If you're hunting for a fashion or design gig in Sydney or Melbourne, chances are you've come across Who In the Zoo, a specialist recruitment agency responsible for placing candidates in their dream jobs across retail operations management, ecommerce, wholesale, visual merchandising, marketing, design, and more fashion functions. Prue Burnstein is Who In the Zoo's star recruiter, and we sat down with her for an inside look at what fashion recruiters really want in an applicant. Read on and learn—this insider advice is priceless.

Do you think a fashion major/minor is necessary to build a career in fashion, or is it more valuable to study something else and apply it to a fashion business? 

I don’t think there is necessarily a better way, as different majors provide a platform to drive towards different goals.

 If you're working toward being a designer (or anything related—production manager, patternmaker etc.) then it's a must to do a fashion design course and, the more recognisable the course, the better the outcome. 

If you are intending on starting your own design business, I am a firm believer in getting a few jobs down before doing this for the experience. I still believe a fashion-focused course is preferable here as there are aspects that will cover business management, depending on your course.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a career more on the business side of the industry, you could do a Bachelor degree such as commerce or arts with a focus on marketing, PR, design, or even in HR.

One thing I would say though is the TAFE [fashion] courses are all changing over to a university degrees making it more costly and harder to get into but, if you do get in it opens up a lot more diversity if you choose to continue your studies at another point in your career.  The TAFE course is also a bit limiting in what further studies can be offered; I did a diploma of fashion nearly 20 years ago and I could continue studies within the TAFE sector (but realistically there is not much to continue with after the diploma). If I want to study anything through university then I have to start from the bottom with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  If I had my time over I would most definitely do a Bachelor degree majoring in fashion or design.

In what areas of the fashion industry do you see the most job opportunities? 

I think there is opportunity for really creative designers. From a recruitment perspective I feel like there are limited designers that understand “creative tempered with commercial.".  If successful brands look for a designer they often want to see a similar aesthetic, but with that extra magic, not just exactly the same aesthetic.  I see this is an opportunity, but also massively challenging and competitive. Also, one person’s opinion of your abilities and design style will differ largely form the next, which then makes it harder to find that dream design job!

There is no doubt in that e-commerce is definitely the industry that is moving and changing.  There are more and more pure play retailers, most retailers or brands would say their online store rates up in their top 5 stores,  and things are only going to change more in years to come.  In terms of what sort of roles this will create, I think anything that specialises in digital – and not just social media managers, or online marketing etc, bigger and more diverse ,  in-depth e-commerce roles.  This is quite a popular area for candidates too although there are way too many candidates that tend to stop at a certain level of skill – I think there will be opportunity for those that have the head for analytics and out-of-the-square way of thinking.

How many applicants do you often expect for one role? 

Roles are advertised for a month—popular roles and entry level roles—and I could get up to 50 applications easily.  More specialised roles you don’t get as many—maybe 20.

What are you specifically looking for in an application to allow them an interview? 

I want to see they have applied for a role that is relevant to their experience! I also want to see that they have stayed in a job and not jumped around—12 months in one role is ok for one job, but if you see this consistently you definitely start to ask why, and so will the client.

I also look for the type of companies they have worked in in relation to the job they are applying for.

What's the biggest mistake you people make with resumes? 

Waffle! People who write personal stories such as, "my grandmother used to sew," and the biggest sin of all sins: Opening up the cv and seeing the headline “Fashion is my passion.”

Where are most of your jobs located? 

Sydney and Melbourne.

What types of fashion jobs are available for recent graduates?

Design and Production Assistants, Wholesale Sales Assistant, Showroom Coordinator, Junior Graphic Designer.

What tips do you have for new graduates?

It is also becoming increasingly expected that students do more than one internship, which I believe to also be a good way to see what happens at the cold face, particularly if you are looking for a job, you might as well do an internship at the same time or whilst studying.

Students need to include everything they learn from internships on their CV, from entering orders to cutting samples, as well as how many hours per week, and how many weeks (sometimes this can add up to a part time job!). Once you secure the first role, this does not have to be so detailed, but when you are looking for that first job this detail demonstrates you are proactive, you listen and learn and are willing to do whatever you can to get that first job. 

It is pretty tough out there to nail that first job, so you have to really sell yourself and your knowledge. 

Also, for inexperienced designers looking for a design role who only have their college portfolio, I often suggest in their spare time to pick three designers, each from a different market (e.g. Dion Lee, Seed and Bonds), and design a capsule collection, including a mood board and colour palette and do about four to five looks. This will demonstrate they are pro-active, they have the ability to understand the differences between the aesthetic of the brands, and they understand commercial viability. 

What's one uniform quality that all most your clients look for in potential hires? 

Solid experience, consistency in jobs and the right cultural fit. In fact, cultural fit is just as important as skill set, which is why it is so important for us as recruiters to meet candidates before presenting.

What type of questions do you typically ask in a first interview?

A client would mostly ask experience based questions and providing specific examples is important. The role at hand is discussed and then a client will generally ask the candidate if they have any questions. Depending on the role and how much experience is required for the role, a candidate may be asked how they like to work (i.e. in a team or autonomously) or how they like to be managed.

What questions should candidates typically ask you in an interview?

Apart from questions that will arise in relation to the role, clients do generally ask candidates if they have any questions at the end. Candidates should research the company well, research competitors, and product depending on the role. You can always ask questions from this research or about the company itself.  Another good question to ask is what is the culture like: This will give you an idea of what the company culture aspires to and, in some cases you will get an understanding of the culture simply by the people that interview you and what style of interview it is, and whether it's corporate or casual.