact feelings.

Unfortunately, connections are the currency of the fashion industry. Networking lays the foundation for your future career, which means, you have to learn how to be good at it or at the very least, practice until it feels more comfortable. 

But, before you start reaching out to potential connections, you need to have a clear roadmap. 

I want you to take a minute and imagine your career goals as a treasure map and networking as your compass. What can I say, my brain works with visuals and this imagery lays the foundation for this lesson to make it easier to understand!

Start by identifying your career goals and the types of connections that can help you achieve them.

Now, when I say “career goals,” I’m not just talking about landing your dream job title. It’s about defining your unique path in the fashion industry. In a previous post, we dive deep into identifying your career goals and breaking the process down step by step. If you’re new here or haven’t read it yet, click here to learn how to set those career goals. There is also a worksheet that goes along with the post to really help you narrow down exactly how to build out your career roadmap. For now, let me give you a sneak peek of what this process entails.

First, consider your ultimate destination. Where do you see yourself in the fashion industry? Do you aspire to be a fashion designer for your own brand, a savvy marketer for a fashion startup, a visual stylist for a well known fashion house or maybe a sustainable fashion advocate?

Once you’ve defined your end goal, break it down into smaller, achievable milestones. These could include completing specific courses or certifications, gaining experience in different fashion sectors or even mastering a particular skill set.

Next, let’s talk about the types of connections that can help you on this journey. Let’s go back to your visualization for just a second. Picture your career goals like different islands on your map and each type of connection as the bridge that will give you access to those islands or career goals.

THE 5 CONNECTIONS TO HELP YOUR CAREER

There are 5 very specific types of connections that can help you on your fashion career path. 

Mentors and Industry Experts
These are seasoned professionals who have already explored the territory you’re heading toward. They can provide guidance, insights and valuable advice to help you navigate the industry’s challenges.

Peers and Colleagues
These are fellow travelers on the same career path as you. Connecting with peers allows you to exchange knowledge, share experiences and offer mutual support. The fashion industry can be a lonely place, and having these types of connections not only helps your career, but your mental health. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone on this journey.

Industry Insiders and Influencers
These individuals have their fingers on the pulse of the fashion industry. They can introduce you to trends, opportunities and key players that could significantly impact your journey. 

Potential Employers and Decision-Makers
These connections are crucial for landing internships, jobs or freelance opportunities. They’re the gatekeepers to entry-level positions that can get your foot in the door.

Special Interest Groups and Associations
Many people often forget to even consider these as an option when doing their outreach within the industry. These groups are like secret passages on your treasure map. Joining industry-specific associations or groups can provide exclusive access to resources, opportunities, events and even insider knowledge.

By identifying your career goals and understanding the types of connections you need to reach them, you’re laying the groundwork for a purpose-driven networking journey. It’s not just about collecting contacts; it’s about building the bridges that will put you on the path to reaching your career goals.

Bonus Text

You’ll get the bonus guide, “Fashion Week Backstage Roles You Need to Know” AND the mini-training on how to get personalized invites to exclusive Fashion Week events each season!

THE

FASHION WEEK

MASTERCLASS

IN THIS CLASS YOU’LL:

» Discover the essential roles behind runway shows 

» Learn how to find backstage volunteer opportunities

» Understand the traits brands are seeking when hiring show volunteers

» Learn effective networking strategies to connect with industry professionals

the

FASHION WEEK

MASTERCLASS

Fashion Week Masterclass Bonus

IN THIS CLASS YOU’LL:
» Discover the essential roles behind runway shows
» Learn how to find backstage volunteer opportunities
» Understand the traits brands are seeking when hiring show volunteers
» Learn effective networking strategies to connect with industry professionals

CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO GROW YOUR CAREER

Now that we’ve identified your career goals and potential connections, you’ll want to put that newfound clarity into action. The key here is to challenge yourself. Do something that is outside of your comfort zone, like attending at least one industry networking event or informational meeting every month.

Now, you’re probably wondering, Maria – why is this important and how will it benefit my fashion career at this stage? 

Well, let’s dive deeper into this.

First, regular participation in networking events or informational meetings is like an athlete training for a big game. It’s your opportunity to practice and refine your networking skills. Just like an athlete can’t expect to perform at their best without regular training, you can’t expect to make meaningful connections in the fashion industry without putting in the effort. 

Above all else, remember that networking is a skill that’s learned and perfected over time. The majority of us aren’t good at it at the start, heck – most people don’t even like to do it! But, just like any other thing, the more you do it – the more you practice and practice – the more comfortable it will feel and the better you’ll get at it.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and attending these events will also help you develop a powerful skill set. It strengthens your ability to engage in meaningful conversations, make lasting impressions and build relationships. These are skills that will serve you well throughout your entire career, not just in networking situations and not just right now.

Trust me when I tell you that as you gain experience, you WILL notice a significant boost in your self-confidence. This newfound confidence will spill over into other areas of your professional life. For example, you’ll find it easier to speak up in meetings, negotiate for better opportunities and present your ideas with conviction.

I want you to think of networking events as your personal treasure trove of opportunities. By attending them regularly, you open doors to potential mentors, future employers, collaborators and industry insiders. These are the people who can introduce you to job openings, offer guidance or even become lifelong mentors.

INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS: YOUR BACKSTAGE PASS TO THE INDUSTRY

Ok. So you’ve developed a strong network through your consistent networking efforts, you’ve made connections at events, engaged in meaningful conversations and built a support system you can rely on. But, what if I told you there’s another powerful tool in your toolkit, something that can accelerate your journey even further?

There is and they’re called: Informational Interviews.

Imagine these interviews as your all-access backstage pass to the fashion industry. They grant you exclusive glimpses behind the curtain, offering insights into the intricacies of different roles and providing invaluable advice from industry experts who have already walked the path you’re just starting on. Informational interviews serve as a shortcut to understanding the industry and making well-informed decisions about your career path.

Now, let’s get practical. Here are some steps to make the most of your informational interviews. Take a moment to visualize yourself in these scenarios, as they’ll become an integral part of your networking journey. 

These steps will not only help you initiate conversations but also create lasting connections. They’re broken down into 3 easy to remember parts: Listen, Ask, Follow up.


LISTEN

During the informational interview, focus intently on what the person you’re meeting with is saying. Avoid distractions and make eye contact if it’s an in-person meeting.

Take notes, both mental and written, to remember key points and questions you want to ask.

Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share their experiences and insights more thoroughly.

Paraphrase and summarize what they’ve said to show that you’re engaged and to clarify your understanding.

Listen not only to their words but also to their tone and body language. These can reveal additional layers of meaning.

ASK
Towards the end of the interview, ask about their most valuable advice for someone starting in the industry or field. This question usually elicits helpful insights and can open the door to more in-depth discussions.

Be specific in the questions you ask. For example, you can ask about their career journey, the challenges they faced, or the skills they believe are essential for newcomers. Don’t just ask them questions you can find by looking on LinkedIn or Google, like where they’ve worked or where they went to school. This should have all been part of your research before your meeting.

Don’t be afraid to ask for book recommendations, courses, or resources that have been particularly helpful to them. What courses did they study to help them get to where they are? Did they get any certifications or specialize in any particular fields?

FOLLOW UP
After the interview, send a personalized thank-you email expressing your gratitude for their time and insights. Mention something specific from the conversation to demonstrate your attentiveness.

If they offered feedback on your work or portfolio, apply their suggestions and inform them of your progress. This not only shows your commitment, but also keeps the door open for further interaction.

If appropriate, suggest a follow-up meeting over coffee or a brief phone call. This continued engagement can lead to mentorship or valuable connections over time.

By being strategic with these steps, you’ll not only make the most of your informational interviews, but also cultivate lasting relationships within your network. Remember that it’s not just about what you learn during these interviews, but also about building a community that can support your career goals and professional growth.

IN THE END…

I want to leave you with this powerful reminder: your recent grad status is not a hurdle; it’s an asset. In the world of networking, seasoned professionals are usually happy to guide newcomers like you on their journey. They’ve walked the path you’re just beginning, and they appreciate the enthusiasm and fresh perspectives you bring.

So, don’t hesitate to approach those industry veterans, initiate those informational interviews and seek their invaluable advice. Don’t ever forget that you possess a unique perspective – a hunger to learn and the determination to succeed. Your journey in the fashion industry has just begun, and the connections you’ll make along the way will shape your path to success.

Embrace the opportunities that networking provides, build those meaningful relationships and stay dedicated to your career goals. Your recent grad status is your badge of potential, and the fashion industry is ready to welcome your talent and ambition.

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