How Junior Talent Can Impress a Fashion Recruiter Today

Since the pandemic’s upending of employment trends, from mass redundancies and hiring freezes before a huge re-hiring movement and the so-called “Great Resignation”, the current job market has stayed “in constant flux,” according to Korn Ferry, one of the world’s largest hiring and recruiting firms. Indeed, with weakened global economies affecting businesses, and mass elections contributing to further market uncertainty, companies remain cautious in their hiring.

After all, it’s expensive to hire talent — benchmarking data in 2022 from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found the average cost per hire was nearly $4,700, although many employers estimate the total cost to hire a new employee can be three to four times the position’s salary.

Consequently, many HR teams and hiring managers are reframing recruitment strategies to ensure they find the right talent from the offset. For instance, there is an increasing emphasis on skills-based hiring, looking at what candidates know over past experiences and names on a CV — allowing for a more inclusive recruitment practice while also more thoroughly testing candidates capabilities and potential during the interview process. Recent LinkedIn data revealed recruiters on the platform search for candidates by their skills five times more often than by their degrees.

To discuss how recruiters and HR teams are approaching hiring in fashion today, BoF Careers sat down with JW Anderson’s HR director, Angela Okoro — who has previously worked at Versace, Bally and Ralph Lauren — at Graduate Fashion Week this June. Discover key insights from the interview on how to impress a fashion recruiter as emerging talent today, from demonstrating your eagerness to learn to showing an alignment with business needs.

Focus on the skills you have and want to acquire

AO: You need hard skills, even if you’re creative. So, for design, you need to know Photoshop, because a lot of the concept generation for us, in order to be more environmentally friendly, is done on tech on computers. […] So, it’s important to update those skills. For other roles, it could be flexible, but Excel is vital if you want to go down the merchandising route, or if you’re working in a commercial team, around sales and everything like that.

Being able to navigate your way around tools [is important,] things like your emails — nobody’s got time to show you those things, so I think it’s about being open [to learning,] doing some research and getting some practice before you enter into the job market.

It’s a long game and it’s a strategic game. So, be patient, be flexible, have a bit of a plan. Careers aren’t so linear anymore.

Go on LinkedIn, find someone who’s doing the job that you want; look at their resume and see what you have that they have, as well as what they have that you’re missing. Maybe, while you’re waiting [to land a new job,] update your skills in that area. Because being able to research [is a skill] — and sometimes you get a role with the head of a department who just wants you to do research for them. You’ve got to be able to get lots of bits of information, put it together in a succinct way and present it to somebody.

Demonstrate your ability to learn

AO: I [often] say, “a job is a thing that pays you to learn from us.” Over time, somebody is giving you all the skills they have learned. So, I think people should maybe change what they’re looking for — they should look for structures that are in proximity to learning.

[…] If you’re an integral part of a team of four, these four people are going to transfer their knowledge to you and then you’ve got to make that knowledge your own. That’s what we’re looking for in the interview process.

You’re usually talking to very stressed out managers who need someone to come and help them. […] That’s why skills are important first because if you’re great and you’re nice and you understand fashion, but you can’t do Excel, [for example], it’s just not going to work.

Consider a non-linear approach to kickstart your career

AO: I think there’s many ways to get to where you want in the end — but what I find with a lot of candidates that we interview is that they haven’t actually thought through and strategically planned where they want to go, even as a starting point. I’m not saying you have to understand your end point, but what’s the start?

For people who are creative, we need knitwear designers. You need to be able to knit and crochet, the elements that people aren’t [often] so fond of — but we do need it. It’s the same for accessories — you have to build your craft. Don’t be averse to doing an internship at an atelier, don’t be opposed to production — in that sort of work, you learn how to be in a business environment, you learn how to build a network.

Our head of design [at JW Anderson] started in retail — he went into a brand that he loved and he started to understand what the consumer wanted from that end of the chain. It’s a long game and it’s a strategic game. So, be patient, be flexible, have a bit of a plan. Careers aren’t so linear anymore.

Be open to — and ask for — constructive feedback

AO: When you come into a [work] space, even before you finish your course, ask for feedback about the work, but also [reflect on] your personality — are you okay with people telling you that [something] was bad, that it was not the standard that they wanted?

You have got to remember that you are building into someone else’s vision. The time will come when people will work towards yours, but that’s not [often] what you’re doing in an entry space.

What’s really important, which a lot of junior talent underrate, is how important it is to be nice to work with and to understand that we don’t have time for divas.

So, I find that sometimes people struggle with being given negative feedback and it’s hard because it’s not personal and it delays everything. Then, we have to coach that emotional space that could be quite entitled, if I’m honest. And it’s difficult when we have businesses to run.

Show intentionality and alignment with a business

AO: Another thing is being attentive [to] who you want to learn from and why. Why do you want to be at JW Anderson? Why do you want to learn from Jonathan Anderson? Is there a trait, a skill, a talent, an aesthetic that resonates with you? Because if you prefer Chloé styles, for example, you’re learning maybe from the wrong place, which means that you’re not aligned with the vision of the creative director. […] I think it’s an intentionality of actually understanding what you want.

Impress with preparation, a positive attitude and emotional intelligence

AO: When you do get the interview, do your research, be prepared, share your skills, share your personality and show that company that you’ve invested some time in understanding them, that you’re a good match for the role and you have the passion to do well in the role.

Where skills come into view and what’s really important, which a lot of junior talent underrate, is how important it is to be nice to work with and to understand that we don’t have time for divas. Be kind, be good, be proactive and be disciplined. People are desperate to get an interview, but how are you going to keep the role? We’re not going to keep you for a year if you don’t meet the company’s expectations. It’s important that everybody is working together, thinking about emotional intelligence and awareness of the bigger picture.

We’re invested in what you want, but we’re not hiring you for that. We’re hiring you for what we need. And along the way, we’ll go down the same path together and when you get to the end of the line with us, we’ll be very excited for you and we’ll help you along to the next step.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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