Creating the perfect internship program for fashion industry interns that aligns with each of the needs and goals of countless students is never easy. Creating and maintaining one during a global pandemic? Even more complicated. In Fashion Mingle’s “How to Create an Internship Program for Fashion Industry Brands and Students” Mingle Mastermind webinar, panelists discuss the best ways to create fashion internships that work for both companies and fashion industry interns. The panelists, which includes educators, CEOs, former interns, and more, pull from their own experiences in this insightful webinar.
As a first step for creating a successful internship program, adjunct professor and Assistant Director of Professional Development and Advising at LIM College, Eurydice Sanchez, believes that companies must be able to provide the right kind of work. “[For businesses] it’s really about creating meaningful work. That is very important to students, and is very attractive to students,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez works closely with LIM students, and understands what they’re looking for. “Once you add value and create a meaningful experience for students, they’re going to be much more engaged in the internship itself…They’re also going to promote that to others and promote your company,” said Sanchez. And that right there is the goal, right?
Creating Value and Meaning in Internship Programs in the Fashion Industry
A lot of creating valuable and meaningful experiences includes access to leadership. “Producing value can be providing mentors for interns or offering ways to provide a community for interns,” said Sanchez. This can include luncheons, social hours, or just providing some sort of platform for two-way communication.
According to feedback Sanchez has heard from students, conversation and communication are some of the most important parts in an internship experience. “We hear a lot from students that are interning that one thing that makes them feel so engaged and active and wanting to contribute more to the company is when they actually feel like they have a voice,” said Sanchez. Including interns in even simple decision making not only makes them feel valued, it can add value to whatever project or task is being discussed. “We have to remember, they have wonderful ideas,” said Sanchez.
In addition to offering two-way communication, a meaningful internship in the fashion industry will also provide worthwhile work. “Twenty years ago when I hired my first intern I committed to the idea that no intern is ever going to feel like they don’t have value, that their job isn’t relevant and important to the company, and meaningful to them in their future,” said LIM professor and owner of Fashion Dex, Andrea Kennedy.
And just how does Kennedy accomplish this? “I always make sure they have a duty that they take care of, that could kind of run like any other department, of course, you know, with guidance and support,” said Kennedy. Kennedy has both hired interns for Fashion Dex, and helped her students at LIM land internships, so she has seen all sides of the spectrum.
And similar to Sanchez, Kennedy believes that a meaningful internship all relates back to the experience you provide. “If you hire an intern, bring them into the meeting,” said Kennedy. “Let them have a seat at the table, let them listen, because this is a learning experience for them and sometimes, they’ll have great ideas.”
Dee Rivera, founder and CEO of DCG Media, treats her interns in a similar manner. “I want to make sure my [interns] feel like they’re the boss. Hands-on, like they’re in-charge,” said Rivera. “The only way you’re gonna learn is if you roll up your sleeves and get in the mix.” Rivera admits that a lot of planning goes into having interns, but that the best work gets done when everyone on the totem pole feels like they have a meaningful responsibility.
So, while that covers the basics of creating a good internship program for fashion industry interns, the panelists also discussed what goes into interviewing candidates for an internship program. One of the classic questions that comes up in nearly any job interview (and which the panelists stand by), is “why are you interested in this position?” According to Sanchez, this question answers two things, “One is that they’ve done their research about the company,” said Sanchez. “Also, what their interest in the company is and what drew them to the company.”
It is important to keep in mind that intern applicants are often applying to multiple companies. An intern who has done research on the company they are interviewing for, and knows the basics of what will be expected of them during the program, is likely going to perform much better than an applicant walking in blind.
Sanchez also likes to ask interns to discuss an accomplishment they are proud of, even if it has nothing to do with the fashion industry or their desired role. Giving an applicant the opportunity to show their potential worth provides insight for the interviewer, and gives a boost of confidence to the interviewee.
A third important question Sanchez asks focuses on how the internship could benefit the career of an interviewee. “I want to know, is there thought behind this, are you thinking about your future goals and dreams and aspirations?” There has to be a reason an interviewee wants a specific internship, and hopefully it’s more than just getting school credit. Finding an applicant who wants to apply an internship experience to a future career is very important.
And, of course, there are those classic guidelines that interviewers look for. “I look a lot at body language,” said Kennedy. “I try and make sure that they give us eye contact and are not slouching, not showing up late with a coffee, those kinds of things.” As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover, but in an interview, first impressions are everything.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of legal guidelines that go into creating an internship program. According to lawyer Shirin Movahed, “Unpaid internships are legal…but there needs to be a benefit. The intern needs to be the one that is primarily benefiting from the role that you’re creating for them. This is not a ‘let me get someone to do my grunt work for free’ situation.”
We won’t look much more into the legality of internship programs in this post, but if you interested in learning more, check out this informative article written by Mohaved.
One of the panelists to be featured in the discussion was Erica Yanus, a former intern and current employee at Fashion Mingle. Since Yanus went from a marketing intern to an employee, she clearly enjoyed her experience in the internship program. So, what made her experience so great? Yanus said the multitude of opportunities that Fashion Mingle provided her, including ones not related to marketing, made it all worthwhile. “It made it all more meaningful because I was learning things that aren’t in marketing but always come in handy,” said Yanus.
Currently, Yanus is the Marketing Manager at Fashion Mingle, and manages the interns. She tries to keep her positive experiences in mind when working with the interns, asking them “What do you like to do? If you want to learn new things, here’s a project for you. Some internships put you in a box and say ‘this is your task, that’s it’. At Fashion Mingle we do everything; you’re on every task that’s needed.”
This opportunity to learn and try new things is exactly what Fashion Mingle CEO Melissa Shea intended for this internship program. “From the perspective of someone who has a startup, you understand that when in an entrepreneurial type company, everyone has to wear a lot of hats,” said Shea. “So, I really do love giving interns lots of different experiences because you never know when you’re going to figure out ‘hey I’m actually really good at this and I didn’t know it.’”
At the end of the day, Shea and her fellow panelists understand and agree that creating a successful internship program in the fashion industry centers around providing the right opportunities and the experiences to guide fashion industry interns into their future. Sure, sometimes you assign menial projects just to fill some credit hours, but a good internship program has, you guessed it, value and meaning.
“That’s what an internship is really all about, said Shea. “Just really discovering what you’re good at and what you like to do, so you’re better prepared for when you go into your career.”
7 Tips for Creating an Internship Program and Taking care of your interns:
- Give applicants a project. It’s not uncommon for interns to fall off the map and disappear, especially if they’re unpaid interns. In order to find the best fashion industry interns for your company, follow in the footsteps of Fashion Mingle and send applicants a simple project to complete and a deadline to complete it. This can help you weed out applicants who aren’t willing to put in the work.
- Be upfront right off the bat. Interns are generally young students inexperienced with the professional world, and are unsure of what to ask during an interview or their first few days on the job. Immediately be upfront with what is expected of them, including potential projects, how many hours they’ll work, whether it’s a paid or unpaid internship, etc.
- If necessary, provide stipends. While COVID has greatly changed the current work environment, if you require interns to travel or spend long hours in an office, provide some sort of transportation or lunch stipend, especially if it’s an unpaid internship. If you take care of your interns, they’ll take care of you!
- Provide feedback…and ask for it! This is really important. In fact, Sanchez tells her students that if they aren’t receiving feedback, they should ask for it. When the communication can go both ways, everyone can learn something.
- Use collaborative platforms. Platforms like Google Docs are great. They allow interns and employers to collaborate on a project virtually, and in this day and age, that’s essential.
- Give them resume-ready projects. Give your interns projects that they can proudly put on a resume. Even small projects! Being able to say they managed a specific project/task is a great step in getting an intern on a great career path.
- Check in with your interns. Periodically check in with your interns and ask them if the work still feels important to them. As we’ve learned, it is essential that interns feel like their work is meaningful. Continuously conversing with them will create positive relationships that will benefit both parties.
To students interested in applying for a fashion industry internship at Fashion Mingle, click here.
Also from Fashion Mingle comes Student Mingle, a platform for Fashion Mingle members and students to connect, network, post internships, find internships, and more. Check out Student Mingle here to learn more.
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