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How to get ahead in visual merchandising

How to get ahead in visual merchandising

Visual merchandising is a fiercely competitive industry so climbing the career ladder can be tough, but with the right attitude, knowledge and preparation your next great position can be just around the corner. Whether you are looking to get into that first visual merchandiser role or take the next step, it is worth taking time to pause and think about what you are looking for and how you can get it.

On the surface, being a VM is a glamorous and exciting job. But in reality, it is a lot of hard work and long hours. If you're just starting out you need to be realistic about your expectations. But whatever stage you're at in your career, the best thing you can do is prepare and plan ahead.

What opportunities are out there and where do I start to look?

At entry level most people start as sales assistants and work their way up. Ask to help out the existing in-store VMs or the head office VMs that visit your store to get valuable experience for your CV. You may have to do extra hours and overtime without reward before you actually make it into your first role. Even when you actually do bag the job of your dreams a typical in-store VM’s day will start at 7am and you will often be expected to do overnight shifts to change the layout of stores depending on the needs of the business.

Make sure you're applying for jobs appropriate to your level. There are many different roles for visual merchandisers such as in-store VM, window dresser and creative manager. Make sure you read the job description so you know you are applying for the one right for you.

There are many brands out there so do your research and don’t dismiss the less obvious choices. You may be keen on fast fashion womenswear but why not also consider roles within menswear or childrenswear? It is hard to move between markets or to break into head office once you have established your career so make these key decisions early on.

Writing the perfect visual merchandising CV

There are the essential points that recruiters look for in a great visual merchandiser's CV:

•    Make sure you outline each of your roles clearly and include not only the year but the months you were there. Highlight any contract roles and make clear notes for any breaks in employment. Get your education on there too. Especially if you have a fashion related degree.

•    A great VM will have lots of sources of inspiration and have a keen interest in art and fashion. Make sure your CV details what you personally are interested in and if you write a blog then make sure that is on there.

•    Detail all the major campaigns and projects you have worked on again making sure that it is clear when and where they took place.

•    Even if you don’t have a head for numbers anyone looking to recruit a visual merchandiser will need to know that they are not only creative but also commercial. Make sure you add on any KPIs you work to and try to gather any figures that demonstrate your success!

•    It’s really important to talk about your team management skills. If you haven’t had the opportunity to directly manage anyone then consider if you have coached a store's sales assistants on visual standards. Don’t forget to mention if you are responsible for floor walking key members of the head office management teams when they are in store.

•    Make sure you outline any software packages you can use such as photoshop and indesign, especially if you are going for head office-based roles.

•    It’s also really important to talk about what you have done that can set you apart from the other candidates. Your key achievements are things that you have done in your current and past roles that you are really proud of. Specific examples always go down better than general, wide-ranging accomplishments.

Before the interview

Make sure you have an up-to-date and relevant portfolio that shows a wide variety of your work. Make sure that the pictures are well presented and clear. It may also be worth taking a copy to leave with the interviewer if you can.
It is essential that you visit the company’s stores and research the company website.

Act as if you were doing a comp shop and remember to take lots of notes on the competitors too! If you have been asked to prepare a presentation make sure you do this to the best of your ability and that you fully understand the brief. This is your chance to show off your creative flair as a VM and show that you understand the direction of the business and the customer base. Even if you haven’t been asked to complete any formal preparation it’s a good idea to complete a SWOT analysis. This will help you to really get thinking about the retailer or brand you are interviewing with.

During the interview it is very likely you will be asked to talk through your CV. Make sure you know your career path inside out and be ready to elaborate of all those great achievements. You may also be asked to complete a floor walk or re-dress a floor bay in the actual store so be prepared for anything!

The interview

The day of your interview has finally arrived and you are fully prepared and ready to bag that dream job. But you are not there yet. Make sure you know who you are meeting. Is it someone from the HR function or the creative director? Sometimes during the interview other members of the team may also be invited into meet with you so don’t let that put you off.

Make sure you dress to reflect the brand or retailer. You don’t have to be head to toe in the current range but a nod to their style can show your passion for their business and great attention to detail. Remember all those key achievements you have outlined on your CV and be prepared to elaborate on them. Have some examples to hand to add in if needed!

You will undoubtedly be tested on your creative skills and knowledge so make sure you are up to date with all the latest and future trends. But remember you may also face competency questions such as 'what is the most commercial thing you have done?' and 'what are your current best sellers?' so be prepared.

Finally, it’s really important that you remember that the interview is also your chance to find out more about the role and the company. Think back to the most important elements you were looking for from a new role and ask questions relating to them to help you make your decision.