Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Building a strategy

Not to sound like an arrogant character from a 1990’s movie, but I have had a problem with strategy in the fashion world since I completed my MBA. Most executives in fashion do not know the difference between a tactic and a strategy. It is an essential responsibility of any executive, merchant, or sourcing role to build and execute a solid strategy.

I admit to sometimes interchanging the words inappropriately myself on occasion. When building a strategy however, it’s a good idea to be clear on the difference between the two. I could write more on the subject, but would rather point you to a person  I would consider the expert. I strongly encourage you to read Michael Porter’s “What is Strategy?”.  Here is the link to purchase: You could also Google it and find it for free, but I do not want to support piracy. It’s worth the $7.00.

If you have followed my advice and read “What is Strategy?”, how as it changed your view of strategy? What can you do to build a strategy with supporting tactics? How successful have you been in building strategies in the past? Who have you worked with in the fashion industry who builds and implements successful strategies? What has made those strategies successful?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, June 24, 2013

The interview bag

There are some basics on what to bring when interviewing in the fashion industry. While some people over-prepare, some under-prepare. On more than one occasion I have had a design candidate show up for an interview with me without a portfolio. Interview over. Every candidate should bring a couple copies of their resume, but every designer must have their portfolio. That’s a short list of must haves. The list of nice to haves can be much longer.

If you are a merchant candidate and really want to set yourself apart, maybe bring a market analysis. Something physical to show you understand the brand, the competition and the major challenges facing the market will show you are really excited about the position and company. This gives you a leg up on other candidates.

 For a production /sourcing candidate, perhaps bring a brand analysis. What is the major line of business for the company you are interviewing with? Where are they producing their products? How are their price points relative to competition? How could you do better? For example if you are interviewing with a denim company, have you looked in labels to see where they produce? What are the washes, quality of denim they are using? A report suggesting how you could do even better and what costing you could achieve is a great way to set yourself apart from other candidates.

For a designer, what could enhance your portfolio? I have had candidates bring large sample bags and set up presentations. I have also seen people go the extra mile with an additional digital presentation. When I see someone get that excited and take the extra step, I tend to get excited about them.
Of course all of the above nice to haves are above and beyond the call of the interview duty. If done incorrectly, an extra like this could hurt your chances of landing that job. If done well, you will be top of mind for the brand.

What’s in your bag when you show up for an interview? If you are really excited about a company, what could you do to go the extra mile? If you only bring must haves on an interview, what’s holding you back from doing more?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interview reform

I’ve thought a lot about interviewing lately as I was recently knee deep in a job search. It took a couple of interviews to feel like I was back in the game. I was prepared for behavioral questions, situational questions and of course, I was ready with my story. If you are out of the interview scene for a while, the preparations can take some time.  Once I was fully prepared, I felt great. And then… I told my story over a hundred times. That may sound like an exaggeration, but if you think about the interview process for just one job. A single job. First, you speak with a recruiter from an outside agency. Unless you have a close relationship with this recruiter, there are usually two calls. If all goes well, you make it to the next round with the company’s internal recruiter, then company human resources, and then maybe a hiring manager. All of this has happened over the phone. Next, you meet in person for an interview. During your onsite visit, you meet with 3-15 people (yes, I had a two day fifteen person interview at one company). Let’s stop and do a little math: 8-20 times of telling your story for one company. Let’s say you explore with 5-10 companies on your job search. That means you are telling your story 40-200 times. Seriously.

First of all, this is almost impossible if you have a full time job. Second of all, it is exhausting. I know that I blew a couple interviews simply because I was tired of telling my story. I felt like a robot. Next, most people tend to ask the same interview questions.  Even worse, the candidate usually has to go through their story before even understanding if the job is really what they want. Details are vague until you pass the story phase. Finally, I’m not sure the interviewer really gets to know the candidate and vice versa. I have been on the other side of the table and wonder how many great candidates I may have passed on because they didn’t have a compelling, exciting story.

So what can be done?

Here’s my idea: video. Wouldn't it be great to just make one awesome video of yourself telling your career story, best accomplishments, biggest challenges, etc. Electronic confidentiality agreement and password protected. The recruiter could watch and if interested, move on to the in-person interview stage- and really get to know a candidate through a powerful line of questioning. On the other side, if a recruiter starts to watch the video and realizes the candidate is a bad fit- stop watching. Everybody saves time and can focus on finding a good fit.

It may be a little far-fetched, but it would be great to find a new way. What are your thoughts on the interview process? How many times have you told your story? For those conducting interviews, how  do you feel about the interview process? What are your ideas for interview reform?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Don't push submit and wait!

On June 3rd we talked about customization of your resume.   Now that you have created a version of your resume for a specific job….what next?  Before applying online,  print your resume.  Proofread it  first thing in the morning the old fashioned way:  marking any errors with a pen.  For some reason errors are easier to spot when reading a hard copy.  Make sure your spacing is consistent and the document has a good visual balance.  Check your font size, punctuation, indents and tabs to make sure things are lined up where they are supposed to be.  Check your grammar and spelling.  Spell check is NOT a catch all.  A long time ago I read a resume for a stock room manager that said:  Shit custom packed boxes for inter-store transfers.   Print and proofread.

Resumes should not contain fancy graphics or pictures without testing how they look when sent electronically to both macs and pcs.  Here at Apparel Resource we have received resumes that were beautiful on the sender’s desktop but a hot mess on ours… the formats can get jumbled.  As a general rule graphics should never dominate the text.

Once you have edited your resume and you have a final draft, you are ready to submit.   If you are applying on line, follow up.  Don’t push submit and wait.  If the company you are applying for is well known, based on odds you will get an auto reply and nothing more.  I used to recruit internally for a fortune 500 retailer.  We received more resumes for every opening than we could read.  So we used key words to filter.  Use your professional network, LinkedIn, Google or other resources to find the Corporate Recruiter and or potential Hiring Manager.  Once you have their contact information, follow your resume submission with a direct contact via email, a LinkedIn message, or a phone call.   All corporate headquarter phone numbers are public.  You can call during business hours and go through the corporate operator.  Many have name directories after hours and you can capture the extension and call directly the next day or leave a message.  Practice what you intend to say out loud several times before making this call.  I guarantee it will sound much better.  How many times have you had to re--do your out of office messages because you hadn’t really thought about what you needed to say?  Smile while you speak it gives your voice more energy.

Print and Proofread.  Do some tests and email your resume to friends and family to make sure they transmit as you intend.  Once submitted online…follow up with a direct contact. 

Let us know if as a hiring manager you have ever read a resume with errors.  Did you edit the candidate?  Think about your network.  How could you find the hiring manager or internal recruiter at the employer you are interested in working for?  Do you know someone that works there?   Do you think a direct email or a phone call is more likely to get a response?

To find out what job opportunities we are working on contact:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Check your stress

What keeps you calm and focused? How could knowing that keep your career on track? There was one period in my career where I was stressed. It wasn’t regular stress, it was high stress. I did and didn’t recognize it. I knew I was in a stressful situation, but I didn’t know how much it was affecting me. It wasn’t until someone who worked for me pointed it out. She indicated I was not myself and had been overly critical. I was happy she was comfortable enough to tell me the truth. I needed to hear it from her.

When she gave me the feedback, I listened and accepted it. I thanked her and let her know she was right and I would correct it. I wasn’t able to change the stressful circumstances overnight, but I could change my own behavior. What did I need to stay calm and focused? Where did I feel the happiest? For me, the answer was easy. I find my peace in exercise; specifically running, swimming or yoga. I realized that my stressful situation was taking up so much of my time that I stopped exercising. I let the stress take over.

Although I had a lot to do during the work day, I became twice as productive and pleasant by carving out that hour to exercise; before work, after work, lunch time. It had to be a priority for me.

How can you keep yourself in balance? Who can be your trusted co-worker to tell you when you are not yourself? What activity keeps you focused and calm? How can you keep your stress in check?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, June 10, 2013

Coach or consultant?

Many people do not know the difference between a career coach and a career consultant. While both can help with your career, they hold very different functions. A coach helps you figure out you while a consultant tells you what you need to know. Both can be tremendously valuable to your career, but think about what you need before hiring one. Here’s some more detail on each of the functions.

Career Coach- Coaching is a process that begins by understanding your vision. What do you want in your career, in your life? About 50% of the people I talk to do not know their vision. Once a vision is clear, the coach will probe you, finding actions to bring you closer to your goal. The coach can free your thinking and empower you to solve your own problems. Be aware that many who call themselves coaches are not trained as coaches and act more as consultants. The industry is not regulated, so it is legal for someone to call themselves a coach without training or using coaching techniques.

Career Consultant- A consultant will answer your questions. If you already know what you want and where you want to go, the consultant should be able to give you guidance and the information you need to make progress. The consultant shares his/ her expertise with you so that you can gain from the knowledge s/he has collected over the years. If I was to hire a consultant, I would want to make sure they have technical expertise in the area of my interest. I would also look for someone who has been where I want to go or had done something I want to do. As with coaching, there is no training or credentialing required to call yourself a consultant.

Both coaching and consulting can be a valuable tool depending on what type of support you are seeking. Before hiring either be clear on why you chose to hire someone and make sure that person will get you where you want to go.

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lost in the wind

Have you ever worked with someone who is smart and used to do a great job but all of the sudden you realize they haven’t done anything of value lately? What were the circumstances? A few years ago, I started with a new company and inherited a direct report. We will call him Gerry (not his real name). In our first meeting, Gerry gave me his history within the company. He had like eight bosses in as many years. He was shuffled from job to job, division to division with little or no support. It was clear that Gerry was frustrated by all of the moves, was skeptical about his future, and wanted stability in the workplace.

I later discovered Gerry’s co-workers saw him as a problem. I had to investigate what this meant. Gerry’s peers described him as diminishing and inefficient. Those are two pretty bad descriptors. I wasn’t sure what to think. If that was Gerry’s personality, I didn’t want him on my team.

Over the next couple of days, Gerry and I met to discuss his future and the future of our department. We talked about organizational structure, responsibilities, but most importantly I shared the feedback from Gerry’s peers. We had a very candid discussion about how people perceived him and my expectations for the team I would be leading. Gerry listened intently and in turn I listened to his point of view. This conversation opened the door for me to understand what Gerry needed to be successful. He needed clear direction, stability and support from his leader. Gerry admitted that his work ethic and attitude may have slipped as he was feeling marginalized over the years. He was mature, smart and dedicated to being successful in the company. I watched his performance and relationships radically improve over the coming months. He led his division from zero to hero in the matter of a year. It was a fantastic transformation.

What can be learned from this story? First, no one had ever learned what it was that motivated Gerry. He was floating and needed a sense of place.  This lost in the wind feeling grinded down Gerry’s motivation and enthusiasm. The second problem was that no one had ever expressed their discontent to Gerry. As a manager, you are not doing someone a favor by holding your tongue. Feedback is an important mechanism for growth and help builds self -awareness. What’s worse was that Gerry’s reputation was scarred from this period of being lost in the wind. It took him a long time to rebuild trust with his peers.  

How can you take ownership for yourself if you are the one lost? How can you understand motivation for yourself and your team? What drives you to succeed? What do you need in order to be successful? Who can you talk to who will give you honest feedback? How can you ensure you stay motivated?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, June 3, 2013

Resumes – One size does NOT fit all!

On May 20th (my first guest post on Kate’s Blog) we promised more on resume customization.  A resume should be a fluid document tailored for each position and company. Homework needs to be done before submitting your resume.  The same key does not work on every door.

Titles vary depending on the company.  Merchant, Buyer, Product Manager, Brand Manager, Product Line Manager and Category Manager can all be titles for similar roles (check out more merchant titles from Kate’s May 31st post).  If you are a Merchant applying at a company where the same position is titled as Buyer, what can you do?  You can’t misrepresent your current title but you can use a slash: Merchant/Buyer.   You can also use a headline under your name that captures your current title and the title you are targeting.

Kari Harsch

Recruiting - Talent Acquisition - Executive Search

Product category, language and customer should be termed accurately.  Plus Size can be called Plus, Extended Sizes, or Women’s.  Sometimes it is accessories and sometimes it is Non Apparel.  Does the company use the term Children’s, Kids, Youth, Tween, Juniors, Little Girl, Girl etc.?  Make sure your resume language matches the job posting. 

Carefully review the job description of the role you are targeting.  Almost all postings include responsibilities and skill requirements.   Address each of these responsibilities with your success in that discipline.  For example a posting states:

·         Drive product development timelines to ensure calendar deliverables and dates are being met.

If you are able to quantify past success in this responsibility it should be a bullet.  For example:

·         Shortened the product development timeline 2 weeks in swim by coordinating first fitting with key vendor present.

Skill Requirements can be more challenging because they tend to be less measurable.  For example the posting reads:

·         Attention to detail, follow-through and organization skills are critical.

Potential resume bullet:

·         Drive 150 styles from concept through top of production approval working with a cross functional team of 6 and 15 external vendors, meeting all calendar deadlines through attention to detail and follow up.

Be careful that your resume doesn’t read like a posting but communicates your actual performance/contributions related to your responsibilities.   Include all relevant product categories you have worked on.

Most companies share a lot of corporate culture information on their career sites, their LinkedIn and Facebook pages.  Reading this information will help you write your resume in a tone that fits their values and culture.  While it might seem easier to write one resume, the extra time you invest will increase your odds of being contacted for further discussion.

Have you ever applied for something that you were confident you were a great fit for and never had the chance to speak to anyone?  Are their additional steps you might have been able to take?  We would love to hear about your successes and challenges regarding your resume as a first step to winning an interview.

In my next post June 17th,  I will discuss how to follow up once you have submitted your resume to an employer.

You can always see what open roles we are recruiting for at