As the recent Heldrich Center report illustrates, college grads don’t have it too easy finding jobs these days. Sometimes the value of related experience, even if it’s not what you had planned for your first foray into the real world, could be that all-important stepping stone to the job of your dreams.
Emily Drake, a 2012 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, has long wanted to live—and work—in New York City. The textile, fashion merchandising and design major made all the right moves in terms of lining up her fashion career: retail work at Anthropologie, internships at a boutique and Providence Fashion Week. Surely, a job at Michael Kors in New York would be hers upon graduation.
Then recession reality hit. “I started looking for jobs throughout senior year and toward the end I had a couple of interviews in the city and nothing came of it,” says Emily. “It’s definitely hard out there. On LinkedIn, you can see which jobs have been applied to the most, which jobs are ‘on fire.’ You see that you’re competing with 500 people. It’s hard to have your résumé stand out from all the others who probably have more experience.”
Still, Emily knows that in this highly competitive job market, any kind of on-the-job training is gold. In June, she accepted a position with Lord & Taylor department store in Bridgewater as the BCBG shop specialist, in charge of clothing sold under the BCBG Generation brand. Different from a sales associate, she runs one section of the store. “I get corporate look books from BCBG headquarters that give information about the clothes and the colors and why they chose the colors for this season,” she says. “They give guidance on how to set up the clothing in the store.”
Her position allows Emily to use some of her newly minted merchandising skills, such as computation and analysis. While understanding clothes and trends is part of the job, fashion buying is also a highly analytical job that uses extensive math. “I took a fashion merchandise buying class in college, which taught us the math,” says Emily “The job is very analytical, too. You have to be able to figure out why something doesn’t sell—know the consumers, what they’re buying and what they’re not. A lot of people aren’t buying things full-priced right now. Everyone is waiting for the sales. Business is the best at the end of the season when everything is marked down.”
Emily is happy for the full-time work, but admittedly restless. “It’s a lot of customer service and sales. It’s not what I expected,” she says. “It’s OK because I’m getting some experience.”
Ultimately, Emily hopes to be a buyer for a department store, using her time in retail as insight into customer trends and patterns. New York City, she adds, is “where I need to be.” She hasn’t taken Michael Kors off her prospective employer list. “When I applied to Michael Kors, they said they look for people right out of college because they tend to have more enthusiasm. That was encouraging.”