I recently had a conversation with a young college grad. She graduated last May with a degree in fashion merchandising from a prominent private college. Unfortunately, the only job she has been able to secure is as a retail associate – a job she also held while in college. She interviewed for a buyer position with a major retailer here in Milwaukee, but did not get the job.
To learn how to stand-out and get hired with a fashion merchandising degree I turned to Mandi Noel from The Cardigan Confessions. Mandi is 24 years old and has a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and a Master’s of Business.
Did you work after receiving your undergraduate degree or go straight to grad school?
I did go straight from undergrad to grad school. It’s not very common for fashion design or merchandising grads to get Master’s degrees, but that’s part of the reason I decided to get one. Anything that can set you apart is a good thing. The two careers I am interested in are apparel product developer and starting my own design business. For both of these, an MBA is a good idea. It’s not a requirement for a buyer, but like I said, it would set you apart, and that’s helpful.
Do you think the above grad needs to move to a larger city? She lives in Milwaukee and has her heart set on becoming a buyer.
As far as the retail job goes, pretty much any job in fashion merchandising requires a certain amount of retail experience. If she didn’t work in retail before graduating, she will most likely have to put in a few years before getting a buyer position. It’s basically like “paying your dues.” Plus, the experience and knowledge you gain is really important to any job you will have in the industry later. Also, it is sometimes easier to move up to a designer or buyer position within a company that you already work with at the store level. I have friends who have become managers at stores and then their district managers have helped them transition into higher positions. As for Milwaukee, I don’t know much about the types of fashion jobs that are available there, but generally, the bigger the city, the more opportunities for fashion jobs. Especially for buyers because many times buying is done at the district level. If Milwaukee is not the district headquarters for many stores, you won’t see a lot of buying positions there. I would say that Chicago probably has the most opportunities in that area of the country.
Anyway, I hope all that is somewhat helpful. I’m not currently working in the industry because my husband is part of a unique program with his job and we’re moving a couple times a year. But I specialize in design, so I’m just doing some artistic stuff on my own for now and am hoping to open a business for myself in a few years.
Another grad is hired as a buyer for the very company my above graduate interviewed with:
Interestingly, as an acquaintance was giving me an update on his daughter – she had just moved to Milwaukee to work as a buyer for a major retailer headquartered here – I realized it was with the very company the graduate from above had interviewed with. His daughter had also graduated in May, with a degree in retail entrepreneurship from the U-W Madison.
What did this graduate have that the graduate from above did not?
According to the new-hire’s father, his daughter’s grades were good, but not stellar. What he thought helped her stand-out from the crowd was her internship. She had spent a semester interning for a prominent retailer in Chicago.
The problem with a degree in Fashion Merchandising is there are usually more applicants than jobs, to stand out from the crowd you need to have experience or qualifications that will out-shine your competition. I recommend the graduate in the above example expand her career search to include companies in Chicago or other major cities. After a few years of relevant work experience, she should then have an easier time finding employment in Milwaukee.
And for all of you Fashion Merchandising students out there, try to secure the best internship you possibly can while you are in college, even if it means living in an expensive city for a semester.
Do you have recommendations for students studying fashion merchandising to help them stand out from the crowd?