When I first moved to New York City and started at NYU, I had a certain image in my head about the way that my studies would go. I thought that I would study fashion and intern at some fabulous place that paid their interns, all while breaking the generational boundaries of being a first-generation college student. Overall, I have achieved these goals, but not without a little trial and error. Here, I am going to highlight some tips as well as some harsh realities about interning as a fashion student—including that Andy Sachs (the protagonist of The Devil Wears Prada, played by Anne Hathaway) would have been an unpaid intern.
Films vs. Reality
The reality is that the fashion industry does not traditionally pay their interns. What’s more, those that pay their interns require previous experience. Therefore, it is rather difficult to land a paid internship at Saint Laurent without first gaining experience at an unpaid internship.
Additionally, keep in mind that these internships are not going to be fabulous at first. You are going to have to pack up gowns in garment bags before you are assisting at photoshoots, so don’t be discouraged. Was Andy Sachs immediately invited to Paris, or did she work hard and earn it? A big part of breaking through the industry is about paying your dues.
Where to start
One of the most helpful things that I have learned about fashion internships are where to find them. These are my top three places to find them.
Firstly, my favorite place to look for internships is Fashionista. It is easy and tends to provide the email of the recruiter/department which I have found to increase the response rate.
Secondly, LinkedIn is a great place to find internship roles. When you set up your profile and share the types of positions you are looking for, you will get notifications when these roles are available. Rather than applying directly through LinkedIn, I recommend using this platform to look for the positions you want. What’s more, once you find those roles, finding the email of the recruiter and reaching out directly has provided me with most success.
Lastly, NYU Handshake is also a great place to look. Handshake is the Wasserman Center’s career development platform for jobs, internships, events, and more. The really great thing about Handshake is that whether you apply to these roles directly through Handshake or not, you are getting early access. This is because Handshake has roles available to the NYU community that are share exclusively and/or before they are released on other platforms.
Getting your foot in the door
As I have noted, for the most part unpaid fashion internships are unavoidable. That said, the unpaid internships can be just as difficult to land as the paid ones. So if everyone is fighting for both paid and unpaid opportunities, how do you secure either one?
It all begins with your resume and how to spin any experience to make you look like the best candidate. Nobody is born with experience in the fashion industry, everyone has to start somewhere. Therefore, no matter the kind of experience (or lack thereof) you have, it can be spun in your favor.
Example: Part-time server at a local restaurant.
- Taking orders, customer service
How you can spin it:
- Maintained high quality service to over 100+ customers daily
- Organized large parties reservations efficiently and accurately
- Efficiently resolved customer complaints with ease in high-stress environments
Example: Part-time sales associate at a retail chain
- Cashiering, fitting-room attendant, set-up window displays
How you can spin it:
- Maintained up-to-date product knowledge on current inventory
- Guided customers on purchases based on interests, promotions, and any relevant factors
- Boosted sales by enhancing product presentations
- Properly processed product purchases, returns, and exchanges
Tip #2 1/2
What’s more, plug in any keywords from the job description into any of your relevant experience.
Now that your sweet internship-finding skills and astounding resume have grabbed the attention of the employer, let’s talk interview.
When you land an interview, the most important thing is to be confident. Remember that while you may never have prepped showrooms, merchandising display windows as a sales associate or prepping for a private dinner party as a server require the same skills. When I was first started interviewing for my first internship I lacked confidence and thought that because my prior experience wasn’t in luxury fashion, it wasn’t relevant. However, that is not the case, and my lack of confidence in my prior experience kept me from many opportunities that I would’ve been great for.
With that said, the interview is not the time for you to recite your entire resume, nor is any part of the interview. When asked for your elevator pitch, in 2 minutes or less, tell them your school, major, and an adjective that best describes the type of worker you are with a quick example. What sets you apart from other candidates? Are you resilient, eager to learn, or a leader?
Do your research! Make sure that you are familiar with the mission statement of the brand, their goals, and recent work. This is especially true if you are applying for an internship with places like Saint Laurent, Dior, Marchesa, etc. In my experience, employers from these kinds of brands will ask a few brand specific-questions, so make sure you are up-to-date with them.
So now what?
Okay, so you’ve landed your first internship. If it is unpaid, here is my holy-grail resource that helped me get through my unpaid internships!
The Wasserman Center Internship Grant
The Wasserman Center Internship Grant is for students pursuing unpaid internships in qualifying industries that do not traditionally pay their interns. Fashion is unfortunately part of those industries, as well as non-profits, the arts, media, journalism and more. And while this is unfortunate, luckily, the Wasserman grant is there to help offset the costs of an unpaid internship. I was fortunate enough to have been awarded this grant in the past, and it was truly a life-saver.
Overall, it is important to remember that this is something that most fashion students have to go through. For every 10 fashion students whose first internship is unpaid, only 1 lands a paid position on their first try. I truly hope you are that 1 and your time is full of paid internships, but either way I hope this article taught you a thing or two. If anything, I hope it helped you realize that Andy Sachs would’ve been an unpaid intern.