An interesting thing happens when you hit a certain age in fashion.
Well, the word “interesting” may not be quite right. Arguably, “depressing” is more appropriate.
Whether you happen to an a more seasoned candidate or took some time off to have a family, once you’re 35 or older, the fashion industry considers you “old”.
Now listen. As of right now (2019), I’m 36. So I know the feeling.
It can feel like you’re always getting beat out by “younger” candidates who have less experience but are willing to work for cheaper.
Which is super frustrating – because you know your breadth of knowledge offers way more value to brands…
But you’re just not willing to – nor can you afford to – work for those lower rates. It’s fair! You shouldn’t have to. And you DON’T have to.
There are strategies you can use (some of them take just a few mins!) to show brands why you’re the best candidate for the job, even if you’re “old” and require a higher salary.
Here’s exactly what we’ll cover in this chapter, complete with specific examples of how to apply these strategies to your situation:
This first one is going to sound insanely trivial, but in Episode 6 of the SFD podcast, Chris Kidd – founder of StyleCareers.com, the world’s largest job site exclusive to the fashion industry, shared this simple strategy on how to represent yourself as a modern candidate.
Best news? This is something you can fix in just a few mins. Chris’ advice is simple, and it boils down to your digital presence. Here’s what he had to say:
Think of it this way: you know how in fashion, details matter? When it comes to your digital presence, details also matter. And yes, the tiniest thing – like your email address – can make you look, well, OLD.
AOL? Hotmail? Yahoo? Sorry my friend, these don’t cut it.
Take a few minutes and set up a free Gmail account. It’s the current standard and it’ll help you present yourself as a modern candidate.
Beyond this, Chris and I discussed other ways you can “show up” online and in modern tech.
This doesn’t mean being on Twitter or coming up in Google Search results, but rather being present digitally on a platform like LinkedIn.
Because here’s the simple concept:
If you show that you keep up with the basics of our modern world, it sends a signal that you also keep up with other things – like trends and what’s going on in fashion.
As soon as it looks like you’re falling behind online? Brands will assume you’re falling behind in other areas too.
It’s natural human instinct to make assumptions like these.
In the ol’ days, we included an “objective statement” at the top of our resumes. It was usually a pretty fluffy statement about who we are and what kind of job we’re looking for.
But over the years, resumes have evolved. And the current trend? It to show that you’re a good investment.
Yes, we’re talking ROI (return on investment).
Simply put, brands are businesses. And when businesses spend money (invest), the goal is for that investment to “return” some type of value, most commonly in the form of money saved or earned.
And when you’re hired either as an employee or fashion freelancer, brands look at YOU as an investment. Which means they need you to either SAVE or EARN them money.
At first, this concept may seem overwhelming. You may think, “I just go in and do my job! I design clothes, I create tech packs, and I work with factories to get them produced!”
You’re right. On one level, this might be what you do. But you have to dig deeper. You have to think about the results of your job and responsibilities.
It’s a concept that Sheena Schoolcraft and I talked about extensively episode 11 of the SFD podcast. She’s a senior designer who’s worked for brands like Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY, and here’s her advice on improving your fashion design resume:
Sheena suggests you include these results in the bullets of each of your job descriptions, and make sure they’re noticeable. You can do this by bolding the important blurbs so it’s “scan friendly”.
Because remember, the average manager looks at a resume for just 6 seconds, so you have to catch their attention FAST!
Listen, no matter what level you’re at (intern or design director), you can dig deep into your job responsibilities and experience and figure out how to highlight the results on your resume.
Here are a few specific examples to get you started!
If you’re stuck on this, think about it this way: How did my actions (the work I did) benefit the brand?
And don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member for help! Sometimes a fresh perspective can do wonders.
As a seasoned candidate, it can be easy to start applying to lower level jobs (like associate designer) if you’re not having luck with jobs at your current level.
But this can bite you in the butt!
Shellie Simpson, who runs the entire fashion recruiting department at Atrium Staffing in NYC, shared this advice on episode 53 of my Successful Fashion Designer podcast.
Here’s exactly what she had to say about how to make sure you get the job title you deserve:
Here’s the thing. To work in the fashion industry, brands need you to be confident. And if you’re not even confident in your skill set when applying for jobs, as Shellie mentions, that’s going to be a big red flag.
Now listen, I know you can get stuck in between jobs and need to fill in gaps to make ends meet. That’s totally normal, and something everyone will probably face at one time or another.
Shellie’s best advice? Consider short freelance gigs in the interim, even if they’re a lower title or rate, to show that you’re staying active.
The bottom line? Keep your confidence high about your skills, even in the down times when it feels really hard to do so.
Cue sparkles and unicorns and all the glittery shit! No, really. Because in all honesty, this “positive” stuff really matters!
But what does it actually mean!?
When it comes to the fashion industry, people are really good at complaining about bitchy bosses or toxic workplaces. But this attitude can really backfire.
Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager for a minute and pretend you’re looking for a new hire. You ask, “why are you leaving your current job?”
There are many possible answers. But chances are, they’ll fall into two categories:
Answer #1: “The workplace is pretty abusive, my boss makes me stay late every night and never appreciates my work. I’m looking for something that provides a better work-life balance.”
Answer #2: “I’m always looking for new challenges, ways to grow, and be part of a supportive team where I can contribute to creating the best designs possible.”
So, as a hiring manager, what answer is more attractive?
If you didn’t guess, Answer #2 is much, MUCH, MUCH (!) more attractive. This is what I mean by putting a “positive” spin on everything! You can often say the same thing, just using more “positive” words.
This is a concept Chris Kidd, founder of StyleCareers.com, reminds us of in episode 6 of the SFD podcast, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard people talk about this concept.
So think about how you’re positioning yourself and what kind of words you’re using in your cover letter, emails or interviews. Because your tone can make or break whether a brand wants to hire you.
Here are a few more specific examples of how you can turn a negative situation into a positive one:
Instead of: “The people on my team never carried their weight and I had to stay late to pick up slack.”
Try: “Our team juggled a lot, so I always jumped in when I could to help my coworkers meet their deadlines too.”
Instead of: “My boss was controlling, yelled a lot and the energy in the office was toxic.”
Try: “I learned how to work with different personality types and get my work done even under extreme pressure.”
And one last example that you can use on the job:
Instead of: “No, I can’t get to it, I have too much work to do.”
Try: “Yes, I’d be happy to get that done. My deadline for these tech packs is tight, I can fit it in next week unless you’d like me to prioritize?”
Remember, a positive person is someone brands want to hire, and it’s also someone people want to refer to a job. So think about how to do this in ALL of your communication, how you come off to hiring managers, and whether or not a coworker would want to refer you for a new opportunity.
I want to introduce you to Leila Jalili, an outerwear fashion designer who’s worked with brands like Under Armour and Helly Hansen.
Leila’s attitude on staying up on trends is exactly what brands want to see. She does this by attending trade shows and putting trend reports together, even when no one’s asked (or paid) her to.
Here’s one example Leila shared on episode 49 of the SFD Podcast about how to stay up on trends (even if you’re in between jobs):
I’ll remind you, Leila did this even though no brand had asked her to scope out the show and put a trend report together.
And you know what happened next? She showed the report to a brand she was interviewing with for some freelance work, and they were so impressed that they hired her for the role. They specifically told her they liked that she was active and engaged in the market, continually staying up on the trends.
Whether you’re employed or doing a specific project or not, what can you do to stay engaged and keep paying attention?
Because even if you’re in between gigs, staying up on trends is still part of your job.
So, how can you show brands you’re an expert? How can you show them that you love this work enough to do self directed projects?
It may be going to trade shows like Leila. It may be browsing free trend resources online and then mocking up a capsule collection.
Whatever it is, it will help you stand out from the competition and increase your chances of landing your dream fashion job.
I know, I know, no one likes to hear that you need to “network” more.
It’s like telling a kid they need to eat their vegetables. They don’t want to do it!
But – like vegetables! – networking is CRUCIAL to a healthy career.
And in episode 4 of the SFD podcast with Marissa Borelli, a 6-figure freelance designer who works with brands like Lululemon and Athleta, we talk about how to network and land more freelance fashion design work (without feeling icky!).
During her 10+ year career, Marissa has become an expert at getting conversations started that lead to paid work…without screaming “HEY, I NEED A JOB!”
Because it’s one thing to show up at an industry event, pass out your business card or resume, and tell everyone you can that you’re looking for a new job. (ICKY!)
But it’s another thing to go in prepared with a plan and ideas to have inspiring industry conversations. (FUN!)
And the difference between these two strategies? Will make or break your chances of landing your first (or next) dream fashion job.
So, how do you go into an event prepared and with a plan to have conversations? It requires a little bit of leg work upfront, but it will 10x your results.
Start by doing some research to figure out who will be there and deciding who you want to talk to. If it’s a trade show or an organized meetup, this should be fairly easy to do. You can easily browse the exhibitor listing or checkout the guestlist on Meetup.org or on the Facebook event page.
Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to connect with, do further research into the brand or the person. What you’re looking for is talking points that you can use to start a conversation.
Here are some ideas:
Take notes about what you discover and any ideas for talking points in a notebook (you can even create a spreadsheet if you’re a nerd like me!). Trust me on this note taking thing…you’ll think you can remember everything, but I guarantee you won’t! Chances are you’ll be a little nervous (totally normal) so do yourself a favor and create a cheat sheet. It will help tons!
And these conversation starters? They can be as simple as a 1-2 sentence question or comment. Here are some examples:
Depending on the environment and your relationship with the person, the dialog may look a little different. Play with it, have fun, experiment and see what works!
The point is to say something specific to their brand that will warm up the conversation and get them talking. It’s also to NOT start with “I need a job” or “I’m job hunting”.
Think of it more like small talk and more like a conversation where you’re asking questions about them, their brand, or projects. Share ideas, talk about what’s going on in the market. Be genuinely curious and talk to them like you would any other industry friend.
If “looking for work” comes up organically…talk about it! You’re not trying to keep secrets or lie. If it doesn’t come up? Mention at the end that you’re exploring new opportunities and you’d love to stay in touch. Then, make sure you get their contact info and follow up.
If you’re unsure how to do the follow up, here’s a free template you can swipe – it’s specific to freelancing, but you can easily adjust the verbiage for inquiry about employment too.
Now, I won’t lie, this is much easier said than done. For some more specific examples, listen to the full episode with Marissa to learn how you too can “talk” your way into more work. She goes through full dialogues and conversation examples that you’ll find very helpful.