Did you know that after graduating from Syracuse University in 1964, Betsey Johnson stumbled onto her love of fashion while interning at Mademoiselle magazine’s fabric library? Or that Avon Cosmetics’ former CEO Andrea Yung interned at Bloomingdales before graduating magna cum laude from Princeton in 1979?
Yes, it’s true. Before many of the CEOs and fashion moguls of our time hit it big, they paid their dues as bottom of the barrel unpaid interns…and they owe much of their success to these invaluable opportunities.
As a college student, figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life is a little bit like a game of whack-a-mole. Unless you’re one of those annoying people who had it all figured out by the time they were tying their shoes, you probably aren’t 100% sure what your game plan is.
You might have a vague idea about wanting to work in the “glamorous” microcosm of fashion, but without any real world work experience in that environment, how would you really know what part of the fashion world you would fit into? Designing? Public relations? Writing? Buying? Marketing? That’s where internships come into play.
Not only are internships vital tools for gaining knowledge, work experience, and oftentimes, connections that could lead to a real paying job upon graduation, internships are also awesome for figuring out what you absolutely do not want to do.
Here’s a perfect example: As an English major, I knew that I wanted to do something that utilized my writing capabilities. And I liked the media. Ask me to narrow that down however, and I got all fuzzy. So I started off with an internship at a local news station working at the assignment desk. Exciting, right? Actually, I spent several lunch breaks in the bathroom crying my eyes out because I was so bored and frustrated. Watching the producers literally pray for a catastrophe just so that they could have something to do allowed me to cross the world of live news off my list real fast.
Next up on my internship front was a gig at a radio station in London…the BBC of all places, too. But again, after seeing how stressed out everyone was working for a radio show that aired at 2 a.m.(!), I felt there was more out there for me.
My quest to intern with almost every type of media outlet led me to Britain’s Cosmopolitan magazine. The blend of media, fashion, beauty and catty women was intoxicating and I was hooked. From my stint here making copies, going on coffee and tea runs and being made fun of for not knowing that P.J. Harvey was a girl, paved my way to a career in magazine publishing and eventually fashion PR.
One thing that I wish people told me when I was working through all of my internships was that it was completely okay if I hated them, and not to feel bad about it.
While internships are rites of passage to a professional career, they’re also test runs for a happy, fulfilling work life. If it’s not a fit, try not to beat yourself up about it. If anything, chalk it up to character building and search out something else that suits you better.
Today, I am a fashion and beauty publicist with an established PR boutique and I love it. But had I not experienced all of the internships I did in and right out of college, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am now.