“How do I pursue a career in the beauty industry?” That is arguably the most common question I get on social media and when I host instore events. There are so many talented beauty enthusiasts around the world who would love make their love of makeup and fragrance into a rewarding career. But they often have no idea where to start. So I thought I’d share my best beauty career advice. “It is important in life to follow your passion. You must find something that you really love and make that your life’s work.” That is advice that the late New York fashion designer Oscar de la Renta shared with me one summer afternoon while he gave me a tour of his remarkable Connecticut gardens. He had in fact started his career assisting beauty entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden accompanying her to social events in New York City. Few know that, according to instructions in her will, she was buried in a special outfit that Oscar crafted for her just before her death. “I’ve had the great fortune to dress so many incredible women and I’ve worked hard to achieve my success.” He told me that all the hard work was worth it because he was doing something he truly loved.
Donna Karan told me the same thing in an interview years ago. She said that when she starts designing, the fabric speaks to her. It tells her what shape and silhouette it will be. “I know it sounds crazy but I’ve learned to just go with it. I start draping the fabric on the model and the fabric dictates the shape.” She told me she is often asked to speak at university commencement ceremonies and she too encourages graduates to follow their dreams. “It takes hard work. But it leads to a rewarding life.”
If beauty is a true passion for you, then listen to your heart and find a way to make it a part of your life. You are going to spend the better part of four decades working 40-hour weeks, so you might as well do something you enjoy. And to be truly successful, you need to find something you love. My most important piece of advice is to follow your heart in life.
I wish that someone had told me years ago that you have to try a job to see if you truly love it. Students are under so much pressure these days to clearly identify their career paths and job goals at younger and younger ages. I’m here to tell you it is okay not to know exactly what you want to do with your life. It’s okay not to know at 17 what you want to do. You truly won’t know the best job for your until you try it. And if you hate it, it’s only a job. You’ll find another one.
Let me explain how I learned this. After graduating from university with a bachelor of arts in communication studies, I decided to take a one-year public relations certificate course at a college. I loved the classes and decided that I wanted to work for a big PR agency in downtown Toronto. I landed an internship at a multi-national company that had sleek offices in a tall office tower. I remember walking into the chic lobby and spotting offices decked out in the most modern décor. My first task was to call journalists across the country to see if they would be writing stories about a cookbook published by a garbage bag brand. I hated it. I knew after the first week that I did not want to work for a PR agency.
Then I thought, I’ll work for a charity. That would be more rewarding. I’ll get to help people and build a communications career in the not-for-profit sector. I found a job working for the Cancer Society and was put in charge of coordinating events to thank volunteers. That was really fun until the job was axed due to budget cutbacks. It’s funny as my first introduction to beauty companies was approaching them to participate in some of these events.
From my last job, I knew that I enjoyed special events and writing about them. So I landed an entry-level job at a department store coordinating events. I had met a woman during a summer job who worked in radio promotions and she tipped me off that the job was available. It was a good idea that I let everyone know I was looking for a job like this. This was a job I truly loved and even though I didn’t make much money, I loved it. So to all those beauty bloggers finishing school wondering what they want to do: don’t worry. Try a few jobs until you find the one that you love. You won’t truly know until you try.
If you can’t change jobs due to circumstances in your life, here is a great trick I learned: find a way to incorporate your love of beauty into your current one. If your company has a charity committee, offer to plan a beauty fundraiser. Or be the one to plan a lunch and learn day where a beauty company comes in and teaches staff about the best makeup for the workplace. You’ll start meeting people in the industry. In Canada, the Look Good Feel Better charity hosts an annual gala fundraiser in November of each year and they are always looking for volunteers. You’ll meet people in the beauty industry and gain great experience.
I also think it is great to join any professional organization you can. CEW or Cosmetic Executive Women (men are welcome to join too) is an industry organization that hosts professional development sessions in the United States but also has great online resources. This is an excellent tool to get to know who the key professionals are at each beauty company. If you can, volunteer on one of their committees. The experience is invaluable. I also recommend subscribing to Women’s Wear Daily (wwd.com) to keep up on the latest news in the industry. WWD still gets most of the launch scoops first.
When starting your career in beauty, plan to pay your dues for two years before you expect to earn good money. Terry Darland, who runs Dior’s beauty business in Canada and the United States started off working part-time on a beauty counter. So did Shelley Rozenwald, SVP of Beauty at Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor. They’ll both tell you to forget about salary when you first start and learn as much as you can about the job and industry. Be a sponge and volunteer to help out everywhere. That investment in time will pay off down the road. You’ll make more money and be more successful than those that look at salary first.
Now here is the exciting part of the story: you have what beauty companies want now. In the past, a handful of editors at top fashion magazines held the power in the beauty world. They dictated the trends and stories that were published in the magazines. But the world has changed so radically now. Beauty companies are looking for women and men who really know social media. I sit in meetings with presidents of beauty companies that tell me they are shifting their advertising budgets to digital and social media. But few really know what to do. If you can demonstrate that you know who the beauty blogger and social media players are and how to communicate with them, you’ll be very attractive hires. You need to really spend time learning who the influential beauty bloggers are. And who is influential on Twitter and Instagram. But if you can learn this, you could land a job working for say a Clinique or a Clarins in their social media departments. Or you could work for a PR or digital media agency specializing in beauty.
When it comes to blogging, my best advice is to find a point of difference for your blog. There are literally millions of blogs out there and most look the same. Find a point of difference and really work at it. For example, you might want to specialize in lipsticks and gloss. Learn all you can about the history of the products and the trends. Martha Stewart built a fortune by meticulously researching décor, baking and design and then sharing it with the public. You always learn something from her stories or TV appearances. It should be the same with your blog. Take the time to research and find something unexpected. And approach your stories in a unique way. I use this example often. Instead of reviewing a waterproof mascara in your blog with a swatch on your hand and 200 words about why you like it, try something like this. Apply the product on your lashes and then watch a movie marathon of very sad movies that make you cry. Watch “The Notebook” or “Titanic” and write about how the mascara held up. That is unexpected and fun.
Approach your career in beauty as a research paper for school. Find out where the head offices for these companies are in your country and who works there. Can you volunteer in their marketing or digital media departments? Really spend time finding out all you can about these companies. When you do approach them or land a job interview, you’ll impress them that you’ve taken the time to learn about the company and the brands.
Barb Stegmann at the 7 Virtues fragrance company always inspires me with her career advice. She had no experience in the beauty business before launching her own company. She rolled up her sleeves and started reading everything she could about scent and retailers. One of the smartest things you could do is find a small up-and-coming beauty brand and volunteer to help them out with social media or writing. If they like you and if the company takes off, I’m betting they just might offer you a job.
When I started out in PR, I found a great mentor. That was such an important lesson. Find someone in the industry you admire and see if he or she will help you along. For me, it was a former teacher named Chris Gould who taught me at college. She always encouraged me to try. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? They say ‘no’,” she’d say. “So you have nothing to lose. Try, try, try. You never know what could happen.” That is really how I landed writing jobs for Elle Canada, Canadian Business and The National Post newspaper. I got up the courage to send them story pitches.
There are so many talented people I’ve met through Twitter. Take @smausie from The Netherlands. She has a true talent as a makeup artist. Her placement of colour and technique is flawless. She might not be able to pursue this right now, but she could in the future. I look at @lagunaraven and I see such potential in her writing. She thinks like a beauty editor. And I really enjoy the writing of @bethstrong and @meenaragina. There are so many more.
I hope this story helps you follow your dreams. It’s the advice I wish someone had shared with me over a Starbucks when I was just starting out. Try! And if it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. It’s only a job and you’ll find another. You may just discover the work that really satisfies you. My Twitter Wife, Nina Westbury once said to me that she has discovered that makeup artistry is one of the gifts she can give to the world. She has a talent and found a way to make it into a career making women feel better about themselves. I can’t think of a more successful career.