Friday, May 31, 2013
I started my career in fashion as a designer. It was so easy when someone outside of fashion asked ‘what do you do?’ I could easily say ‘I am a fashion designer.’ The reaction was fun. When you tell someone you are a fashion designer, they get excited; start asking questions and look at you with amazement. Everyone knows what a designer is. Fashion designers are glamorous in the eyes of the non-sartorial focused. It was a fantastic conversation starter.
After I switched into merchandising, I began to dread when someone would ask what I do. Before I realized how this kills a conversation, I would say ‘I am a merchant.’ The response from non-fashion industry folks was always: ‘Oh’ paired with confused looks. The fact is that merchandising can be a confusing term to both outsiders and insiders.
For blog readers who are seasoned fashion industry veterans, you can stop reading. This may bore you. If you are young in your career or thinking of entering the industry, keep reading.
You can see how complex the word merchandising can be. Eventually, I simplified my response when people ask me what I do. I now say I am on the product and business side of fashion. This is less scary for people. If anyone has a better answer to this merchant conundrum, please post your comments.
Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at http://www.katekibler.com.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
If you have ever worked for a founder led company, you know how different it is than a company run by a hired leadership team. In my career to date, I have worked for two founder led companies and a handful of others led by a hired leadership team. People have asked which I prefer. The reality is that there are positives and negatives to working at a founder led company, so let’s take a closer look.
Positives: The founder is incredibly passionate. This energy can transform an organization. The vision and mission of the organization are clear. Everyone is behind that leader to build a fantastic brand and product. There is little wavering as to who has the final decision on most matters.
Negatives: The founder is incredibly passionate. This can involve some eccentricities, yelling, and sometimes temper tantrums. Depending on the founder, there can be little room for outside opinions. Revenue and profitability can sometimes take a backseat to ego.
I was recently interviewing for a role in another founder led company. The recruiter asked ‘how do you balance what you want with what the founder wants?” I thought that was a profound question from someone who clearly understood what it meant to work in a founder led company. The reality was that in my youth, I didn’t even think about it. I followed what it was the founder wanted without question. It wasn’t until I gained experience, business savvy and maturity that I learned how to properly work with a founder. Since I have grown, I have no problem talking through ideas and voicing my opinion. I understand that while the founder may have the final say, I can respectfully and intelligently contribute to the success of the brand with my skills. After all, the company hired me for a reason. Once I mastered that relationship, I developed a preference for working in founder led companies. In the end, I love the passion, drive and energy that permeates the corporate culture.
Which company type would you prefer? What have you found to be the positives and negatives of working with a founder or fashion icon? How have you managed your relationship working with a founder?
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
If you asked me 10 years ago what a career coach did I would have had no answer for you. If you asked what value does a career coach bring, I would have guessed that they give you advice and solve your problems. This notion would be incorrect. A career coach helps guide you through your goals and challenges while you solve your own problems and create your own path.
I have been coached and am also a Certified Professional Coach. I can attest to the power of coaching. While the process of coaching can sometimes be uncomfortable for the coachee, the benefits are long term as you build the confidence and skills you need to solve your own problems. From my experience, coaching can transform the way someone thinks.
When I started training as a certified career coach, I went through the coaching process as a coachee. I was struggling with building a business and a bout of unemployment. I thought “how can this career coach help me get a job and get my business up and running?” I had a small experience with coaching a while back, but didn’t quite understand the full value of the coaching process. What I got from the career coach was much more valuable than just finding a job or starting my business.
First, I realized that the time off from work was a gift. Every moment was a treasure. This was an unusual opportunity for my husband and I to travel and live in parts of America we had never been able to live. It was an incredible experience that led me to write a book, create an even stronger bond with my husband, and gave me the time to start my own career coaching business.
Secondly, the process led me to determine exactly what I wanted for my long term and short term career goals. This made it much simpler to target my job search and focus on what I really wanted. In the beginning of my search I threw resumes out to wherever to see what would stick. For the record, that’s not a job search strategy. It was panic. Working with a coach, I did not feel the need to panic and take any job simply because I was unemployed. I had a mission to find a great fit and if it wasn’t right, I would enjoy my time off.
In the end, I landed a terrific job that was exactly what I wanted. For more information on career coaching, go to www.katekibler.com.
Monday, May 20, 2013
I was hooked on fashion at 13 and started working in retail very early to support my clothing habit. It turned into a career in a chaotic industry that I adore! My degree is in Retail Merchandising and Management. My career path has included Merchandising leadership, Retail Management and In-house corporate recruiting. The journey has led to the creation of Apparel Resource a boutique recruiting firm servicing the fashion industry for the last 7 years. We are blessed to work with amazing candidates and clients! Kate (one of those amazing people) invited me to guest write. So where to start? We decided Resumes.
How do you possibly get your entire career story onto one or two sheets of paper? The simple answer is you don’t and you shouldn’t try to. Resumes typically get about 11 seconds of attention. If the reader sees something in 11 seconds that they are looking for, they will stop and read the entire document. In our competitive industry your resume needs to be more than a chronological career recap. Your resume needs to be a marketing piece that showcases you for the unique talent that you are.
The top third of the first page is the sweet spot. Ditch the objective statement. Your killer achievements need to be there. Merchant’s, if you doubled the women’s graphic tee business in one year through cleaning up the assortment…share the numbers. Technical Designers, if you reduced return rates by 30% by fixing the curve in the rise of 5 pocket denim…share the numbers. Designers, if you introduced a product that was a top seller and an entire assortment was built around it…that bullet should be in the top third of the first page. It can be a section called “Career Highlights” or “Select Achievements” with 5 or 6 bullets. Use your performance reviews and your colleagues to quantify these contributions if you don’t have daily access to the financials. Don’t tell the whole story, just the win. You want the reader to be dying to pick up the phone and find out how you achieved these feats.
Below the sweet spot lay out your chronological employment current job first and taking the most space. Key words are very important. Include product categories you have worked with. If I am looking for a denim designer, or a plus size merchant I search with those words. Titles are tricky. In our industry Buyer, Merchant, Product Line Manager, Brand Manager can all be used for one skill set. Know what your target audience calls you and make sure it is on your resume or you will get missed in searches. More than once we have been paid an agency fee by employers who had our candidate’s resume in their database but missed it. The dreaded “black hole” of internet resume submission. If you are applying directly make sure you customize your resume using the titles, key words and jargon that are in the employer’s job posting and increase your odds of getting pulled from the pool of applicants. I will write more in depth about customizing your resume in my next post.
What are your greatest career achievements? How can you write each of them in one or two lines of bullet text? P.S. The best time to work on your resume is when you are happy in your job and having a banner year. After performance reviews is a good time to update it annually. Then should an amazing opportunity present itself, you are prepared. Let us know what else you would like to hear on the topic of resumes.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Tomorrow A Fashion Career will be featuring our first guest post. I have asked Kari Harsch to share her recruiting and industry knowledge with you. Kari works as a recruiter for the boutique recruiting firm Apparel Resource http://www.apparel-resource.com/. I first met Kari back in 2010. Although I have not known Kari for long, I have found her integrity and honesty beyond reproach. She is smart and meticulous. Kari is relentless in finding the perfect match for both employers and candidates.
Because Kari genuinely cares about the companies that hire her and the candidates she works with, I knew she would be a fantastic resource to share with you. Like me, Kari welcomes your feedback comments and questions through the comment section of A Fashion Career. I hope you are as inspired by Kari as I am.
Friday, May 17, 2013
I went to my first networking event less than three months after I graduated from my undergraduate university. I just moved to New York City and my alumni group was having a mixer at a local bar. I was never one for big events, but a friend had convinced me to go. There I met the COO of the corporation I worked for at the time. It was nice to meet him, but then what? What was I supposed to do to network with him? I was this low-level assistant designer. Why did this guy want a relationship with this underling in his company? I just felt awkward every time I saw him. It was difficult for me when I first started as a professional in the fashion industry. I was relatively shy and never wanted to overstep my bounds. I did not understand the value of networking. On top of not understanding, I did not feel comfortable asking people for help or input. Luckily, I got over it. There were a few things that helped me get there.
First, I figured out what networking actually meant. I originally made an incorrect assumption that networking was equivalent to using people I hardly knew to help me get ahead. There was something seemingly evil and manipulative around the word ‘networking’. I have no idea where I came up with that belief. It turns out networking can be whatever you want it to be. For me, I decided I would only ‘network’ with someone I truly wanted some type of long term relationship with. I wanted to make sure I could contribute as much as I took from the relationship. I was also very open to giving without getting anything in return. This helped to change my perception.
Second, as I matured in my career I lost whatever it was that made me shy. Maybe it was all the years in New York City, or giving countless presentations or maybe it was because I was growing comfortable in my skin, whatever the reason, I now have no problem picking up the phone or sending an email to a complete stranger. I often go with the ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ theory.
Third, I realized the value of networking. I will save details on this for another blog post, but the value of my network continues to surprise me. I would almost refer to my network more as a support group. When my position was eliminated at a company I once worked for, I watched my network rally to support me. Eventually, what I would consider my personal team led me to several fantastic job opportunities.
Finally, I realized how much value I could add to others in my network. I can share my experiences and learning with someone else who hasn’t had that same experience just yet. With one phone call, I was able to help a friend fill an open position. If I don’t have the information someone in my network needs, I can refer them to someone else in my network who can help them. It is fulfilling for me to be able to help build connections for others.
What does networking mean to you? What can networking add to your career? How can you build a strong network that fulfills your vision? Where will you look to start building this network? What gaps do you have in your current network? How much are you contributing rather than taking? What is holding you back, if anything, from networking? Where can you start if you haven’t already?
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
For an industry known to be fast moving, the fashion industry has disappointed me with its slow thinking and adaptability over the years. This criticism is not directed at product and style changes, but at process and management. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase ‘that’s not how we do things’ or ‘you can’t do job x because you have only done job y before’. Career progression is often linear. If you start as an assistant merchant in a women’s division, you become an associate merchant in women’s, then merchant in women’s and then maybe you start to look for another job. What you will find is that already, you have been pigeon-holed in your career. You are a women’s merchant. You could easily find a job as a women’s merchant somewhere else, maybe even a senior women’s merchant role as that follows the linear path. It would become incredibly difficult to find a job in men’s or kid’s however. The same is true if you try to switch from planning into merchandising or from retail into wholesale. I could recite a hundred examples of this rigidity. It has always baffled me. First, why would employers want someone who is only interested in one function, division or department. Second, where does this belief come from that you can’t learn anything new in a short or reasonable period of time? Fashion is not rocket science.
When I look at companies outside of the fashion industry, I hear about robust rotation programs. Someone will move from operations to finance to marketing etc. This is how great companies will build their bench strength. There is planning behind future leaders so they know what they are doing when they take the helm. Would you want a leader who understands the challenges in your department? I would. How do you choose where the next CEO will come from if you haven’t cross trained anyone?
On my recent job search, this idea of flexibility was a critical factor for me. On every interview, I spoke of my desire to do something new. I was passed over on a lot of jobs because of this conviction. Most companies want someone who has done that exact job somewhere else. I didn't care about losing on those opportunities. I truly believe that this flexibility and creative thinking is what will make a company successful in today’s tough market. If a company didn't ‘get’ my thinking, it was not going to be a good cultural fit for me. In the end, I landed at an amazing company who understands and practices my philosophy.
How much have you done to map out your career? If you are interested in more than one function, how can you achieve making a change? What companies offer the type of challenge for which you are looking? How can you identify companies who are a good fit to your philosophies?
Monday, May 13, 2013
I don’t know about everyone, but I certainly have been in a place where I felt “stuck” at work. It never lasted long for me because I need to either move forward or move on. I like to be challenged and it’s non-negotiable for me in my career. Once, I had an amazing job at a company with a great culture. The people I worked with functioned effortlessly as a team. It was a positive place to spend my time and contribute. So what was the problem with this fashionista fairy tale world? The problem was the lack of challenge. I had the same job for several years and although I had been promoted, I was still doing the same job. It felt a little like the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing seemed to change. The people who worked for me grew into their roles and became a high performing team. Since my team was strong and I wasn’t gaining new responsibilities, I didn’t feel like I was needed anymore. I was ready for something new.
What could you do in this situation? I endured it for a few months while I balanced the pros and cons of speaking up. Understanding my personality type, I would not be happy in this position long-term. I decided to have a conversation with the president of my division. I was very honest and told her exactly what I just told you. In our conversation I added that I was open to a new role inside the company, but would also start looking outside the company. The president and I talked through some options she had come up with, but they all seemed like the same job dressed up as something new. As things worked out, I left and began a new role outside the company. Some say I was crazy to leave such a great workplace, but I knew I couldn’t stay without a new challenge.
It’s not always as easy as that. In one sense, I would love to have stayed at my old company with a new role and greater responsibility. On the other hand, I knew I needed to move on so I could grow in my career. Of course, I could have taken another approach and stayed with the company and wait things out. I guess I am not that patient.
What would you have done? What have you done? If you are feeling stuck, what are some ways you can move forward while staying in your current company? How long is acceptable for you to feel stagnant in your career? What are your career priorities: i.e. balancing workplace challenges and an easy stress free day? Who can you talk to about your situation? How will you decide when to make a change if at all?
Friday, May 10, 2013
It can be a struggle for people to determine whether to stay or leave their jobs. When you are happy with your job of many years, what would make you leave? Things are good. The company treats you well, you are advancing in the ranks and you are comfortable. On the other hand, what if you have only been in your job for a year or two and a recruiter calls to tell you an amazing company is looking for someone like you. How do you know whether or not to pursue? What is too long or too short in a job? Who determines that? The bottom line is there are both benefits and dangers to both staying too long and leaving too soon. Below is what I have seen in my experience.
It is not the 1960’s anymore. No one expects you to stay with a company for twenty years, but so what if you do? There are lots of perks to working in a company for many years: the stock options, vacation days, and of course the ease of getting things done. Long-timers know everyone and they know how to get things done. Red tape doesn’t exist because they have the process down. Getting that budget approved is a five minute process because they know how to navigate the system.
There are negatives to being a long-timer however. A stigma is often attached to working in one company too long in the fashion industry. Employers wonder whether this long-timer is adaptable. Long-timers have a limited understanding of different management styles, processes, and change management. When someone moves to a new company, their knowledge of the industry expands. You only know what you have studied or are exposed to. Forget for a minute what employers think. Let’s talk about what happens when the long-timer is laid off because the company decides they need a new perspective or some ‘fresh blood’. The long-timer is now in the job market with a very limited network. In this business, connections can be everything when looking for a job.
Job hopping is usually someone who works two years or less at a company before moving to the next company. As I mentioned earlier, no one expects you to stay with a company for twenty years and there are significant benefits to making a change. First, pay tends to increase at a quicker rate. For some reason most companies will pay more for someone on the outside than they would if you were promoted from within. Secondly, a job-hopper has more opportunity and exposure to build their network. Finally, the job-hopper learns new skills and can easily adapt to change.
So what’s wrong with job-hopping? Future employers worry they will spend time to hire and train you only to have that position again vacant in a short time. It is a disruption in workflow and to the productivity of the team. There is also a consideration as to why you are job-hopping. What is it about this person that makes them move so often? Are they incapable of building relationships? Companies also spend money to recruit and hire you. According to the consulting firm, Advisory Board Company, employee turnover can cost a company anywhere between 50%-150% of a person’s annual salary. That’s a lot of risk to take on someone who has a record of a short stay.
So what’s the optimal amount of time to stay in a company? The long answer is, it depends. My estimate is between three and seven years. It’s ok to have one or two short stays as long as you can explain it and your resume is balanced with a mix of longer stays. As for long-timers, if your career has advanced through the years and you were at a successful brand (i.e. profitable and prestigious), employers will feel lucky to have someone so loyal and dedicated.
How do you think your resume looks right now? What can you do to be more attractive to employers? What have you heard from recruiters on your resume? What makes that new job look better than your current job? Please comment and share your thoughts on this with everyone. Especially if you are a recruiter or work in human resources!
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
There is a lot of bad behavior in the fashion industry. It seems everyone I talk to has or had an experience with at least one monster in the workplace. I define a monster as someone who makes the workday miserable with their diminishing behaviors, manipulations, obnoxious attitude, and torturous conversations. For clarification, I will give you a couple examples. I had a boss once who insisted on beginning her meetings with her direct reports at 5pm. That wouldn’t be a big deal if the meetings lasted an hour or two, but they lasted for over four hours. It also wouldn’t have been a big deal if we were busy all day or if it happened once in a while. I have no problem working a 70 hour week if there is a reason. For example, if there is a staffing issue or a new project or just plain old crunch time, I am happy to eat all three meals at work and have a few sleepless nights. These nightly meetings were happening because that was when my boss wanted to work. She would insist that we work those same hours. At another company, the president called a group of direct reports drunk from Hong Kong to tell them they were all worthless stupid idiots. He was yelling at the group over speaker phone. These are just two quick examples I can think of off the top of my head. If I sit for a minute more, I could keep going.
Coworkers, underlings and bosses alike will defer to this one person because of their talent, knowledge or long-standing role in the company. I have seen it first hand and it never ceases to shock me. What would be the reason that a manager would keep someone on the team who is clearly behaving badly? In my experience, there are a couple reasons managers or companies will tolerate this bad behavior.
Unparalleled Skills- The company or manager has the belief that only this person can do the job. Management thinks this person has a talent or knowledge that would be impossible to replace.
Culture Defining- The company or manager has a belief that it will anger a higher up if this person is ‘defied’. This person has usually worked at the company for a number of years and has a close relationship with a founder, president or CEO.
No Idea- The manager sees a very different person than the monster you see. S/he has a different set of behaviors with those that ‘matter’.
In my experience, the monster will continue to get away with his/her bad behavior until enough people make noise or several people leave the company as a result of monster interactions. I have also seen monsters survive in companies for many years despite the company having this awareness. Note to managers dealing with a monster: not once have I seen a company crumble when the bad weed is plucked out.
What can you do if you are working with a monster? What behavior will you tolerate from them? How does management feel about that person? How do you know that the company is aware of what you and your colleagues may see? How can you bring awareness to the monster’s behavior while staying positive and keeping your job? How have you dealt with monster behavior in the past?
I would be very interested to hear your comments so we can learn through your monster stories. I will revisit this topic on a future date once I have some great comments!
Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at http://www.katekibler.com.
Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at http://www.katekibler.com.
Monday, May 6, 2013
One of the critical things people forget when entering the fashion world is the customer. A designer comes into a new business and has a vision. Fantastic. If you’re vision isn't what the customer wants, you are out of business. I will grant you that sometimes the customer doesn't know what s/he wants until s/he sees it. Listening, observing, testing and taking calculated risks can help you find what it is your customer is interested in. What is your customer’s vision? What need could you fulfill?
As a merchant, knowing and delivering for your customer is the key to success. What does knowing your customer mean? How does your customer like to shop? What does your customer want to buy? How often does your customer buy? Who is your customer buying for? How much will your customer pay? Where else does your customer shop? What made the customer choose your product or brand? Giving your customer the right product at the right price at the right time in the right size, in a way the customer can easily find, will surely grow your business.
On more than one occasion in my career, I witnessed the ego take precedence over the customer. In one company, my customer was (on average) a forty year old man making the median American income, married with three kids living in the suburbs. I sat through a meeting where a designer and merchant declared their feelings on a product: ‘I would never wear that’. If your customer is a 40-something man in Middle America, who cares what two twenty five year old single guys with tight cuffed jeans in New York City would want to wear? They needed to get in touch with the customer. Every decision should be made with the customer in mind.
If you want the key to getting ahead in the fashion industry, put your ego on the shelf and focus on your customer. How can you stay true to your brand vision while catering to your customer?
Friday, May 3, 2013
I have a mentor. For me, I like having someone who knows both the fashion industry and me well. My mentor is also well-connected, well-respected and wise. She is more senior than me and has been in the industry much longer. When I am on a job search, I connect with her to talk through my opportunities. While I may know what job I like, I may not be clear on which would be the best career move. When I am unhappy about something that happened in my job, she can talk me off the proverbial ledge. I trust her judgment. She is a sounding board for my challenges and a terrific source of support.
Having a mentor is not for everyone, but the wrong mentor is not for anyone.
I have also mentored and been asked to mentor quite a few people in my career. What I have found is a wide range of reasons people seek a mentor and a wide range of reasons people want to be mentors. Discussing the terms and finding the right fit is something you may want to consider before selecting a mentor. I didn’t understand the importance of this until very recently.
One girl asked if I would be her mentor because she felt that she would never advance her position unless she had a more senior woman in the same company championing on her behalf. For the record, I do not agree with that notion and see it as a limiting belief. (I will cover and explain limiting beliefs in a later post.) My style of mentoring involves helping the mentee gather the skills and information s/he needs to get to the next level or make a positive decision. I would not consider promoting or suggesting to promote my mentee over someone who would be better for the job. I will champion anyone who is smart, full of potential or great at what they do. I don’t care if you are my mentee, a man, woman, Caucasian, African American, Asian, tall, short, young or old. Needless to say, I did tell her this and our mentor/ mentee relationship did not work out.
So before you embark on your journey to find a mentor, consider what you want. What would make a great mentor for you? What are the interactions you would like to have with your mentor? How would you like to interact with your mentor? Once you are clear on what you want, who would be a good match? Who do you respect that can help guide you through your career? How does that person’s value system match your value system?
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It was the night of our annual office holiday party. The air was buzzing. People left the office early to go home and primp. Some even had hair appointments. At the company where I was working, the annual holiday party was a BIG deal. We could expect an amazing gift, fantastic food, great music and a celebrity appearance or two. This was the kind of event made famous in the fashion industry. Excessive drinking and dancing were expected. No one was expected to be professional on these nights; in fact, I think it was frowned upon. Holiday party stories would be the foundation of office entertainment until at least February.
Every year before the annual party, I would take my team out for a nice dinner so we could all coat our stomachs before the real drinking began. It also gave us a time to bond as a smaller team. This was a time that my team and I appreciated and truly enjoyed. They would lay out plans regarding alcohol intake and dance moves. Bets were placed on who would get in trouble with their spouses later that night.
Unfortunately, I had an impromptu meeting with my boss and had to stay much later than expected. My boss was notorious for these last minute, ‘emergency’ meetings and I prepared for the possibility by bringing my party dress with me to the office that day. When my boss first came to find me about this meeting, I was very clear with her that I needed to leave at a certain time as I was taking my team to dinner. She acknowledged this point but later when time was up didn't seem to care and continued the meeting. Eventually, I just got up and said ‘this can wait until tomorrow. I have to get ready for tonight.’ I left her made-up emergency meeting and went into the bathroom stall to change into my party dress. Five minutes later, she followed me into the bathroom to continue the meeting. I answered her questions and she finally left. Five minutes later she was back with more questions! This woman followed me into the bathroom… twice. She was out of control. I promise you that this ‘emergency’ meeting was absolutely not an emergency. My boss had just decided this was when she wanted to meet.
What did I do to let her think this was acceptable? I thought I had created a boundary but my boss just ran right over it like she was crossing the finish line of a marathon. In retrospect, I was not clear enough. I knew this woman and her bad behaviors. I created that boundary but then I let her cross it.
What could I have done to protect my boundary and keep my job? I have thought about this quite a bit over the years. The first time she came into the ladies room, I should not have answered her questions, but let her know I could help her for five minutes after I was done changing and out of the bathroom. By answering her immediately, I showed her that following me into the bathroom was acceptable.
What would you have done in this situation?