I am so excited about today’s post! It’s something that I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, but just kept putting it off. But, now that it’s May and the college semester is coming to an end and graduation photos are all over my Facebook feed, I figured this would be the best time to finally provide some internship advice from a former fashion intern…me!
If this is your first time at Live Laugh Linda and unfamiliar with who the hell I am and what exactly gives me the expertise to write this post or even if you’re thinking “what makes you different than anyone else?”, allow me to fill you in.
A Little Background
I’ve been working in the fashion industry for about 3 years now, but it honestly has gone by so fast and I’ve experienced so much that it feels like a lifetime. I started out as a PR intern when I first graduated college in 2014. I worked my butt off (if I do say so myself) and was fortunately hired on as a Freelance PR coordinator and stayed with the company for about 6 months before fulfilling my dream of moving on to editorial. Then, I became the Freelance Accessories Assistant at Teen Vogue, which was an incredible experience and stayed in that position for 6 months. Still with me?
Next, I became the Accessories Assistant at Cosmopolitan and at Seventeen for about a year (which was tough experience to say the least, but taught me so much about the industry and myself). After all of that, I decided to leave the editorial industry and made the move to the retail business, where I now work as the Digital Sample Coordinator at the Victoria’s Secret Corporate Office.
With that being said, during my time in the industry I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve had a ton of successes, but also made a ton of mistakes. I started out as an intern and then moved on to managing interns and mentoring them. So today I wanted to share 15 pieces of advice (and a story or two!) on how to be the best intern from someone who used to intern and someone who used to manage and work with interns on a day to day basis. I personally think this advice can be applied towards any field, but specifically fashion since that’s what I’m familiar with!
Internship Advice From A Former Fashion Intern
1. Be on Time
So simple! And you think this would be a no brainer, but you would be surprised. Especially as an internship continues and you’ve been there for a few weeks, it’s easy to get comfortable, but I’m telling you, do not get comfortable and start coming in late. Unless your boss specifically says to you, “come in at this time” “don’t worry about being late” then do not be late!! Especially working in fashion, things move so quickly and I would honestly start getting emails at 8:30 and needed my team to be ready to go at 9:00. So when you walk in at 9:05 and then proceed to eat your bagel and cream cheese for the next 15 minutes, you are no help to anyone and believe me, people notice!
2. Put the Phone Away
One of my biggest pet peeves as an intern supervisor and something I tried to be mindful of as an intern. I get it, I love social media too and I have people texting me as well, but when you’re at work, be at work. If you have some down time and you’re not busy, make sure there is absolutely nothing else you could be doing because yes it may be a little slow, but when editors and the higher people on the totem pole walk in and see you on your phone, it is not a good look. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been drowning in work and trying to give direction only to see interns scrolling through Instagram or finishing up a text. Put it away, the phone will be there when you get out.
Listening is a skill that needs to be learned quickly and early on. At every single company I’ve worked for and every single boss I’ve ever had, time is of the essence so it’s important for you to move quickly. Most of the time managers are just throwing tasks your way and expecting you to have it done. As an intern, it’s embarrassing to have to go back to your boss because you weren’t actively listening to instructions or having them repeat themselves when you can tell they’re in a rush. As a manager myself, it was incredibly annoying and disheartening to give detailed instructions only to see an intern on their phone and ask you to repeat EVERYTHING. So it’s important to listen and not only hear noise, but to actively listen and soak up information.
4. Always Have A Notebook
This is something that my boss at Teen Vogue (now my best friend) taught me and it has stuck with me since. Whenever your boss or coworker asks to speak to you or if you step into a meeting regardless of the importance, always have a notebook and pen on hand. You honestly don’t know when someone will ask you to do something, give you some kind of direction or maybe you want to jot something down to ask a question later so it’s so important to always have something on hand. And believe me, it will totally impress your boss when you approach them prepared with your supplies and ready to go. Even now in my career, people still compliment me on always having a notebook and pen on hand.
5. Leave The Drama At The Door
I think a lot of people who come to New York or move out to L.A for the summer or semester to intern get so caught up in the idea that life is going to be like The Hills or The City or The Devil Wears Prada. And that they’re going to be the next Lauren Conrad with a glamorous fashion internship and crazy love life and social life. Do you boo, but do it on your own time. When you’re at your internship, BE at your internship. I’ve honestly had interns ask to leave early because they were fighting with their boyfriend and became “too upset to work” or they broke up with a boyfriend or had a boyfriend visit. I’ve had interns who refused to work with each other because of a fight at a bar last night.
We’re all human and we all have our moments, but I think it’s especially important to leave the drama at the door when you’re an intern because every little thing you do is being watched and taken into account whether it be for your final review or if you’re job hunting later on. People talk, like a lot and every job/internship I’ve ever worked at, the staff has always talked about previous interns good and bad. So do yourself a favor and leave the drama at the door and work hard to avoid becoming an office party story.
6. Build Connections With Your Fellow Interns
I seriously can not stress how small this industry is. Whether you’re working in editorial, retail, merchandising, marketing, design, I guarantee you that somebody knows somebody who knows somebody. When I worked in editorial, a girl I used to intern with was a PR Coordinator at a firm we always worked with and I knew I could always rely on her when I needed help or she would come to me for intern recommendations. I have previous interns who now work at Rebecca Minkoff, Fendi, various PR firms and modeling agencies. The reality is, to get your foot in the door is so incredibly hard so start building your connections early on and I guarantee you, most of your connections and even long term friends will be your fellow interns. It’s also great to go into a new internship or position and be able to utilize and bring in your connections. And if there are multiple departments in the company you’re interning for, make sure you get out and get to know other people as well. I was the intern supervisor for the accessory interns, but I loved when my group would get out and get to know the fashion interns or the beauty interns. Also, interning is HARD, this industry is HARD, and you need a support system so be nice and make friends!
7. But… Watch What You Say
With that being said, be careful of what you say. Like I said, this industry is so tough and you deal with so much and so many different attitudes and personalities. I even admit that at times, I’ve lost my temper and said things in the heat of the moment. So venting is natural and frankly it’s just a reality in the real world. But, just make sure that whoever you are talking to, you trust completely. There were so many times where I would have interns come up to me and tell me that so and so said this about me or a fellow coworker. Or I would have interns that would tell me they have a headache or don’t feel good and have to go home, only to hear that they were going around admitting they were hungover. So while I do advise you to build connections and build friendships, don’t be so quick to spill all the beans.
8. Be Prepared To Go Above And Beyond
Okay, different people are going to have different perspectives on this point, but here’s my opinion. When I interned, I had graduated so I was working towards hopefully getting hired. In my intern group, there was another girl who had just graduated as well and three other girls who were just completing internship credit. When I started, I paid attention to the office culture and worked as hard as possible. The one thing I noticed was, no one really took lunch. They may step out for 5 minutes, but no one really took lunch. So as an unpaid intern, I didn’t take a lunch. I packed a sandwich and worked through my lunch. So did the other girl who had just graduated as well, while the other 3 would take a full hour’s lunch. We also finished our work day at 6, but I made sure not to rush out and always make sure that the day’s tasks were done or checked with my boss to see if he needed anything else, while some of the girls tried to leave early. When a position opened up in the company, I was the fortunate one that was hired on full time because I worked hard and really dedicated myself.
With that being said, I think every office culture and environment is different. You have every right to a lunch break (now in my career, I always make sure to take at least 30 minutes to step away), as an unpaid intern you have every right to set hours. But, as I mentioned before this is a tough industry and it’s not a typical one so I think you need to go into each opportunity with an open mind and with the mindset that you’re going to work so hard they’re going to want to hire you. I’ve had interns who never took a lunch break because they knew there was work to be done and I’ve had interns who stayed in the office with me till 9 to help. Preeeety sure that’s illegal, but I respect someone who is willing to give it their all and believe me, people notice.
9. Don’t Complain
So, so, so important!! Not to toot my own horn, but the one thing I pride myself on is being positive in a work environment. I’m honestly not lying when I say that each and every internship and job that I have ever had, my boss has always commended me for being positive. Let me tell you why I think it’s so important. Remember when you were in high school and freshmen year you complained about the work load and life being hard. Then you became a sophomore, junior then a senior and you look back and you’re like damn, freshmen year really was the good life. I think the same goes for a work environment. Yes, as an assistant or junior level employee I am stressed and have a lot on my plate, but so does my boss. Complaining about each and every last thing isn’t helping anyone and it’s just adding more work onto someone else’s plate. I’ve had interns who complained about every single last thing. Regardless of how nice or how much I offered to help, they would complain about the amount of work, the hours, the weather, smalls tasks, other people, everything and anything. Honestly, it stressed me out and gave me work so just don’t be that Negative Nancy.
10. Talk To Your Boss
Being an intern is hard. If you’re interning during a school semester, you’re balancing work and school and if it’s the summer you have a limited time to experience everything. I can tell you that as someone who managed interns, it was so easy for me to be caught up in my role and responsibilities and what I needed that I didn’t realize what my interns needed. So, I strongly stress this, talk to your boss. Schedule time to sit down with them and share what you hope to get out of this. With that being said, don’t walk in on your second day and say you want to run things cause it’s not happening. Let me give you a few examples….I had an intern who was taking 18 credits, had extracurriculars, and traveled almost 2 hours into the city for this internship. At one point she broke down and shared with me that it was becoming too much for her and that she thought she was letting me down. The reality was, she was one of my best girls! I really appreciated that she shared that with me and I worked with her in managing her hours and I also realized that I needed to be more vocal and give credit and praise where it’s due.
I also had an intern who wanted more responsibility and felt as if she wasn’t really learning anything. Had I known that, I would have worked with her and come up with a plan. Instead, she went behind my back and straight to the Fashion Director where she said her time was being wasted and she wasn’t really doing anything. It became a messy situation for everyone involved and it was incredibly awkward. Whereas, I had one girl who was interested in the fitness and health aspect of a magazine and she wanted to talk to one of the editors and asked me how to go about it. I then reached out to the editor and set up some time for them to talk which led to my girl being able to work and pitch ideas with this editor for the remaining of her internship. Both girls wanted more out of their internship, but one came and talked to me and one didn’t so two very different outcomes. So, just don’t assume that your boss knows what you need or is aware of what’s going on because they may be so caught up in their role and it’s important for you to share!
11. Value Your Own Time
So, I know I’ve talked a lot about what you should do at your internship and how you should act, but the reality is, this internship is for you! Yes, you are there to help and support, but more importantly, you are there to learn! The semester flies by and feels so short so make sure you make the most out of it. Don’t call out sick unless you really are because it’s such a disappointment, especially if you’re just hungover. If you have any free time, don’t immediately start texting or going on Facebook or Pinterest, see if there is something you can do. As an intern, I would go to my boss first and see if he needed anything and if he didn’t I would ask around the office to see if anyone needed help. When I was being considered for the position at the PR Firm, I had people backing me up and vouching for me even though I never worked with them just because I had offered to help. And when I worked at Teen Vogue, I would always organize the closet or try to put a organizational system in place to make our lives easier. Just make the most out of your time and make sure that when the internship finishes that you’re walking away with everything you wanted and hoped for.
12. Pick Up On Social Cues
I’m the type of person that loves to have fun at work. I’m joking and socializing with everyone. But, there is a time and place for everything and I think it’s important to learn how to read a room and a situation early on. When I interned, I would socialize with my fellow interns in the showroom and joke around. But, when a coordinator or account executive walked in, I was ready to go and help out in anyway. I also hated this about one of my old jobs, but I do think it’s worth adding. So, I had a boss that believed that interns shouldn’t speak unless spoken to and should really stay out of the way. Like I said, I HATED that and I don’t agree with it at all. But, the reality is that was what my boss wanted and there are some places that are that way and you need to learn to go with it. So, if you notice your boss gets super serious or the room gets quiet when someone higher up walks in, pay attention to that.
I once had the Today show filming in my accessories closet and the crew needed silence and us out of the way and I had one intern who just kept walking in and trying to get in the shot. Or I had the Editor-In-Chief walk into my closet and one intern just kept yelling and talking loudly to another one as I was trying to listen. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you and how people are acting!
13. Be Professional
Listen, I’m not the pinnacle of professionalism, but there is a fine line you should pay attention to. If you work in the fashion industry, there is a chance you may be dealing with celebrities and high profile clients. Don’t stare or tweet or give out any secrets! When I worked at Cosmo, Kylie Jenner came into the office. Yes, exciting, but we’re at work and unfortunately you can’t be a fan right now. As staff, we were told to go about our business and yet I had interns sticking their head out of the office and trying to take pictures. It’s embarrassing and remember as an intern your actions fall on your boss who takes the blame who then fills out your evaluation at the end of it, so watch out! Also, be mindful of the conversations you have at work. I’m not a prude in anyway and I want you to live your life, but I also don’t think I or anyone else in the office needs to hear about “how drunk you got last night” or about your hookup or the fact that he didn’t call you back. Save it for happy hour.
14. Be Curious, But Do Your Research
My old Fashion Director once gave a group of interns an amazing piece of advice and it’s always stuck with me. She said that she was always happy to take time out and sit down with anyone to talk to them and answer questions, but that they should do their research first. So, if the information is out there, then don’t ask it! And I think that’s amazing. If you get to meet or work with someone you admire and you get the chance to talk to them, don’t start with “how did you get your start?” because chances are they’ve done an interview before and the info is out there. Get original and don’t waste their time!
15. Come With Solutions Not Problems
Last but not least, probably one of the most important piece of advice. I talked about how quickly the day goes by and how busy your boss is and how you shouldn’t add more onto their plate and this goes hand in hand. I think it’s important to ask questions for clarification and you shouldn’t be afraid to do so, but with that being said, make sure you really think a problem out before you go running to your boss. I’m not lying when I say that I’ve had an intern come to me, in the middle of me planning the Paris Fashion Week schedule for my boss to tell me the stapler was out of staples. Right next door we had a supply closet, we also had supplies in a drawer and she had been there for a month at that point. Problem Solving is honestly such an amazing skill and it takes time, but you need to be active with trying to master it.
When I interned, anytime I had to go to my boss and ask for help, I would pay attention to what they were doing or saying so that the next time I had a problem I could apply that to fix the situation and eventually you have this inner rolodex of knowledge on how to handle pretty much everything. As an intern supervisor, I would tell my group, make sure you do xy and z before coming to me. So, when they did come to me for help and I was ask if they did xy and z and the answer was no, it was disheartening. Yes, I’m busy, but I’m willing to help you, but not if it means doing something you are capable of doing and something you know you should have been doing. If you don’t know what to do, tell your boss I did this and this and I’m not sure what’s next or tell them what you think you should do but are unsure if that’s right just to get some feedback. But, always, always, always approach your boss with a solution, not a problem.
Wrapping It Up
That was a long one!! But, I really hope you guys enjoyed it and found it helpful because I really did have fun working on it. I get so many emails asking for career advice so I’m hoping that this will help. If you walk away with anything from this post, I hope it’s this…. be positive, be nice, work hard, use common sense, be open to the experience, people around you notice everything and they talk and truly give it your all.
Thank you so much for reading. Have a wonderful weekend! I’m so excited it’s Friday, this week dragged on!!