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Four top Recruiters’ advice to fashion graduates navigating the current job market

Tips and advice from fashion's top recruiters

In order to land your first job in fashion, you must first impress the recruiter in charge of hiring for the role. However, an interview can often be the first time you interact with these individuals, so it can be hard to know exactly what you should do to impress them. While schools and tutors can give you some advice, it’s always best to hear it straight from the recruiters themselves. 1 Granary spoke with four of the best in the industry to hear their thoughts on how applicants can best prepare themselves for entering the job market in 2020.


Rachel Saywell-Burr, Talent Atelier

Rachel Saywell-Burr is the founder and managing director at Talent Atelier, a creative recruitment agency based in London. She has over 15 years of experience within the head-hunting industry and has worked with major brands, including Dior, Net-A-Porter, and Calvin Klein.


What do you look for when hiring graduates?

Those candidates who are reaching out to people directly, adjusting their CV where needed, and showing grit are the ones who shine through. Portfolios and projects that show an understanding of both commercial and more innovative ideas are also really helpful.

In which areas are schools failing to prepare their students for working within the fashion industry?

When we’ve worked with graduates in the past, it’s really evident who has been taught by someone that has recently worked (and been successful) in the industry and those who haven’t. Making sure that students have access to knowledgeable tutors and mentors who can give real-time insights into what can help get a position is invaluable.

How important is a candidate’s personality on top of their skill set or CV?

It’s hugely important. Having someone you like in the office is going to be far more helpful than someone who is not showing interest in their work. There’s no room for egos; especially not at the moment. Those people who are happy to help across the board, from sketching to making the tea, are the people who are more likely to get hired.

Right now working life changes every day so being an adaptable and open person (even if that’s not necessarily in your core personality) is helpful. Companies want to make sure that, if they bring someone on, they will be able to cope in this fluid environment we’re currently working in.


Valentina Maggi, Floriane De Saint Pierre et Associes

Valentina Maggi is head of design recruiting at Floriane De Saint Pierre et Associes, a leading French consulting firm for luxury brands. The company counts Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci and Maison Kitsuné as clients.


Do you think fashion schools are adequately preparing their students for the industry?

It is always hard to generalize. I think that the best fashion schools are the ones who push students to have their own vision and give them the tools to express it in the best way possible, while also implementing their own skills.

What do you look for when hiring graduates?

Creativity, good design with purpose, impeccable execution, and connection with the times.

How have your values, with which you assess graduates, changed since lockdown?

We are going through such a historic social and political change that graduates cannot avoid to take it into consideration when expressing their creativity through their projects. Values such as inclusivity and sustainability must be priorities in their creative processes.

Which are the areas in which fashion schools are failing to prepare their students for working in the industry?

It is difficult to generalize, but sometimes graduates tend to concentrate so much on their projects that they risk missing the bigger picture: they should always think about the purpose as well as the impact of what they are creating.

What are the most common errors you spot on graduates’ CVs?

Sometimes young graduates do not put themselves in the place of the recipients (who very often do not have much time to go through CVs!) Their CVs may contain too much information that may not be relevant and, at the same time, may not include some essential elements. For example, an immediately accessible link to their online portfolio/Instagram (professional) profile, etc is very important.


Celine Toledano, m-O Conseil

A partner at m-O Conseil, Celine Toledano works closely with creative management and recruitment for the creative industries. She has worked alongside Karl Lagerfeld as a collection director, and in similar positions at Celine and Sonia Rykiel.


Do you think fashion schools are adequately preparing their students for the industry?

Our society is evolving very quickly and mainly in regards to sustainable development and digital and social relations. All of this will impact the overall profile of a creative person. Obviously, each school has to adapt and some do it better and faster than others. The most important thing is that they are very connected to companies. I think it’s a question of adding new tools to the ones students already have, but also of helping them to think and question their creativity in a changing environment.

How important is a candidate’s personality on top of their skill set or CV?

Very important! Perhaps, even decisive. With equal skills, [recruiters] often prefer a young talented designer with a reasoned ego. These people are easier to integrate into an environment where rhythms are stressful and where competition exists.

How can a candidate prepare themselves for video interviews?

The same as for a physical appointment. Knowing the house you are meeting and how to talk about your own work, showing that you are interested in the evolution of the world and fashion. It’s also important to prepare a portfolio that can be shared on screen. Being attentive to your interviewer’s interest in what you are showing or saying so that you can move on to something else if necessary is also key. Be natural!

What is your biggest piece of advice for graduates joining the job market?

Don’t be discouraged, you are the future.


Steph Finnan, Fashion Careers Counsel

Steph Finnan is founder at Fashion Careers Counsel and has over 20 years experience as a head-hunter within the fashion industry. She is also co-founder and director at Creative Search and has worked with the likes of Celine, Saint Laurent and Loewe.


What is your biggest piece of advice for graduates joining the job market?

Finding a job is a job in itself. It can be daunting, tiring and challenging and I often hear from graduates who are a little downhearted when jobs don’t materialise relatively quickly. My advice is not to give up; don’t beat yourself up if jobs aren’t forthcoming or if companies aren’t getting back to you. It’s not necessarily a reflection on your ability or skill set, so try to remain positive (I know this can be easier said than done!) The process often takes a lot longer than expected and, especially in this climate, employers are taking much longer with feedback and interviewing, as everyone is navigating the Covid crisis.

It’s important to be as proactive as possible during the job search – try to do something constructive every day, whether it’s tweaking your CV, portfolio or cover letter; applying for roles from jobs boards; or networking. As long as you’re doing something every day, this can prevent the search from becoming overwhelming.

Finally, the old adage, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ is so true within fashion and design. Graduates shouldn’t be shy of utilising all of the contacts they may have made prior to graduating. Tap up your tutors and course leaders for their contacts. Email or call everyone you ever came into contact with on work experience or placements to ask if they have roles or if they can recommend you. Also, don’t forget to keep in contact with your fellow graduates along the way. Share your networks with one another and recommend each other for roles.

What is the standard entry-level salary and do you have any advice on how designers could negotiate their salary and benefits?

This varies massively depending on location (whether the role is in a capital city or design hotspot) and type of company, ie whether it’s a major corporate or smaller design studio. For the larger corporates in London (ie a major fast-fashion retailer or well-known luxury house) it could be between £22-30k, whilst for a small independent label, more like £19-24k. However, as I say, it is very variable.

What are the most common errors you spot on graduates’ CVs?

Try not to go overboard with pictures, photos, fonts, and graphics on your CV. This isn’t the place to demonstrate your creativity. If you’re a design grad, employers will revert to your portfolio to see evidence of this skillset, so there’s no need to overload your CV. It’s much better to have a clean, pared-back document that’s easy to skim through.

Get the basics right – double check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

What kind of strategy would you suggest for a student to be more employable? Should they aim to obtain work placements at big houses or at small brands where they would have more responsibilities? 

I think either is fine; there are no rules here as I feel that on EVERY work placement there is much to be gained. It’s really what you make of the individual opportunity, what you learn from each experience, and the contacts you make along the way.  If at all possible, aim to try a few placements or internships during your studies to figure out what kind of company suits you best. Different people flourish in different settings and it takes time to find where you are best suited.

Is it better to concentrate on your personal portfolio and wait for a ‘better’ job or take any job opportunity in order to have more working experience in your CV?

When it comes to considering roles, be really open-minded to different brands, employers, and locations, even if they’re not your ‘dream’ job or company when you first graduate. It’s much better to be employed in some capacity, then not at all (especially in this climate). If it’s not your ideal, then definitely continue working on your own personal projects which might be more in line with the brand or aesthetic you would prefer. This is important to keep your portfolio relevant and up to date.