Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion industry.
Ah, the hallowed job interview: What an unpredictable rung in the ladder of finding a new place of employment! We don’t mean to make light of what’s an essential part of the application process, because how else are you able to suss out a person’s character? But while they’re very, very important — we can all agree on that — they can be tricky to navigate. Not only do job interviews vary widely across industries, but each firm also carries them out differently. In my own experience, I’ve done everything from spending three hours (?) introducing myself to every senior-level employee at the company to doing an impromptu edit test in an empty conference room. And in fashion, there’s no real playbook for it — or if there is, I haven’t read it yet, which is why we wrote this.
We at Fashionista have covered our fair share of interview tips — what to wear, the most commonly asked questions, etc. — but in the spirit of Career Week, we wanted to compile something more comprehensive. That is, how to knock the socks off your interviewer from the moment you walk in the door (on time, dammit) to the moment you send in your (handwritten) thank you notes. We spoke with five industry professionals about what they most look for in interview subjects, and any red flags that might lose you the gig.
Dress professionally, and tailor your outfit to wherever you’re interviewing
“Be neat, clean, polished,” says Jane Keltner de Valle, who, prior to joining Architectural Digest as the publication’s style director, spent two years at Glamour and another 10 at Teen Vogue under Amy Astley. “I like when someone’s style expresses something about themselves and shows some personality, as long as it’s within the professional realm.”
She suggests that you consider the place you’re interviewing, too and what their wardrobe culture might look that — but to do that, you may need to clock in a little research. “In this day and age, it’s so easy to Google people,” Keltner de Valle says. “Look people up who work at the company. Get a sense of how they present themselves, and that can give you some insight into what might be appropriate to wear to the interview — but of course, tailored to you. You don’t want to come in as a clone of someone else.” Fashion publicist Abby Shapiro agrees: If utilized correctly, clothing can be a powerful tool in your candidacy. “Show the brand you could represent their brand well and would be a great fit,” she adds.
For the love of all that is good and holy, do not be late
I know we don’t need to tell you this, but we would be remiss if we omitted it, so here we are. Don’t be late to an interview, under any circumstances, ever. Keltner de Valle recommends that you allocate more time — way more time — than you think you might need to get there. “Arrive an hour early and kill time at a Starbucks if you need to, then walk in five to 10 minutes before the scheduled interview time,” she says. “Arriving too early, I think, is also a problem. If you arrive 30 minutes ahead, then you give the person interviewing you anxiety that they’re late and keeping you waiting.”
In addition to being timely (which is to say, showing up no less than five minutes ahead of schedule), Shapiro likes to see that candidates come prepared with multiple copies of their resume. “Do not rely on your interviewer to do this,” she says. No need for them to be pink and scented, either — plain printer paper is fine.
Be fluent in your own story
It’s a red flag for interviewers when they ask a candidate to describe their career goals and the ensuing response lacks organization; it can be a sign that, at best, they’re just looking for a job, any job, and at worst, have no clear aspirations ahead of the immediate hiring process. And why hire someone who either lacks passion or purpose?
Julee Wilson, Fashion and Beauty Director at Essence, sees this occasionally with candidates who come in for an interview say something along the lines of, “I just want to be a fashion editor! I think it would be cool!” (Please do not do this.) “I really love it when people come in with a really thoughtful idea of where they see their career going and what they want to do with their career rather than just, ‘I just want a job.'”
But your narrative shouldn’t start and end with your five- or 10-year plan. For Wilson, it’s also important to be able to recite your resume in an engaging way and provide context surrounding the moves you made. “One of the questions I ask is, ‘Tell me a little bit about your journey. How did you get to this point sitting in front of me and wanting to work here?'” she says. “It allows them to go through their resume, instead of me having to look down at this piece of paper that I already have on my computer somewhere.”
Not only does this inform your interviewer that you’re mature enough to generate perspective but that you’re also able to engage someone sitting across the table from you. Alainna Beddie, T’s Digital Editor, actively looks for a similar dexterity in her role at The New York Times. “It’s nice to hear a candidate clearly and articulately explain their job history and experience and help us understand how that could translate into a successful position on our team,” she says. “Taking the guesswork out of why we should hire you is very valuable and worth the practice before an interview. Bonus points if I don’t even have to ask the question.”
And while a “successful position,” as Beddie says, differs from company to company, you can bet that the vast majority of hiring managers want to hire someone who has potential to grow within the company. “I never hire someone just because they seem like a capable assistant. I like to hire people that I believe are promotable,” explains Keltner de Valle. “Is this someone who, a few years down the road, we could promote into a more senior position and who we see growing within the company? Don’t just think about the job you’re applying for. Think about the job you might want to grow into.”
Do your research, but know that you can’t fake genuine interest
It may be a red flag when an interviewer senses that a candidate lacks vision, but it’s a completely different ball game when they’re unable to succinctly describe why they want the role for which they’re interviewing. “I usually ask, ‘What’s a recent i-D story that you responded to?’ I’ve had people say things like, ‘That one with the girl… who did the body positivity thing…’. You should have a really good answer to this question, not a vague one,” says Rory Satran, the U.S. Editorial Director, for i-D Magazine. “If you’re ambivalent about a prospective job, it will come through in the interview and you probably won’t be hired. So try to work out any personal or professional doubts you have in advance, and come to the meeting with a clear idea of how you would fit in with the organization. I want people who want to be here!”
Beddie experiences the same quandary over at T, but says that, conversely, certain candidates over-prepare; genuine interest is key, and if you don’t have it, consider what you could both gain from the role and add to the company. “I think the best candidates come across as confident and interested in your workplace, yet real,” she says. “When we were interviewing editors for T’s web department, I learned that you can’t expect even the most qualified candidates to know absolutely everything about the content you’re producing. I’d rather talk to someone who is authentic and honest about their familiarity with our brand, even if their strongest feelings about us circle around how we might grow and evolve — together.”
There are more creative manners of showing — not telling — your interest, too. Keltner de Valle describes her experience with one person she interviewed and went on to hire who came into the interview carrying a Mansur Gavriel purse — which, alone, isn’t exactly revolutionary, but Keltner de Valle had run a story in a recent issue about finding her “forever bag.” The candidate went on to describe why her Mansur Gavriel was her “forever bag” and how Keltner de Valle’s piece hit home. “It showed me that she a) read the magazine, and b) has a real connection with the brand,” she says.
Read up on the person you’re interviewing with, too
“When I introduce myself, I usually give a little background on myself, and I like when someone can already connect the dots,” says Keltner de Valle. “It shows they’re with it and they’ve done their homework. I’m definitely Googling you and checking all of your social accounts, and you should be doing the same for me. It’ll also give you a better understanding of the person you may be working with and whether it’s a good fit.”
For Wilson, and for many of us in content-facing roles, it’s personal. “It sounds narcissistic, but I love when [candidates] know your work,” she says. “One of the things I tell people about my career is that it’s so funny when people say, ‘Oh, I really like your work; I like this story you wrote.’ We’re all so consumed with our deadlines and pushing ‘pub’ on something and then forgetting about it and moving on. When someone actually tells you they’ve read your stuff, it brings you back to reality in a really amazing way and reminds you that the work you’re doing is not for naught; it’s actually being consumed and appreciated.”
But there is, of course, a point, which Beddie tidily sums up for us: “Telling me about all the fun they’ve seen me have recently on my Instagram account while they were Googling me and preparing for our interview just makes me uneasy.”
Exemplify the type of person you’d want to work with
In others words: Be cool, calm, collected and, though it doesn’t start with a “c,” positive. (Constructive? Cheerful?) Do you think it’s a good look to bash your former colleagues or work experiences? Probably not, but it happens. “A great interview is one that leaves you both feeling positive and inspired about the potential of working together — not exhausted from negativity or wondering, ‘What bad things would they say about me if we worked together?'” says Beddie. “Forward-looking conversations only require so much information about a candidate’s past.”
If you haven’t learned how to relax during an interview, that’s okay — Beddie mentions that comes with time and practice — but “the calmer a candidate is during an interview, the easier the conversation flows,” so it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you find yourself tensing up.
Be your beautiful self
“You spend as much, if not more time with the people you work with as you do with your actual family, so you want to like them,” says Keltner de Valle. “You’re essentially entering into a relationship with this person. I would say, don’t ignore your gut reactions; the opinion you form of someone the first minute of meeting them is usually pretty accurate.”
Don’t force it, either: If you’re going to click with someone when you’re actually in the job, you almost definitely will in the interview. “I think we all have a perception of what the ideal candidate is, and I think a lot people would be surprised to know that that’s not necessarily what someone’s looking for,” says Wilson. “You want someone special and unique, so I would encourage people to not try to act like they’re somebody they’re not; who you are might actually be the thing that we want.”
Ask just a few thoughtful, memorable questions
It’s important to ask questions, but what you don’t want to do is make your interviewer feel like they’re in the hot seat. Keep them limited to two, at most, and make them count. “I’m unimpressed when someone uses their time to ask me questions to ask about basic points like office hours, which you can easily learn from a follow up with HR,” says Satran. “An interview is your opportunity to start an interesting conversation about your industry with someone that you’d like to work with. Even if you don’t get the job, you should come away knowing more about what you want to do and leave the interviewer with a positive feeling about the talk you had.”
You can even treat your questions as an opportunity to pitch a new idea and showcase your interest further. “I would hope candidates approach interviews the way they would approach the role,” says Satran. “Since I like to work with people who are idea machines, I’m looking for candidates who will come to an interview with lots of enthusiasm and ideas. If you show that you have on-brand, executable ideas for how to make our publication better, then I want you on my team!”
Send a thank you email, followed by a handwritten thank you note
“It’s amazing how many people no longer send thank-yous,” says Keltner de Valle. “And of the ones who do, 80 percent send an email, which is okay. I’m definitely not going to disqualify someone — or on the flip side, hire someone — just because they sent a note, but it’s a gesture I definitely appreciate.”
Keltner de Valle and Satran recommend that the note highlights something personal, whether it’s something from the conversation you had or something you feel you can bring to the brand that you didn’t mention in the interview. “Use that note to make another impression,” says Satran. “It’s your chance to provide some more information about yourself, so use it.” As for length? According to Keltner de Valle, the note shouldn’t be too long, but it also shouldn’t just be stock-and-file.
Don’t completely rule out an email, though: Shapiro likes to see a thank you email within 24 hours, followed by a handwritten note mailed shortly following the interview.
And if you strike out, don’t burn the bridge
I wouldn’t take a page out of Vetements’ book for this one: Don’t let bridges you burn light the way, at least in the professional capacity. “Just because you didn’t get the job doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay in touch with your interviewer,” says Satran. “There are a lot of reasons why you might not get a job, many of which have nothing to do with how qualified you are. So send a note with an update from time to time, and something might work out in the future. I always remember great candidates, and sometimes end up hiring them at a different time, or even a different company.”