I get about a couple of emails a day from people looking to break into the beauty journalism sector. It’s hard AF, but not impossible. So, this is for you guys – a guide from me and a few wicked beauty editor pals – about getting into the industry.
Much of the advice below is stuff I messed up, and I really don’t want you to do that, so learn from my mistakes!
HOW TO GET A BEAUTY INTERNSHIP OR BEAUTY WORK EXPERIENCE
Make a list of your ten fave mags/sites and hit them up for work experience by emailing the beauty assistant or beauty writer. Also, make a list of ten smaller magazines/sites too – and hit those guys up too. With the smaller titles people will – generally speaking – let you get more involved and you could even get to do a bit of writing! In theory, you’ll hopefully get a few of those placements on both of your lists.
Send your CV and cover letter with your personalised email (never a Sir/Madam). One page for your CV, and one page for a short 3-4 paragraph cover letter. We don’t expect you to have done EVERYTHING – we know you’re just starting out and want to see you’re passionate, hardworking, love beauty and know the title. Demonstrate that in your cover letter.
Another word of advice – I didn’t start interning in London until I was done with my MA. I should have started during my undergrad – so, yeah, start as early as possible. It’s a good way to just try it and see if it’s for you!
Start a portfolio of your work. We call it a ‘book’ – you can take this to interviews for internships and jobs. Keep all your work in it and print out your digital work (or you can just do it on an IPad if you’ve got that, using a portfolio app or whatever). Either works. You can add things you write on your placements or your blog or whatever it is. It’s just profesh and shows people you mean business. Not this kinda bizniz doe…
HOW TO AFFORD IT AND WHERE TO STAY
Finding somewhere to stay is a nightmare if you’re not from London. Can you crash with somebody for a few weeks? I kipped on a few couches in random bits of London with pals who lived here. If your placement lasts a while – say a few months, you might need to try and find something super cheap as a base – try the outskirts of London, Guardianship (safe ones – do your research) and bigger flat shares (try Moveflat and spareroom.com.)
Interning is hard money-wise. It’s super, super fucking hard, but speak to the people on your placement will do what they can to advise and help you. And ask the placement about what expenses they cover etc. Most will at least, reimburse your travel, hopefully (though I interned on a paper for 4 months and they didn’t pay mine – eek.) The worst thing about this industry (beauty, magazines, journalism in general) is that it can end up being just the same kinds of people getting the jobs because they’re the only ones who can afford to stick it out with parental help.
For full disclosure, I was one of those people who was supported by my family until I got that first gig, but I made a bit on the side freelancing which is – word of warning – hard AF when you’re just starting out. I wrote some AWFUL, borderline traumatic real life stories and reviewed gigs in the arse end of nowhere for any cash. I totally recognize my privilege though – and I wish I could change things for those who don’t have that help. But I want you and everyone to get ahead – which is why I’m writing this for a heads up so you can get the MAX out of the time you can afford to spend interning.
You could get a part time job to make things a bit easier, something you can do in evenings/weekends which is what most interns do. It’s tiring and hard – but it won’t be forever, and annoyingly is the only way to get experience and to get those contacts. When you get them, you gotta make the most of them! Here’s how…
YOUR FIRST DAY
Make sure you’ve read the most recent issue of that magazine – and use the masthead (list of names at front of mag) or google to find out people’s names. Take it a step further (man I was keen AF…) and find out some details about the people. Where are they from, where did they work etc. It gives you reference points to chat to them, shows you’re super keen, and it’s a conversation starter. (A LOVELY intern once bowled over from another magazine to say hi, because we both did the same MA and she was from my hometown. She’d bothered to do her research, and it meant we had loads in common and I remembered her when it came to filling a spot!)
Make sure you know your route so you’re not late or stressed on the first day. Go a bit earlier! Wear flat shoes – you may be out and about at launches or taking things to photographers. Feel free to bring your own lunch to save ££ – there’s usually a fridge. Some places may have a subsidised café too – defo check that out in case you can get super cheap food.
Big advice: befriend the other interns on fashion and features on your first day – they’ll give you the lay of the land and help you know where stationery is and how to book couriers etc. And, they’ll often end up becoming your pals, and your support network. You guys will be going through the same stuff! One of my BFFS now was the art intern on Rock Sound, we both met there on a placement a million years ago. Hey Sammie! 😉
Get a notebook. Write down all your tasks and what you’re doing etc. But also, write down what you’re learning too – read over it from time to time and before each placement to give yourself a boost. One thing I did, and STILL do is to keep a page at the start of my notebook called ‘skills’ – and add to it each time you’ve learned one. It keeps you in a growth mind-set, showing how you’re progressing and that’s the key to keep you positive and moving forwards (this is a hard industry, jobs seldom come up!). You can also keep nice emails your sent from editor saying thanks for your help etc – can help to reread them when the chips are down! Again – I STILL do this.
Be super nice to all PRs, all the time. They’re a big part of our industry and often tell us if somebody has been rude or hopefully super nice and lovely. Do this all the way throughout your career. PR’s are ace and we work very closely with them in beauty. (Also, if you just love beauty, rather than writing, think about beauty PR – it’s better paid for a starter, and there are more jobs!)
Be confident, friendly, helpful, respectful and interested. You don’t have to be the chattiest person ever – often that can work against you by being distracting – but chipping in with the bants occasionally, complimenting people on their work etc is always nice and memorable. “You’ll be meeting people who will become colleagues, bosses, allies and hopefully friends for life. They will be the ones recommending you for jobs (or not), helping you with problems (or not) and while it’s true you can’t please or love everyone, it doesn’t hurt to be professional – no matter how many more followers you have than that person or what title you end up working for,” says Beauty Ed 1.
Here’s some well-honed advice from Beauty Ed 2: “The worst thing you can do as an intern is fail to show an interest in the magazine. I once had an intern who told me rather blasé after four months that she didn’t ever bother to read the magazine!!! Don’t just see an internship as ticking a box or fleshing out a CV, really think about what magazines make you tick and why you want to work there. And when you do, make sure you read every word from the front to the back and email writers/editors to say you loved their piece. Start a conversation amongst the team about how you were really taken by the feature in that issue. That should be a given, but sadly it isn’t. The most vital thing I did as an intern is to actually talk to the people you’re working for. Don’t sit in silence waiting for the next task or only communicate on email. It’s so important to make an impression when interning and I don’t think you can do that by simply doing the tea round every hour. You have direct contact with the people doing the job you want, so use it!”
Networking is hard AF! Here’s some help from Beauty Ed 3: “You’ll get opportunities to go out to events and launches to meet people… So MEET people. Don’t stand in the corner waiting for other journalists to approach you – they all know each other and probably won’t. Remember, this is a great opportunity to let other writers, editors and directors know that you’re passionate about the industry.”
All of this can be super fucking hard when you’re shy. I was (and am still, really) very shy, and quite reserved. But you do have to be quite gutsy on placements – I didn’t realise how big a deal this was until quite late in the game. I thought I could just be the very good, very hardworking quiet girl. You don’t always remember that person sadly, but you do remember the one who made you lol or the one who felt like she was part of the team (and you never wanted her to leave.) It’s hard for me to say how to do this – we’re all individuals, but, what helped me was almost to pretend I was playing a ‘role’ and then it didn’t feel as self-conscious when I was being confident in certain work experience situations. When I left there, I could go back to being me. And somewhere along the line, that confidence stuck a little. (YASSSS)
WHAT’S EXPECTED OF YOU
That varies from one placement to another. All I can say is what I’d want, and that’s somebody who was keen, happy to do the shit jobs (I’ve done every shit work experience job you can imagine), to just make your life a tiny bit easier. Don’t overthink it – just a ‘do you need a hand with that?’ or a ‘I’m going out for lunch; can I grab you anything on my way back?’ is amazing.
Beauty Ed 3 says: “The most brilliant intern I’ve ever worked with, went into the beauty cupboard one day, without me asking and completely organised it – new from old, lipsticks from blushers – all of it. She took initiative and it just so happened to be at a time when everything was hectic and felt completely out of control. She was also really lovely and bubbly and asked us if we needed anything every time she went to the kitchen or outside. Small things count.”
At times, it can feel a bit demeaning. “One intern we had quit after day one saying she didn’t feel like the placement was engaging or challenging enough,’ says Beauty Ed 5. “That was day one and she was calling in products from a PR, and she’d never done that before. Not everything is as fun as a launch or writing a news story, but it’s all an opportunity to learn and grow. Had she have waited another day, we’d have asked her to come on a main beauty shoot with a huge photographer. As it was, she just left – and didn’t even tell us. More than anything we were worried about her.”
Most placements are what you make of them – if you’ve spent a week doing admin super well, you’re much more likely to be met with open arms the next week you go in with a few ideas you’d LOVE to write for the website. Best advice – do all the things with a smile on your face. And take initiative (within reason.)
Beauty Ed 4 remembers her intern days: “I remember having to make tea not just for the beauty department but the whole team. It meant that I got to speak to each department and it opened up an informal discussion about what everyone did, how the wheels and cogs of the magazine turned. Don’t be shy to pick up the phone and call rather than email PRs – even though you’re worried you’ll get it wrong. Just ask what you’re meant to say, and ask for feedback as to whether you’re doing it right. You’ll soon build up a rapport with the team and with the PR’s and that will be one of your key assets on the next rung of the beauty ladder: beauty assistant. Walk in with a smile on your face every day – you’ll be remembered for it!”
You may have to attend beauty launches too – they’re fun, but beware: “Pay attention when you’re representing the brand. If a writer, editor or director asks you to go to an event, make sure you take in the information and give them a quick, succinct overview of what’s new and why they need to know about it. I once asked someone to go to an event for me – she came back, put the new product under her desk (presumably to take home) and didn’t tell me anything about it. Bad practice! ” says Beauty Ed 3. We’re a super generous bunch, chances are we’ll give you tonnes of stuff to take home anyway at some point. Wait for that moment.
READ, ASK QUESTIONS, PITCH IDEAS
Get reading, as Beauty Ed 2 advises: “It’s so vital to read everything you come across. Buy the papers on the weekend and impress the team by citing a great health study, and rip pages from magazines and bookmark blogs like there’s no tomorrow – and be a Pinterest fanatic. It’s so important to keep a record of everything you’ve read and loved as it’s the only way you can start to build ideas of your own.” We call these ‘tears’ in magazines. And they’re SUPER useful for feature ideas and when you’re being interviewed for a placement. Somebody may say – “what feature in any mag did you love recently’ – and you can reel off one of yours. BOOM!
Some more great advice from Beauty Ed 3: “In terms of getting your foot through the door, I love when potential interns send me ideas for features. It shows me not only that they have a true understanding of the magazine they are applying for, but also that they actually give enough of a shit to do more than copy my name into a standard email. The ideas don’t have to be ground-breaking (although obvs props if they are) but just thoughtful and relevant.”
Beauty Ed 1 says to be interested and curious. “Ask questions or better still if you don’t know about the dermis, then read up on it. Figure out who your favourite perfumers are, and who they work for – be obsessed with beauty – which is actually very scientific and factual – rather than just what lipstick your fave celeb on Instagram is wearing. This job isn’t all about freebies and makeup swatches on your arm which is how it can seem from the outside. Which writers, stylists or makeup artists move you? What is it about their work that you love? Think about whether you’re into visuals or wordsmithery, or both.”
I’d add with the latter, that you need to be able to do both these days. Styling you can learn on the job when you’re an assistant. Some of the basics of writing can be taught, but you do need to invest the time to learn and grow as a writer. Not just now, throughout your career, you have to keep pushing. And there is NOTHING worse than shit beauty copy that doesn’t engage or relate to the reader. Fact.
My biggest tip: when you see a feature you love, keep it. And take the time to dissect it. Why is it brilliant? Why does it make you laugh? Annotate all over it and make a note (in your notebook of joy) about why it’s so great! Then try and use some of that in the next thing you write (for a title, for fun, for a blog etc) Also, don’t just read beauty pages – go wide and far with your reading – keep expanding your influences.
WHAT NOT TO DO (AND HOW TO OT TAKE IT PERSONALLY.)
If you ask anyone – in any industry – they’ll tell you a few intern horror stories, like Beauty Ed 4: ” She proceeded to watch tv on her phone propped on her desk everyday whilst she did work or in most cases didn’t. She was super careless and basically was more interested in looking like she had the job on Instagram than actually doing it to the point where I’m pretty sure she called stuff in for herself and then instagrammed it thanking the brand for ‘her gift.’
Beauty Ed 5 has a horror story too: “I was super ill with food poisoning, and in the loo, er, you know. I asked if she could pop down to reception to grab me something I desperately needed – and she shouted at me. I was so ill, I just cried.”
But we know it’s a hard gig, says Beauty Ed 4: ” It’s easy to forget that interning is hard and can feel isolating and royally shit. It’s exhausting and hard starting a new job every four weeks and trying to impress people enough to maybe get hired whilst you’re there. Not feeling like you belong to a team or that you’re worth being acknowledged at meetings/Christmas parties/whatever can bring you down massively especially when you’re super poor on top of all of that. Yes getting tea and people’s lunch can feel like ‘why did I bother with a degree’ but it’s important to remember that your first job might be beauty assistant and not to underestimate the value of actually assisting someone – they’ll appreciate the help if you do it right. Also, getting someone a tea isn’t degrading, it’s a form of looking after people and every team I’ve worked with ask if their coworkers want a tea whenever they get one and still do coffee runs whether they’re assistants or directors. It’s about looking after each other people! Because at the end of the day you see these people more often than your own friends and family so you’ve got to be on the same team and help each other out.”
The vast majority of beauty ads are wicked – but some days, you’re just having a shit day and you might not be as helpful as you should be. People are human, don’t take it personally. It never is. (Unless it is mean and personal – then leave. I should have left the fashion placement I did where the fashion editor basically told me to walk the samples back to a PR office rather than courier them because ‘I could use the exercise.’ WHERE IS THAT FUCKING BITCH NOW?) Tomorrow will probably be better, I promise.
TOWARDS THE END OF YOUR PLACEMENT
Time to MAX your experience. What other mags are in the building – email to pop in and meet their beauty assistants with a view to a placement. And ask the beauty eds on your team where you can go next – they’ll likely offer to pass your details on or intro you. As Beauty Ed 2 says: “Beauty editors talk. And we’re constantly emailing each other asking for intern recommendations. Don’t take that for granted – it’s super valuable. Impressing an editor can help you get your next internship or job. Pissing one off can do the opposite.”
In your last week, ask the beauty assistant or somebody you got on with for a quick cuppa or chat. Ask them for advice, their journey and their contacts etc. And, ask them one crucial question – what you could have done better? Yeah, it hurts some time but it means you’re on your A-game for the next time. And it’s so, so memorable. I remember the three girls who asked me that very clearly, and I’ve had hundreds of interns work for me. They’re all in beauty assistant roles now and it was very impressive. It shows you want to learn and grow.
SAY THANK YOU!
This is up to you, but what I would always do is bring in a sweet treat for the office and a card for the team, or for each team member individually if you want to really be remembered. A short-personalised note, your email address number and boom. You’ve done everything you can – and hopefully karma will land your way! Even if you didn’t enjoy it – say thank you and do the above!
WHERE THE JOBS AT NOW?
All the beauty assistant jobs and should go on Gorkana and some of the long-term internships too – check it every few days and sign up for alerts. Pre-empt things too – if you see a beauty assistant has a new role on Gorkana, then email the place she was to find out if you can apply for the job, OR come in to intern. This might sound a bit OTT, but there are so few jobs now, that it’s worth noting which assistants have been in their jobs over 2-ish years and who may be looking to move. Go do work experience on that title, shine like a star and then you’ll hopefully get a look in at a staff role. Also, ask about as to which roles are permanent assistant roles, and which are contracted – some are a year or so, meaning you should be ALL OVER those titles in terms of work experience, to be in with a shot of getting that year-long contract.
Check company websites too (Hearst, Time Inc, Conde Nast, Vice, River, Bauer etc) and Twitter accounts. Sadly – and this really fucks me off – not all beauty assistant jobs are advertised. It should be illegal otherwise nepotism just keeps rearing its ugly head in journalism again and again. But so many jobs go to internal candidates or by word of mouth. There’s nothing you can do about that (until you’re in the position to hire people yourself) other than make good contacts by interning and keep in touch with them. You’re not bothering people by dropping them a line every few months or so to keep you at the forefront of their minds when things come up on their title or other titles.
WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS NO HOPE
I was interning during the credit crunch – that meant zero fucking jobs. It was horrific. When you’ve interned for over a year it can be super depressing – but if you want it enough, and you work super hard you will get there. Annoyingly the money issue is a HUGE one – but look at how you can work/intern or speak to people (like or or other beauty ads) to suggest other routes in. Like taking a role on a trade publication etc. I started as a features journalist and managed – via a side-step role – to get into beauty. it can be done.
Also as a side note, I’ve had a few sad emails recently asking about how to get into the industry as a woman of colour, because there don’t seem to be very many non-white beauty editors. Truth is, there aren’t. Like there aren’t very many people of colour on magazines in general, or, if we’re being honest, journalism. But let that drive you rather than put you off! (And reach out if you need support too!)
Anyway, I hope this helps. And above all, if you’re worried on your actual placement – speak up and tell somebody. Everyone wants you to get the most from it and enjoy it. I promise.