Tips for planning your fashion career (from the experts!)

Guide to Fashion Career Planning

In Guide to Fashion Career Planning, Planning: Job Search, Résumés, and Strategies for Success, authors V. Ann Paulins and Julie L. Hillery cover everything a student needs for a successful fashion career in design, merchandising, or retail—including résumé writing, interviewing, job search strategies, internships and portfolios. We sat down with the authors for a Q&A on navigating the current fashion career landscape.

Which part of the fashion industry do you think is the most exciting right now?

The fashion industry is always evolving. One of the most exciting current opportunities is the ability to be an entrepreneur in almost any area of the fashion industry. There are literally endless possibilities.

Shopping trends are changing, and careers are changing along with technologies and consumer interests. There are more digital opportunities, including customer interfacing with social media. Design and production innovations are leading to product innovations, and customer services are expanding to cater to diverse needs and desires.

As retail stores change in the way they present merchandise to customers, the opportunity for leadership careers in fashion retail continue to expand. A  recent issue of WWD included an article by Arthur Zaczkiewicz citing a retail industry report (“Frontier(less) Retail”) saying retail jobs are a growing market.

What advice would you give an incoming freshman? What about a graduating senior?

Take advantage of every opportunity to get involved in what you are interested in. This goes for both freshmen and seniors! Freshmen should begin building experiences in their field right away so that by the time they are seniors they will have narrowed down their particular interests concerning fashion.

Both freshmen and seniors should always be seeking out opportunities that relate to they think they want to do for a career. Keeping options open is also advisable because that dream job may not exist yet! However, with hard work, and dedication, it can open up when you least expect it. Take every opportunity to get experience, and sign up for courses that sound interesting.

Guide to Fashion Career Planning
Guide to Fashion Career Planning, 2nd Edition

What do you think is the most important experience that students should have on a resume?

Of course, experience that relates to whatever career they are seeking is always important. But even if someone doesn’t want to work in a retail store for their entire career, retail store sales experience is extremely important. It tells employers that the applicant has an understanding of the field. Also, involvement in school activities (especially those with leadership roles) is always looked upon favorably. For students who are working and paying for their own education, that can be very valuable to include on a resume.

What are employers looking for in an applicant?

Enthusiasm for the position, plus a willingness to work hard, do whatever it takes to get a job done and make others’ jobs easier. Leadership skills are always important, as is knowledge of the company.  For example, visit the store several times before interviewing for a merchandising job. You will impress the interviewer when you comment on specific elements of the store and its products. You may be asked, “What would you change?” View the store environment from a management perspective and be prepared to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for becoming a partner

Any interview advice for job searchers?

Research, research, research! Meaning, be prepared to answer common interview questions while also knowing everything you can about the company and position you are interviewing for. Also: relax and be yourself!  You want to find a company that is a good fit for who you are and the goals you have. Don’t forget to prepare questions for the interviewer and always send a thank you note!

If you want to show off  your work portfolio or talk about a special aspect your experience, be sure that somewhere in the interview you can work those things into a response to a question that is asked.

Lastly, remember that you are interviewing the company just as they are interviewing you. Too many times that is forgotten and interviewing is looked at as a one-way street.

For more practical guidance on starting your fashion career, check out Guide to Fashion Career Planning + STUDIO


Dr. V. Ann Paulins

Dr. Ann Paulins holds the B.S. in Fashion Merchandising and Promotion and the M.S. in Textiles and Clothing, both from Ohio University. She also holds the Ph.D. in Consumer Aspects of Textiles and Clothing from The Ohio State University. Dr. Paulins is Professor and Senior Associate Dean in for Research and Graduate Studies in The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education at Ohio University. She teaches courses in retail merchandising and fashion product development with a focus on professional career development and merchandising. She also teaches a multi-disciplinary course titled “Women and Leadership: Roles and Responsibilities.” Her major research interests include leadership and career preparation, ethical decision making by consumers and fashion industry professionals, and consumers’ motives for their fashion choices.

Dr. Julie HilleryDr. Julie Hillery worked in the fashion industry in a variety of positions including management, buying and wholesaling, before moving into teaching.  She received her undergraduate and master’s degree from Ohio State University and her PhD. at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Clothing and Textiles. She has been a Professor at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Textiles, Apparel, and Merchandising and Columbia College Chicago in Fashion Studies. She was the Kohl’s Professor in Merchandising while at NIU and has received numerous recognitions for her teaching including the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the highest award granted at NIU.  Currently she is teaching at the University of New Mexico in the Honors’ College after serving as the Gary Carruthers Honorary Chair in Honors for a year. Her major research interests include student development and best practices in teaching.