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How to Set and Achieve Your Fashion Career Goals

At the onset of 2023, fashion recruiters, career coaches and academic lecturers explain how professionals can set and achieve career goals through strategic planning, agility and support from their network.
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Research suggests that those who clearly define their idea of success are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish their goals. (Shutterstock)

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In the professional context, strategising your career progression can help you define and visualise success in concrete terms, as well as break down how you may achieve it, helping you see success as attainable. Indeed, neuroscience research suggests people who do so are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish their goals, as reported by Forbes.

Nevertheless, the process might feel “overwhelming if you don’t break it down, because then you just don’t know where to start,” says Carla Isabel Carstens, former fashion PR executive turned career coach and strategic fashion communications professor at LIM College’s Graduate Studies Department. “Figuring out how am I getting from X to Y [makes it] easier to outline a strategy, understand it and communicate it, because you understand the reason you’re doing that thing and how it’s going to impact you.”

While there exist several frameworks for goal setting, most are similar in essence, dictating the goal setter first identifies their emotional drivers and motivations before creating a detailed, multi-stage roadmap of their next steps, potential obstacles and respective solutions, before finally placing it all on a timeline.

Since fashion is a notoriously competitive industry, emerging talent often does not have the luxury of choice of entry-level roles, and is urged to expand their horizons and seize opportunities that may not perfectly align with their ambitions just to get their foot in the door.

“At the start of your career, it’s more about discovery [of] what’s out there, how can you apply yourself. Sometimes you just fall into [a role] not by design, but by default — an opportunity comes along, or a [part-time] job — and you might get into your work and want more responsibility,” says Tracy Short, executive career consultant and coach, whose clients include Dr Martens, Harrods, Levi’s, Mango and Moncler, among others. “In the early days, it’s more around experience, trying new things, getting involved and understanding how things work.”

Senior executives and managers also benefit from actively encouraging employees to pursue career goals, be it through mentorship or training schemes. More than a kind act, this has a positive knock-on effect in the workplace, as shown by a study conducted by leadership training and employee engagement firm Leadership IQ. The study found that employees with access to formal training, for example, were 57 percent more engaged in their work, and those whose goals aligned with their organisation’s goals were 75 percent more engaged.

At the onset of 2023, BoF Careers sought the advice of seasoned fashion recruiters, career coaches and academic lecturers on how industry talent — junior and senior — can successfully set and achieve their professional goals.

Conduct a Personal Reflection

Perhaps counterintuitively, effective goal-setting does not start by jotting down a list of desired objectives. Rather, it begins by asking yourself why you want to achieve something in the first place.

Accomplishing your goals is not easy, and the process requires commitment and persistence, which is easier to maintain long-term if you outline your drivers and motivations from the get-go. This helps form a stronger emotional bond with the desired outcome, which in turn raises your chances of achieving it.

“Before you set goals and [how to] accomplish them, it’s important that you figure out why you want to achieve those goals, because when they are connected to a purpose or a reason, they become more meaningful, and it makes them easier to accomplish and to figure out what distractions are in your way,” says Carstens.

Short adds that “goal-setting comes from identifying gaps — what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of. Tune into yourself.”

This reflection will also come in handy later on when you are inevitably met with challenges or feelings of frustration. Re-reading a personal statement detailing your starting point and comparing it to where you are now can serve as a dopamine hit that engages your motivational systems anew. To maximise this effect, make sure your reflection uses words that evoke a growth mindset, such as “improve”, “develop”, “over time”, “progress”, “become” and “grow”.

List Your Goals, Obstacles and Solutions

Once you are clear on your “why”, reverse-engineer your ambitions to plan the necessary steps to accomplish them.

Sacha Milazzo Mercier is co-founder and director of G&M — a consultancy specialising in the recruitment and training of fashion talent. A trained clinical psychologist, Mercier has previously worked in the recruitment department at Louis Vuitton and is a guest speaker at London College of Fashion and Istituto Marangoni, among others. He advises fashion talent to start this process by being honest with themselves.

“[Identify] your skills and expertise, and look into what you want [to achieve]. You have to be aware of what you are good at, but also what you are not good at, because if you want to achieve a certain position, you have to understand what gaps you have to fill,” he says. “You also have to be objective with yourself — what are you willing to do? Fashion is a tough industry to enter and grow into, so you have to understand what you are willing to sacrifice.”

If you want to achieve a certain position, you have to understand what gaps you have to fill.

This pragmatic approach will reveal relevant focus points or changes you have to make in the short and long-term, and also help you think of your goals as realistic and attainable, further increasing the likelihood of achieving them. Remain self-aware and develop a strategy that reconciles your current positioning — your free time, skillset and experience — with objective parameters like the current job market and vocational standards.

Document all of this in writing because, according to research from the Dominican University of California, 61 percent of goals that are written down are eventually achieved, and those who write their goals down formulate action commitments and send reports about their weekly progress to their friends, achieving 76 percent of their goals.

Create a Roadmap

Having clearly defined your target and how to achieve it, build a roadmap to guide you.

Mercier believes designing the right path for yourself is done through data collection and conversations with others. He advises that you refer to outstanding professionals and their journeys for inspiration.

“With LinkedIn, you can discover what the people who have [your desired] job do, where they have been studying, what skills and tools they have learnt, what is their expertise,” he says. “In luxury production, for example, it is very important to speak French or Italian because [...] a lot of luxury products are still made in France [and] Italy. Learning a new language might take time.”

Carstens suggests creating a timeline that fits your immediate needs and schedule. “If your goal is to get your first job in fashion, I would recommend breaking [it] down step by step, whether that’s in 30 days or three-month increments [...] Think: what do [you] need to do in order to get a job? [You] need a resume, a cover letter, references — that is a month’s worth of work.”

For more senior professionals, “the first thing [to consider] is what can you achieve at your current company, any leads or ways that you can get a promotion,” says Short. Whether you wish to leave your current company or perhaps freelance, you should look for a “similar type of environment with more chance to grow. [...] Think strategically about how you are going to get somewhere.”

Be Agile and Persistent

As the past three years have illustrated, remaining agile in the face of tumultuous circumstances is the only way to get through them. In career planning, Mercier advises to “be open-minded, flexible and ready to adapt your plan.”

Whether you have only just started your fashion career or you wish to change direction, things might not immediately fall into place. “I compare your career to a ladder. Each role should guide you one step closer to the place you want to be in 10 years. Sometimes, that step might not look like you think it should, but if you are truly strategic about where your final stop is, you don’t have to worry,” says Carstens.

Put the time in to attend an event, gain insights, post it on LinkedIn and reach out. That says something about a potential candidate.

Carstens suggests, for those who did not have the opportunity to intern, to “attend industry events, whether it be virtual or in-person, and listen. [Afterwards,] get on LinkedIn — not Instagram — and write a synopsis of the event and what you learnt from it. Tag the people you would have loved to meet, and then send them that via LinkedIn. [Tell] them how much you appreciated [their insight], and that if there was ever an opportunity to have a 15-minute conversation to talk about X — be specific — that you would really appreciate it.

“That strategy has [helped] multiple of my clients [book] coffee meetings with C-level executives because of the thoughtfulness behind it. They put the time in to attend an event, gain insights, post it on LinkedIn and reach out. That says something about a potential candidate.”

Seek Out External Support

Having a support network by your side through the career planning process is an invaluable, sometimes differentiating, resource. First, it allows for a more objective reflection of yourself and your capabilities at a time when you may feel more judgemental or critical of those things, offering you a more balanced perspective.

Moreover, support from a manager or a mentor could propel your progression at your company and the industry as a whole. Leaders do not always volunteer feedback, but you should seek it out proactively.

“Schedule time with your boss to get feedback or ask them questions. Don’t wait for them to give you that opportunity, because they might not realise that you’re not getting the oversight or mentorship you need. It shows that you care, and at the end of the day, senior-level employees want employees that care,” says Carstens.

Mercier believes managers are best positioned to support employees’ development as the ones who oversee them directly, with the ability to act as a mirror to identify strengths and weaknesses. Still, he advises fashion professionals seek out external mentors to diversify the pool of opinions they receive.

“Our brain works better when we access diversity, when we get rid of stereotypes. [...] Looking outside [the company] gives you access to diversity, opens up your mind and makes you look further and discover new things,” he says.

Editor’s Note: This article was amended on 11 January 2023 to correctly state Carla Isabel Carstens’ professorial position at LIM College.

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