It’s clear that schools and tutors have a massive influence on the employability of their students. “When we’ve worked with graduates it’s really evident who has been taught by someone that has recently worked (and been successful) in industry and those who haven’t,” says Rachel Saywell-Burr, founder at Talent Atelier. In a continuously changing industry, it’s important that students are taught by tutors who really understand the industry inside and out – as it currently is, rather than how it was 10 years ago. As well as an up-to-date understanding, these individuals will often have contacts currently in the industry who are able to connect graduates with employers, or who can join for guest lectures.
The importance of making connections is something Steph Finnan, Founder at Fashion Careers Counsel also encourages. “Graduates shouldn’t be shy of utilising all of the contacts they may have,” she says. “Tap up your tutors and course leaders for their contacts, email or call everyone you came into contact with on work experience and don’t forget to keep in touch with your fellow graduates along the way.” Finnan makes clear that a graduate who has forged a wider network will be much more likely to find success within the employment market. This, therefore, is something with which all fashion schools should be helping their students during their studies.
“The most important thing is that schools are connected with companies implementing not just a communication stance, but new processes,” agrees Celine Toledano, partner at m-O Conseil. “I think it’s a question of adding new tools to the ones [students] already have, but also of helping them to think about, and question, their creativity in a changing environment.” As fashion embraces digital, and consumers expect more and more from their brands, it is important that schools are able to keep up and give their students the correct tools to thrive in these new environments.
For Valentina Maggi, head of design recruiting at Floriane de Saint-Pierre et Associés, the sign of a good fashion school is that they encourage their students to find their own areas of expertise, instead of imitating other designers. “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.” Graduates should be able to offer potential employers something different than what they already have within the company. There is no perfect route to success within fashion, so schools should avoid a regimental approach to teaching.
What can graduates do to improve their employability? Maggi believes that students should look at their work through a broad lens. “Sometimes graduates tend to concentrate so much on their projects that they risk missing the bigger picture,” she says. “They should always think about the purpose as well as the impact of what they are creating.” It’s easy for students to become so consumed by the success of their collections, that they forget that there is so much outside of the confines of their school. Saywell-Burr agrees: “Portfolios and projects that show an understanding of both commercial and more innovative ideas are really helpful.”
While graduate collections are important as a means to promote work to potential employees, a well-written CV is undoubtedly also integral to employability. It is therefore key that schools are able to help graduates showcase themselves through these in ways that recruiters appreciate. “Sometimes graduates do not put themselves in the place of the [recruiters] – who often do not have much time to go through CVs,” says Maggi. “Their CVs may contain too much information which may not be relevant and, at the same time, may not include some essential elements… they should be as focused as possible.” Maggi’s tip is to make sure a graduate always includes an immediately accessible link to an online portfolio or professional Instagram profile, so that recruiters can quickly assess their strengths and weaknesses.
A preference for streamlined pared-back CVs is shared by almost all of the recruiters with whom we spoke. “Try not to go overboard with pictures, fonts, and graphics. This isn’t the place to demonstrate your creativity; it’s much better to have a pared-back document that is easy to skim through,” says Finnan.
But it’s not just about the content; the impressiveness of your CV is irrelevant if you are unable to get it in front of the right recruiter. “Our clients look for those people taking initiative,” says Saywell-Burr. “Those candidates who are reaching out to people directly, adjusting their CV where needed, and showing grit are the ones who shine through.” It’s important that schools are able to equip their students with the initiative to chase opportunities and to not take no for an answer.