How I Landed My Dream Job in Fashion—and You Can Too
I don’t want to sit here and brag (totally not my style), but I am fortunate enough to say that I now have my dream job. I’m the West Coast style director at Who What Wear. How cool is that? Like most things, though, the journey wasn’t necessarily easy—but I set a goal and followed my dream until I achieved my version of success. Now, that’s not to say there’s not more to come, but right now I couldn’t be happier.
So how did I land a coveted editorial role in fashion? Below, I’m sharing my journey, including the tips that helped me climb the corporate—well, fashion—ladder. These tricks will apply to those of you interested in scoring a gig in fashion, but many will apply no matter what industry you’re in.
Keep scrolling to learn more about my career path. Plus, go a bit further to shop stylish 9-to-5–appropriate items to impress.
While your interests will undoubtedly evolve and change over time, I identified what I truly love early on in my college career, and then I figured out how to make a career out of it. The old saying is true: If you find something you love, the money will come because you’ll work that much harder to achieve your dreams. I’m originally from Wisconsin and went to school in the state, but I always loved fashion, theater (I love entertaining), and magazines, so an adviser of mine suggested majoring in communications, where I could use my creative passion to pursue a job in public relations or journalism.
I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but jumping into the workforce and interning is the number one reason I landed a coveted gig early. Don’t tell my university, but I honestly learned more interning than in the classroom. Now, given that I went to school in Wisconsin, finding a fashion internship wasn’t easy (i.e., there’s basically nothing there), so I created my own experiences. While it wasn’t fashion per se, I found internships in other industries that would give me basic skills needed for a job in fashion journalism or PR. I started working at Radio Disney (I know, I know) in the promotions department and then at a children’s hospital in the PR division to learn more about writing, business, and working on a team.
Intermediately, to gain fashion experience, I started a fashion section in my college newspaper to garner some fashion clips, and also planned charity fashion shows on my campus. After working locally for a few years, I decided I was ready to apply for a real fashion internship in New York City. I landed it and spent a summer in the fashion department at the wedding magazine The Knot and its website. During this time, I met stylists, publicists, and other editors I regularly communicated with after my time in NYC, which ultimately helped me land my first grown-up job.
Throughout school and intern positions, I knew fashion publishing was where I needed to be—but jobs at magazines were (and still are!) very hard to come by. I applied for several positions upon graduation, but nothing panned out. I knew I needed to do something, so I used PR connections I gained from interning at The Knot to land an interview and secure an assistant position at a PR agency. While it was great learning opportunity, I immediately knew it wasn’t for me (not my passion!), but I’m grateful for that experience because I learned early on in my career what I didn’t want to do, thereby solidifying my dream of getting a job in publishing.
Throughout my time at the agency, I cold-emailed a slew of editors I found on the mastheads of my favorite magazines (I learned it was best to email editors in the mid-management level who could make decisions, versus someone too senior and therefore too busy, or someone too junior who can’t make hiring decisions) to set up informational interviews. These served to learn more about certain organizations and also help them learn more about me (whether or not there was a job opening). To cut to the chase, I met with a manager at major magazine, and while he didn’t have any entry-level openings for me, he mentioned he would stay in touch. I did the same with him. A few months later, he emailed that one of his friends at a different magazine (Lucky) had an opening. I went in, interviewed, and got the job. This, my friends, is the power of connections and diligent networking.
I wanted to make the most of my first magazine job. I knew it was where I wanted to be and where I wanted to grow, so I set out to conquer. Translation: I did far more than just show up and perform my duties. I wanted to learn, so I got involved in anything I could. My initial job was working primarily for one section in the print magazine, but over time, I became friendly with other departments and jumped at the chance whenever I could participate in something different—whether that was assisting in a photo shoot, helping with an event, or contributing stories to the web.
After writing a few online pieces, I realized that’s really where I needed to be. It’s no secret now (and even at the time) that online was/is the way of the future (especially for editorial), so while still working on the print part of the magazine, I contributed more and more to the site and, again, cold-emailed online editors at other magazines and websites, inquiring about freelance opportunities (luckily I could contribute elsewhere at the time). One freelance gig led to another, which led to another, and all of a sudden, I was building a writing portfolio with clips from some of the biggest outlets in the industry—we’re talking Glamour, Time Out New York, Men’s Health, Us Weekly, E!, and so on.
Timing is everything, and once you realize you’ve learned everything you can somewhere, it’s probably a smart idea to move on. That’s exactly what happened with my magazine career. I learned a ton and knew I needed to move into an online-first environment, so I left my print job, continued freelancing, and landed a gig at Refinery29, where I built upon my online presence, writing, editing, marketing, and video skills in a major way. I grew with the company as it continued to do the same, starting as a fashion writer (churning out content for the shopping section) and eventually leaving as the senior fashion market editor. Like before, I left this position when the time felt right and as a new journey began.
I’d always had the itch to move to L.A. and try something different. Throughout the years, I’d spoken to a few different companies on the West Coast, but nothing felt like the opportunity—until Who What Wear came along. I interviewed for the position in NYC, got it (woot, woot), and after a few months (I started the job on the East Coast to prep for the move), headed West, and never looked back.
At Who What Wear, I’m responsible for pumping you, dear readers, with an endless flow of fashion content—be that celebrity style, trend reports, news, and so on. I also bring this content to life at the helm of many of our original photo and video shoots. Needless to say, I love my job—thanks in large part to the fact that I was able to identify my true passions and strengths as I’ve grown in the industry and build upon them. I identified my love for online writing early on and continue to grow as a writer now. I’ve always loved on-camera work, and I jumped at the first opportunity I could to test it out at Lucky and Refinery29—and am thankful I can hone in on that skill and build upon it in a much larger way here at Who What Wear. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to completely bore you. If there’s something you absolutely love (even if it’s a hobby or something you never really thought you could make a living at), tap that passion, build upon it, and research it. Trust me—you’ll figure out how to make it work and make a living.
What is your dream job? Let us know in the comments below!
Opening Image: Sandra Semburg