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Beauty Career Advice

“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.”

dave lackie and alicia keyes

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.

dave lackie on cityline

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.

dave and halle

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.

dave lackie and elizabeth hurley

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.

87 Comments

  • Reply
    Sanja Hefer
    April 17, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    This is such a level head advice, and well said. I really enjoy reading your article, and advice you gave can be applied to many fields. Through circumstances out of my hand I was forced to switch gears and start over and over. I totally agree with you Dave. Passion will and can take you far. Some of ‘sacrifice’ in the beginning can do you a whole world of good, if you think about it for what it is – learning experience. If you have to work for living, may as well enjoy what you’ll do better part of your life. I wish that they would teach kids in high school this. Your success is well deserved.

  • Reply
    Serena A
    April 17, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Thank you Dave! Your article is AMAZING!!!

  • Reply
    Wanda Tracey
    April 17, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I love checking in with you and enjoy reading great articles like this.Thank you.

  • Reply
    Sandi Morris
    April 17, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    All of these are great ideas and advise. Thanks Dave!
    @sandicmxr

  • Reply
    Pau Jose
    April 17, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Great articule Dave! Love to read about you, Thank you for sharing your story and for all!

  • Reply
    natalie antia
    April 17, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring personal piece of your career! Love all the great beauty advice you share Dave. You are quite the inspiration to many and you have the most amazing personality. Love how you share the importance of Believing in oneself. To make sure that you do what makes you happy 🙂 (:

  • Reply
    Miriam Alamay
    April 17, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    You are such an inspiration David, although my ultimate dreams are not necessarily along the beauty/fashion line, your experiences could be apply in so many areas. Hard work and patience will truly get you somewhere someday!

  • Reply
    Kimberly Anderson Carrera
    April 17, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Great article, I luv to check in with you to what’s coming up for us in the beauty world but didn’t know all you went thru to get where you are ,I jst apreciate you sharing it with us. Thnk you

  • Reply
    Katerina Giavridoy
    April 17, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    ευχαριστουμε για τις υπεροχε συμβουλες πολλα συγχαρητηρια !!

  • Reply
    Julie Simpson
    April 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Just when I thought I couldn’t have any more respect and admiration for you,. LOVE

  • Reply
    Faiha Mullaji
    April 17, 2015 at 8:31 am

    What a great piece of advice. Thank you Dave, it was great to read about how you started out and look at you now! Wonderful journey!
    Let’s hope the rest of us find our true passion and pursue it into something successful!

  • Reply
    Soos
    April 17, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Lovely & generous advice.

  • Reply
    Marilyn Nicholls
    April 16, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you Dave! Your article is right on time! I needed this advice! It’s a wonderful article. Thank you for the great tips. You have definitely found your niche..Thank you for Sharing! God Bless!

  • Reply
    Krystal Gehrke
    April 16, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    This is an article packed full of great advice. I am going to look into the websites. I consider you a mentor because you have pointed me in the right direction before 🙂 I can’t say this enough thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I need to book mark this article. I have a small amount of classes to finish before I get my associates degree in computer informations systems. My passion is beauty! I’m planning on buying my own domain name soon and combining what I know about computers and makeup! Thanks Dave for these encouraging words 🙂

  • Reply
    Kim G.
    April 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    I did not even KNOW all of this about my #twitterbff!!!! What an amazing journey you’ve been on throughout your career, and excellent advice!! Speaking in highschools to senior students would be a fabulous idea, I’d say?? Encourage them to “try, try, try” and to ease up the pressure to choose a career before they even see or experience “life”. I love my Dave. You’re wonderful. 🙂

  • Reply
    Niki Kay
    April 16, 2015 at 1:59 am

    ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS ARTICLE Dave! Thank you so much. This information will be incredible when I am able to start pursuing my career this September. (my 5 year old son starts school.) I have been working as an MUA since I was in school for makeup artistry and prosthetics in 2006. Mostly freelance, some volunteer and some retail as well… I can’t wait to start my career back up! Thank you for always inspiring greatness in the beauty industry!!

  • Reply
    Nicky
    April 15, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Great advice Dave! Thank you for this piece!

    Nicky

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Vlug
    April 15, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    What an interesting read! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Reply
    Louisa
    April 15, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    WOW Me. Lacking. I loved this article. You are giving some good advice. It really is difficult for a 17 ur old to know what kind of career they what to follow. It’s true like you said, you need to try different jobs to see what you truly love to do. You are so inspiring and you are a good person

  • Reply
    Kathie
    April 15, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Great article! I wish I could write as well as you.

  • Reply
    keyko
    April 15, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Great article! Thanks Dave!

  • Reply
    ReadyOwl
    April 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Very cool that you shared your journey and advice, you never know who it may inspire or help. Nice one!

  • Reply
    Inge
    April 15, 2015 at 10:04 am

    wow!! what an inspiration you are, dave. i am disabled & bed-ridden, & yet you have stirred my heart to go out & try, try, try. i hope the men & women reading this will feel as i do & even though i’m unable, that they will feel motivated to follow their dreams. i thank you for them & i thank you for your enthusiasm to help others. what a wonderful man you are!!

  • Reply
    Christine Christensen
    April 15, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Fantastic article Dave! You gave awesome advice. I agree that if your job isn’t something you like, all the money in tbe world won’t make you like it. When I could work I went for jobs where I would be able help others. Those jobs were the the ones I loved.

  • Reply
    Petra
    April 15, 2015 at 7:42 am

    This is some solid advice and a great read Dave. Some of the points you made are transferable to other job roles as well…”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.” Loved it! You meet some of the coolest people! Love Halle and Alicia! Congrats! Your success is well deserved! You’re so amazing!

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