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BoF LIVE | How to Secure a Job in Fashion

Last week, BoF’s senior correspondent Sheena Butler-Young and BoF Careers’ Sophie Soar shared their insights on the current state of fashion careers and tips on how to land a top job in fashion.
Fashion professionals working in a studio.
Fashion professionals working in a studio. (Pexels)

A notoriously competitive industry, securing a job in fashion remains a key challenge for talent, whether your first industry role, your next career move or if you are re-entering the workforce. Some 3 years after the outbreak of Covid-19 and its subsequent layoffs, followed by the Great Resignation, the pandemic’s effect on fashion’s workforce is still keenly felt. According to a recent BoF article, less than 1 in 5 people who quit their jobs during the pandemic have returned to the job they left.

Indeed, entry-level talent also continues to struggle with entering the fashion workforce, with low salaries and long working hours, coupled with high expectations and high-pressured environments, still common occurrences.

Despite concerns around the implications an impending recession could have on hiring, there remains an acute need in core areas of the industry — with critical jobs in departments such as the supply chain, human resources, sustainability, diversity and environmental policy.

“What’s happening in fashion is more of a restructuring. We see jobs and we see job losses, [for example], going from brick-and-mortar to digital. [...] The nice-to-have [jobs] start to go on the back burner, [but] what the nice-to-haves are now will be interesting to watch,” said Sheena Butler-Young, senior correspondent in the BoF Live on September 22 with BoF Careers’ Sophie Soar.

Now, BoF condenses key insights from the BoF Live event about the current fashion jobs market and how to secure a role today.

Explore Future-Proof Job Opportunities

“Traditional jobs, the functions that are in fashion but also in industries across the world — finance, supply chain, logistics — have shot to the top of the list of what is critical for fashion retailers,” shared Butler-Young.

For example, employment of supply chain management professionals (or logisticians) is expected to grow by 30 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. During the first three quarters of 2022, wholesale roles on the BoF Careers site were also up 69 percent compared to the same period this year.

“[There are] a few things driving that. First, a very real recession that’s supposed to happen towards the end of the year, but by some accounts, is happening right now. It’s supposed to be short and mild, so companies prioritise critical functions that will get them through near-term uncertainty,” added Butler-Young.

Functions that are in fashion but also in industries across the world — finance, supply chain, logistics — have shot to the top of the list of what is critical for fashion retailers.

Job postings with “metaverse” in the title are alternatively declining — up to 81 percent across all industries between April and June, according to Bloomberg. While this trend may feel counterintuitive considering industry players’ race to the metaverse and leveraging next-generation technology, it is likely this set of skills will be outsourced by companies rather than filled internally.

Cut Through the Digital Noise

Standing out in an application process today means navigating a myriad of technology, whether that be software used by recruiters in the initial screening of candidates, or in a remote interview via apps like Zoom.

“A huge number of resumes and CVs are […] scanned by software first and foremost, and that means that, [...] a lot of the time, it’s about the words that you use. A key way of doing that is looking at the job spec and matching some of that language in your application,” said Soar. “That doesn’t mean just whack on [key words] to the end of a sentence here and there, but try to flow it through seamlessly so it doesn’t look too out of place.”

Trying to form a connection over a virtual interview can also cause a challenge today. “You don’t have the vibe. You don’t have that social setting,” said Butler-Young. “There is no replacement for preparation.”

“I have three key points that get me out of the gate,” added Butler-Young. “[Like] I am goal-oriented, I’m digital, I’m a news whiz, whatever it is, I have those three key points to say right away. So you get over that awkward silence — the first 30 seconds are the toughest. Then, by the time they start rambling their next response, I’ve had time to catch my breath, and then I’m ready to go.”

Consider Alternative Routes into Entry-Level Roles

For entry-level talent, internships are often cited as a crucial starting point — but finding an internship is tough, the application process is highly competitive, and they are also often poorly, if not at all compensated. According to the PVH x CFDA State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion last year, some 33 percent of entry-level talent have to subsidise their salary, whether from a second job or parents.

“More [internships] are becoming paid. I think the [recent lawsuits] that have happened have also forced companies to get more thoughtful about [...] making people work for free in a lot of industries, and in fashion. I would advise if you have it, use social media — make that your internship, if there’s a way that you can use your own resources to add value in lieu of working for free for someone else. I think that’s a nice workaround,” said Butler-Young.

Use social media [...] if there’s a way that you can use your own resources to add value in lieu of working for free for someone else.

“Quite a common and popular route in is [still] through retail, starting off on the shop floor, understanding consumer-facing [roles], understanding visual merchandising, the products [...]. It does have a massive impact still, being able to do that and not completely sacrifice the salary in some respects,” added Soar.

The refocus on critical roles in fashion like the supply chain and logistics, with its increasing job opportunities, can also offer another route into the industry.

“Logistics is a nice way to get into fashion because it’s a job that maybe people don’t see the value in as being as sexy as other roles,” said Butler-Young. “But it’s a nice path and it gives you a hard skill to differentiate yourself if you are creative.”

Align Yourself With a Company’s Culture and Values

Millennial and Gen-Z employees today prioritise working for organisations that care about their wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, and that have leaders who are ethical and transparent, according to a 2022 study by management consultancy Gallup.

“Remote” and “sustainability” are also today top search terms on BoF Careers, and companies’ stances on issues like environmental and social governance now has an impact on people’s job search.

For talent seeking out their next opportunity, one way in understanding a potential employer’s position is simply to ask them directly, which can also demonstrate how your interest areas align with that of the company.

Don’t be afraid to ask in the interview, ‘What are your diversity targets? What does diversity look like in your company? Here are the ways I’d like to help you there.’

“Many publicly traded companies are putting out impact reports where you see where they land on diversity, equity and inclusion, on sustainability. [...] Environmental responsibilities are now becoming hard laws, so companies have to be compliant [and put] out data around this,” said Butler-Young.

“Don’t be afraid to ask in the interview, ‘What are your diversity targets? What does diversity look like in your company? Here are the ways I’d like to help you there.’ If you put that forward, you can start to negotiate whether you should get an extra £10K on top for adding a diversity focus to your job.”

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