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How to Navigate a New Job in Fashion

For junior and senior talent embarking on a new role or a promotion, BoF Careers distils advice from leading fashion professionals, recruiters and career coaches on how to navigate a new job in fashion.
Colleagues talking at their desks.
Fashion job seekers across all seniority levels must learn how to navigate new work environments effectively. (Pexels)

It’s BoF Careers Week 2023, when we shine a spotlight on careers advice, insights and inspiration to help you make your next career move. Discover the latest job opportunities, with 2,600+ roles on BoF Careers today.

Finding and landing a job in today’s unpredictable market — culminating in mass layoffs and hiring freezes — remains a key hurdle for job seekers. But just as critical in the career journey is the precarious navigation of a new job, whether at a new company, or a promotion at your current employer.

Job seekers across all seniority levels must navigate new work environments effectively to not only make a good first impression, but also have a lasting impact on the organisation to further their career development.

While some understanding of responsibilities and stakeholders’ expectations of a new employee will emerge from the job spec and interview process, new joiners must utilise their time at orientation to learn the full scope of skills that are required for the job at hand and to become familiar with company culture and internal systems and processes in order to thrive.

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Creating an action plan can help you set priorities and goals for the start of your employment, as well as create benchmarks for success. For instance, the well-cited 30-60-90 days format can help assign milestones to be achieved in one-month increments. This will not only help structure your workload, but will also convey your assiduity to the onboarding process.

“Those [30, 60, 90 day] periods of time are good indicators for [your willingness to] listen, learn, structure before you then have an opportunity to impact, regardless of the level you are at,” says Sian Keane, chief people officer at luxury e-tailer Farfetch.

The shift to hybrid or remote work models can pose additional hardship for joining employees who are now compelled to navigate new roles and opportunities without in-person onboarding processes or the social engagement that would have quickened their immersion into the workplace. Consequently, virtual onboarding can limit access to develop soft skills necessary to succeed, and understanding of the company culture.

To support junior and senior talent embarking on the next step of their professional journeys, or levelling up and assuming new roles in their current workplace, BoF Careers distils advice from leading fashion professionals, chief people officers and career coaches on how industry talent can navigate a new job in fashion.

Lean Into Onboarding Opportunities Before Your Start Date

Whether it is your first role out of university, or you are taking the next step in your career, starting a new position will inevitably require processing a great deal of information in a short time span, as well as adjusting to its unique working habits and practices.

However, by the time you start your new role, you have already established an initial connection to the company’s mission and purpose through research and conversations had with staff during the interview process, says Keane.

“That sets you [up] well for your day one — you have a good background of the types of people who work in the organisation, [its] culture values, mission and perspective. From there, it is about getting involved and looking out for points of connection within the organisation to meet peers outside of your team.”

Increasingly, businesses are sharing information on company culture, workplace setup, even interview practices on their website or designated social media channels. These can provide you with an insight into the organisation before you begin.

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You can also look to establish a connection with your future colleagues on LinkedIn, or ask the hiring manager to put you in touch to ask any questions in advance of your start date. However, ensure this does not conflict with any non-compete agreements with your previous employer.

Follow the Company’s Onboarding Programme — or Create Your Own

Optimised onboarding processes establish a structured framework for training new recruits in the first few months of their employment. Formats such as a 30-60-90-day plan help both employers and employees clearly define the latter’s primary goals and focus areas. Employers should also set scheduled check-ins to review their progress, offering both parties a chance to share insights and make any needed adjustments early on.

However, many fashion businesses may not have robust orientation processes due to small-scale operations or limited resources. In this case, you should proactively make yourself familiar with your company’s mission and goals, and translate them into an action plan and desired milestones. You can also reach out to colleagues to introduce yourself and your skills. This can also help you better understand — and grow your network within — the organisation.

“You can make changes [to your onboarding programme] with proper stakeholder management, making sure that everybody who needs to be is informed and involved. From there, you can roll the change out in an appropriate and respectful way so you can grow and influence without authority,” says Marlo Lyons, a career coach and strategist and award-winning author of Wanted – A New Career.

Be Curious and Ask Relevant Questions

Curiosity goes a long way. “Being curious and courageous enough to ask questions around what works, what has not worked before or people’s expectations of you — all of those things will help you succeed faster,” says Keane. “Being curious is an engaging thing, and showing real interest and passion to understand and learn about an organisation can lead to faster success than just waiting for things to come to you.”

Mid-level and senior employees should remain open-minded to a company’s way of working, and not exert their own suggestions and experience before truly understanding why existing protocols were put in place.

Being curious and courageous enough to ask questions around what works, what has not worked before or people’s expectations of you — all of those things will help you succeed faster.

“When you get into a new job, you should first understand what your job is and what others need from you, so those are the questions you need to ask every single person you meet — ‘What do I need to deliver to you, what are you dependent on me for?’ and ‘Here is what I am expecting.’” says Lyons. “Those questions help you understand the different areas of the business.”

This approach can also help you better align the expectations of your new company with your own career aspirations.

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“It is vital that you know yourself, how you put yourself out into the world and where your strengths and your opportunities are,” said Jeffery Fowler, chief executive of Hodinkee, in a recent interview with BoF.

Once you find “an ecosystem where you know that your style or your personality can be effective,” exploit all touch points with your manager, team members and cross-functional colleagues to ask about their past experiences, current needs and expectations of you.

Be Respectful of Others’ Expertise and Experience

New hires should always keep an open mind. This pertains to the way you ask questions as well as how you make suggestions.

“[Do] not come in with a playbook, because [then] you are disrespecting the people who have been there a while and may have been holding up the company with a paper clip and a Band-Aid. If [...] you are not listening to what has already been done or understanding the history, you are not being respectful of the people who have been holding the fort,” says Lyons.

If you are not listening to what has already been done or understanding the history, you are not being respectful of the people who have been holding the fort.

Learning a business’ history before making any recommendation of your own will guarantee they are astute and will highlight the unique perspective and intrinsic value you bring to the team.

Lyons advises new joiners to make suggestions in the form of a question, such as “Have we tried X?”, or “What do you think about this?” This semantic exercise will either encourage your coworkers to share their past learnings, or enable you to contribute to their way of working — both of which are advantageous.

Actively Seek Out and Be Responsive to Feedback

Throughout the onboarding process, it is vital that you show a willingness to learn from your mistakes as much as from your successes.

“Soft skills are things that you are going to learn through failure, but they are eventually what makes you rise in your career,” says Lyons. “Things like, can you work with others, can you influence without authority, can you communicate effectively with different types of people, all of those things.”

Meanwhile, managers and senior employees should provide as clear and candid feedback as possible. “They want to be nice, [but as per leadership expert] Brené Brown: ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind,’ says Carla Isabel Carstens, former fashion PR executive turned career coach and strategic fashion communications professor at LIM College’s Graduate Studies Department. “Being clear and direct is not mean, it is helpful especially when it comes to project [...] post-mortems,” she adds.

Failing to review someone’s work after the fact is not only “robbing that person of the ability to improve,” but it is also “doing yourself a disservice in that they may make the same mistakes without being aware [of them],” adds Carstens.

Adapt to the New Normal of Hybrid Working

Many joining the workforce in the years since Covid-19 will have only ever known work environments that are hybrid or flexible. While this allows businesses to open up talent pools beyond their office space, these settings can hinder junior staff’s ability to cultivate relationships with colleagues organically, which is crucial for creative collaboration.

“New grads [entering] the workforce [do] not get the perk of their manager seeing them struggle,” says Carstens. This leads to communication barriers with managers who may not be available as their direct reports may need, she adds.

Soft skills are things that you are going to learn through failure, but they are eventually what makes you rise in your career.

Mentorship schemes are one way employers can increase touchpoints with leadership, as “mentors are critical to the success and growth of people in the long-term,” says Keane of Farfetch, who is also a founding member of the Fashion Minority Alliance, a non-profit organisation that teams with industry leaders in fashion and beauty to promote BIPOC and Historically Marginalised creatives.

Through mentorships, junior staff can engage with business objectives. Mentors can also support mid-level employees to better navigate more senior responsibilities after receiving a promotion within the organisation.

To mitigate hybrid workplace challenges, managers ought to foster a culture of open communication throughout the onboarding process — and beyond — to ensure new hires have the resources they need and the autonomy to push for innovation in areas where it can propel the company forward.

Identify Correlations Between Company Goals and Your Own

With today’s general job market in a state of flux, it is worth exploring what upskilling and cross-departmental collaboration opportunities are available at your current employer. Even if you eventually leave, switch companies or even industries, managers could support your ambitions and adjust your workload if you illustrate how the organisation stands to benefit from it.

“You have to own your career. [...] It is up to you to identify where you want to grow and to ask for the resources to gain those skills and capabilities. The areas you want to grow into have to align with the company’s goals — then they will be interested in growing you,” says Lyons. “Determine what you want first, then what additional skills and capabilities you need, and build those relationships. From there, you can start developing your resumé through the lens of a new career.”

According to Keane, mid-level to senior employees have to be proactive to overcome peers’ perception of their role and abilities. “If you are moving up within an organisation, [take] time to understand what you need to build on, whether that is your confidence, your technical skills or whether it is around your interactions with others,” she said.

“The sooner you can have a strong level of self-awareness, take on feedback and put effort into developing yourself, the sooner others will start to perceive you at that level or in that function. You cannot demand it, you have to embody it.”

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Disclaimer: Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

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