The BoF career series, Insider Advice, offers advice from leading fashion professionals, HR leaders and academics to answer current career questions for today’s fashion workforce, helping to inform and guide you in your career. look at the latest job opportunities with over 2,500 positions on BoF Careers today.
In a professional context, your career progression strategy can help you define and visualize success in concrete terms, as well as break down how you can achieve it, helping you see success as achievable. Indeed, neuroscientific research suggests that people who do so are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve their goals, he states Forbes.
Still, the process can feel “overwhelming if you don’t break it down, because then you just don’t know where to start,” says Carla Isabel Carstens, a former fashion PR executive turned career coach and professor of strategic fashion communication at LIM College. Master’s program for postgraduate studies. “Finding out how to get from X to Y [makes it] it’s easier to outline, understand and communicate strategy because you understand why you’re doing it and how it affects you.”
While there are several frameworks for setting goals, most are essentially similar, dictating a goal setter first identifies their emotional drivers and motivations before creating a detailed, multi-step plan for their next steps, potential obstacles, and relevant solutions before finally putting it in place. all on the timeline.
With fashion being a notoriously competitive industry, up-and-coming talent often can’t afford the luxury of choosing entry-level roles and are forced to broaden their horizons and take on opportunities that may not be entirely aligned with their ambitions just to get their foot in the door . .
“At the beginning of your career, it’s more about discovery [of] what’s out there, how you can apply. Sometimes you just fall into it [a role] not by design, but by default – opportunity arises or a [part-time] work—and maybe you’ll get into your job and want more responsibility,” says Tracy Short, an executive career consultant and coach whose clients include Drs. Martens, Harrods, Levi’s, Mango and Moncler. “In the early days, it’s more about experience, trying new things, getting involved and understanding how things work.”
Senior managers and executives also benefit from actively encouraging employees to pursue their career goals, whether through mentoring or training programs. More than an act of kindness, it has a positive ripple effect in the workplace, according to a study conducted by leadership training and employee engagement company Leadership IQ. The study found that employees with access to formal training, for example, were 57 percent more engaged in their work, and those whose goals were aligned with their organization’s goals were 75 percent more engaged.
In early 2023, BoF Careers sought advice from experienced fashion recruiters, career coaches and academic tutors on how industry talent – both junior and senior – can successfully set and achieve their career goals.
Do a personal reflection
Perhaps counterintuitively, effective goal setting does not begin with writing down a list of desired goals. Rather, it starts with asking yourself why you want to achieve something.
Achieving your goals is not easy and the process requires commitment and persistence, which is easier to maintain long-term if you outline your drivers and motivations from the start. This helps create a stronger emotional bond with the desired outcome, which in turn increases your chances of achieving it.
“Before you set goals and [how to] it’s important to figure out why you want to achieve those goals, because when they’re tied to a purpose or reason, they become more meaningful and easier to achieve and see what distractions are in your way,” says Carstens.
Short adds that “setting goals comes from identifying gaps—what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of. Tune in to yourself.”
This consideration will also come in handy later when you inevitably encounter problems or feelings of frustration. Re-reading a personal statement detailing your starting point and comparing it to where you are now can serve as a dopamine hit that re-engages your motivational systems. To maximize this effect, make sure your reflection uses words that evoke a growth mindset, such as “improve,” “develop,” “over time,” “progress,” “become,” and “grow “.
List your goals, obstacles, and solutions
Once you are clear on your “why”, reverse engineer your ambition and plan the steps necessary to achieve it.
Sacha Milazzo Mercier is the co-founder and director of G&M – a consultancy specializing in the recruitment and training of fashion talent. A trained clinical psychologist, Mercier previously worked in the recruitment department at Louis Vuitton and is a guest speaker at London College of Fashion and Istituto Marangoni, among others. She advises fashion talent to start the process by being honest with themselves.
“[Identify] your skills and expertise and see what you want [to achieve]. You have to be aware of what you are good at, but also what you are not good at, because if you want to reach a certain position, you have to understand what gaps you have to fill,” he says. “You also have to be objective with yourself – what are you willing to do? Fashion is a tough industry to break into and grow in, so you have to understand what you’re willing to sacrifice.”
If you want to reach a certain position, you need to understand what gaps you need to fill.
This pragmatic approach will reveal relevant points of interest or changes you need to make in the short and long term, as well as help you see your goals as realistic and achievable, further increasing the likelihood of achieving them. Stay confident and develop a strategy that aligns your current position—your free time, skills, and experience—with objective parameters such as the current job market and professional standards.
Document it all in writing, because according to research from the Dominican University of California, 61 percent of written down goals are eventually achieved, and those who write down their goals formulate action commitments and send weekly progress reports to their friends. , achieving 76 percent of their goals.
Create a road map
Once you have a clearly defined goal and how to achieve it, create a plan to guide you.
Mercier believes that designing the right path for yourself is done through collecting data and talking to others. He recommends that you look to outstanding professionals and their journeys for inspiration.
“With LinkedIn, you can find out what people are up to [your desired] work, where they studied, what skills and tools they learned, what their expertise is,” he says. “For example, in luxury production it is very important to speak French or Italian because […] many luxury products are still made in France [and] Italy. Learning a new language can take time.’
Carstens suggests creating a timeline that fits your immediate needs and schedule. “If your goal is to get your first job in fashion, I’d recommend taking a break [it] down step by step, either after 30 days or after three months […] Think: what to do [you] do you have to do to get the job? [You] you need a resume, cover letter, references – that’s a month’s worth of work.”
For senior professionals, “first thing [to consider] is what you can achieve at your current company, any leads or ways to get promoted,” says Short. Whether you’re looking to leave your current company or perhaps freelance, you should be looking for a “similar type of environment with more growth opportunities. […] Think strategically about how you’re going to get there.”
Be agile and persistent
As the past three years have shown, staying agile in the face of tumultuous circumstances is the only way to overcome them. When planning your career, Mercier advises to “be open, flexible and ready to adapt your plan”.
Whether you’re just starting out in your fashion career or looking to change direction, things don’t have to fall into place right away. “I liken your career to a ladder. Each role should take you one step closer to where you want to be in 10 years. Sometimes that move might not look the way you think it should, but if you’re really strategic about where your final stop is, you don’t have to worry,” says Carstens.
Take the time to attend an event, gain insight, post on LinkedIn, and reach out. That says something about a potential candidate.
Carstens suggests to those who haven’t had the opportunity to intern, “attend industry events, whether virtual or in person, and listen. [Afterwards,] go to LinkedIn – not Instagram – and write a summary of the event and what you learned from it. Tag people you’d like to meet and then send it to them via LinkedIn. [Tell] they know how much you appreciate it [their insight]and that if there was ever an opportunity to do a 15 minute interview talking about X – be specific – you would really appreciate it.
“This strategy does [helped] several of my clients [book] coffee meetings with C-level executives for consideration. They take the time to attend the event, gain insight, post on LinkedIn, and reach out. That says something about a potential candidate.”
Seek external support
Having a support network at your side during the career planning process is an invaluable, sometimes differentiating, resource. First, it allows for more objective reflection on yourself and your abilities at a time when you may feel more judgmental or critical about these things, and offers you a more balanced perspective.
Additionally, support from a manager or mentor could fuel your progress within your company and the industry as a whole. Leaders don’t always give feedback voluntarily, but you should actively seek it.
“Schedule time with your boss to get feedback or ask questions. Don’t wait for them to give you that opportunity because they may not realize that you are not getting the supervision or mentorship you need. It shows you care, and at the end of the day, senior employees want employees who care,” says Carstens.
Mercier believes that managers are best placed to support the development of employees as their direct supervisors, with the ability to act as a mirror to identify strengths and weaknesses. Still, she advises fashion professionals to seek outside mentors to diversify the range of opinions they receive.
“Our brain works better when we approach diversity, when we get rid of stereotypes. […] Looking out [the company] it gives you access to diversity, opens your mind and forces you to keep looking and discover new things,” he says.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.