The Business of Fashion
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Insider Advice, a new BoF Careers series, features advice from fashion professionals with lived experience, HR leaders and academics with global insight, with the goal of answering topical careers questions for today’s fashion employees, to help inform and guide you in your career. Check out the latest job opportunities with 4,000+ roles on BoF Careers today.
As the threat of recession looms and companies tighten their resources, possibly indicating potential layoffs, challenges continue to mount for job seekers navigating fashion’s already highly competitive job market. Job openings for top roles in creative and commercial functions often field hundreds of applications — the most popular job roles on BoF Careers can receive up to 800 applications — stressing the need to stand out from competitors.
Indeed, a job interview is a defining moment in the recruitment process to showcase not only your technical know-how and market understanding, but also your soft skills, your compatibility with a company’s culture, and your value as an employee.
“If you are saying, ‘This is who I am, this is what I have got, here are some links to my work,’ you can get people’s attention,” says Joy Campbell, brand partnerships director at Graduate Fashion Foundation, a UK-based charity which promotes emerging fashion talent by connecting them to fashion educators and industry leaders, with patrons including Victoria Beckham, Nick Knight and Dame Vivienne Westwood.
Like much else, the pandemic led to the digitisation of interviewing processes, rendering a whole new set of challenges for candidates trying to stand out. Platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have since become awash with educational channels aiming to answer careers questions — #CareerTok, for one, has accumulated over 70 million views in 2021, according to the BBC.
As candidates today look for compelling ways to stand out via digital and in-person recruitment processes, BoF Careers gathered advice from careers consultants and industry professionals to share how they recommend to impress in a job interview in fashion and set yourself apart as a standout candidate.
Your preparation ahead of an interview should primarily focus on the brand or company to which you are applying, including the people you are scheduled to meet.
“People often just have a look at a brand’s website, but if you are really wanting that job, you need to go deeper,” says Campbell. “Go to a store, see who’s shopping there, what music is playing, what other bags [shoppers carry]. Get under the skin of the brand.”
Acquiring exhaustive insight into a potential employer’s brand identity not only sets you apart as a candidate who goes the extra mile, but it also provides you with ample discussion points for your interview, making it more natural and conversational rather than rehearsed and monotonous.
If you are really wanting that job, you need to go deeper. Go to a store, see who’s shopping there, what music is playing, what other bags [shoppers carry]. Get under the skin of the brand.
Ismaril Wells is an associate director at Graduate Futures at London College of Fashion, a university body helping students and graduates in their job search by providing them with resources and a connection to a robust network of partner brands and influential alumni. He says feeling comfortable is the best way to impress at an interview.
“Preparation is important for many reasons, but [mostly so] that, when you get into that room, you [demonstrate that] you know the role [and] the company, their strategic objectives, their place in the market [and] price points, their customers, their competitors, what their challenges are. If that comes across in the interview, they are going to be very convinced by you.”
Regarding interviewers, Wells adds: “Another part of preparation is knowing the panel, who they are [and] what their values are. Look [them] up on LinkedIn and speak to [mutual contacts] so you feel comfortable in front of them.” Campbell suggests taking it a step further: “Connect with them on LinkedIn, [as] they will want to understand you ahead of that interview as much as you want to understand them.”
As virtual recruiting processes become the norm, this becomes a valid way to form relationships with recruiters and hiring managers. “Interviewers are looking for connection, they want to engage with [candidates],” says Wells.
“[You must prepare how] you appear on-screen. That could be your background [and] how you dress, but also how you come across on-screen. It’s worth recording yourself answering questions and trying to make eye contact with the camera,” he adds.
Within your preparation, you should practise how you articulate your personal story, and why it makes you a great fit for the role.
“Hiring [professionals] generally look for two things — do you have the functional skills to do the job, and can I imagine myself working with you?” says Jerry Lee, co-founder and COO at Wonsulting, a US-based consultancy which helps individuals of non-traditional backgrounds progress in their careers, who was also named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 last year.
“People new to the job search [...] spend 80 percent of their efforts trying to tell [recruiters], ‘I’m perfect for this job, here are all my skills’ — and very little on selling themselves. But in the interview process, what people care about is [...] ‘Are you excited about this job? Are you someone I can rely on for help?’,” he adds. “Those soft skills are more convincing to hiring managers and recruiting teams, [so] make sure you focus on the softer side and being a person during the interview.”
Hiring [professionals] generally look for two things — do you have the functional skills to do the job, and can I imagine myself working with you?
Your ability to highlight acquired transferrable skills and to demonstrate how you can apply them in accordance with specific company needs is key to succeeding in any interview, regardless of your background or experience. This pertains both to entry-level talent seeking to embark on their fashion career with more ad-hoc experience, as well as to seasoned professionals who wish to expand their area of expertise or creative practice.
“A candidate who can articulate their design process and who brings a unique point of view to the table, one who has interesting points of reference and the ability to express their creative design solutions while weaving them into a brand’s design ethos. It’s one thing to have a signature as a designer, but the ability to take that signature and marry that with a design ethos is a unique skill set,” said Allbirds’ VP of product design Ashley Comeaux in a recent interview with BoF.
The narrative you craft should be echoed consistently across all touch points with potential employers, on and offline, in a way that makes your perspective and your work intuitively recognisable. This makes for a cohesive and compelling personal brand.
“[Recruiters] want to be able to look [at a candidate’s content and] know how they are going to fit into this organisation. From a digital presentation, it is consistency of brand. You are a brand, you are building yourself as someone who fits into the organisation in a certain place. So who are you? Where do you want to be? Make sure it is consistent across all [touchpoints],” says Campbell of Graduate Fashion Foundation.
Jonathan Javier, co-founder and CEO at Wonsulting and fellow Forbes’ 30 Under 30, advises young professionals to showcase how their interests can benefit a potential employer. “If you have a [portfolio or] specific project that directly relates to the role that you’re going for, present it during your interview or send it in an email to [your recruiter]. Then they can see the work you have done that already checkmarks [the role’s desired] qualification. That makes a great candidate.”
Wells of Graduate Futures emphasises that junior-level professionals should not be discouraged about having limited experience or a smaller portfolio early in their careers. “At that stage, what [recruiters] are really looking for is potential. They are looking for the person [who] is a team player, who is proactive, who could be reflective and experiment.
“Even if you don’t have work experience [to put on your CV], you can refer to voluntary work you have done or work that’s unrelated to the role. Refer to elements that you gain [from] your experiences, they all matter at that early stage of the career.”
A positive trend today’s job seekers benefit from is the increased focus and awareness of brands’ and companies’ internal culture and policies. Consider the interview an opportunity to ask for necessary information about the company’s culture and internal priorities. This also offers a chance to demonstrate your understanding of their organisation and the ways in which it aligns with your own core values.
“The best thing for me is when people come prepared with questions and insight. You need to understand the role — this is your opportunity to show that you want to be within this company, but that you have questions around that. It could be about the [company] culture, work-life balance, progression [or] the opportunity for a mentor within the organisation,” says Campbell.
Wells adds: “Fashion is going through significant change [...] We are in a time of ethics and values really mattering, and it’s wonderful to see that. So the things to be mindful of are jobs that don’t have advertised pay levels, or unclear terms and contracts where [you are expected to do] unpaid work. It’s acceptable to ask [about] and demand those things.”
Addressing these concerns could feel overwhelming, particularly in the early stages of one’s career. Still, you should not be discouraged from asking important questions — if you feel uncomfortable doing so during your interview, follow up with the recruiter at a later time via email or phone call.
You can establish a connection with a potential employer before a formal application process. Approaching hiring managers at industry events or even online will show them that you take initiative, and demonstrates your interest in their work.
“If you are saying, ‘This is who I am, this is why I’ve got, here are some links to my work,’ you can get people’s attention,” says Campbell. “I had a lovely story about someone who had not been to university but had done a beautiful website. [...] They connected on LinkedIn with a brand’s department head [while sitting outside their office building], and the guy was so impressed he offered them an internship.
Be mindful of jobs that don’t have advertised pay or unclear terms and contracts where [you are expected to do] unpaid work. It’s acceptable to ask and demand those things.
“[If they have] a product launch, a store opening or if they’re talking at a specific event [try] to get into that environment [and make] that personal introduction because digital can be hard to navigate and create an opportunity to bring your personality across,” she adds.
“If you’re reaching out to someone, clearly state what you expect out of the interaction,” said Comeaux of Allbirds. “If you’re seeking time, request [no more than] 15 minutes — anyone can give 15 minutes — and have pointed questions about what you’re looking to learn in that time.
“[Taking the initiative] takes bravery and belief in yourself. The world of design can be highly competitive and so [your] unique perspective and [how] you present it is important. [Consider] what story you have to tell, and how you can bring value to a particular company.”
Make it a post-interview habit to reach out to your interviewer to thank them for their time, and ask for a timeframe of when you can expect to hear back.
“At a minimum, you should be connecting with them on LinkedIn after the meeting, if not before, and just say, ‘Thank you for your time, it was lovely to meet you and I’m available.’ Follow up — it shows your commitment to the role and to the interview process,” says Campbell.
Having a predefined window of when you are expected to hear back from an interviewer will put your mind at ease after the meeting, giving you a clear timeline of the interview process. It also serves as an indication of when you may follow up should you not hear back.
Finally, remember that even a “no” makes for a valuable learning opportunity where you can ask for feedback. This ask can provide you with critical insight into how you performed in your interview from an employer’s perspective, informing your job search further down the line.