Basically, how this networking session worked, was each table was assigned a number. We were table number 68, so the executive who had this number came to find us and spoke with us for about 20 minutes. Once that time was up, he would move over to table 69 and network with those students for 20 minutes and so on.
The first professional we had join our table was Elias Jaffe, Regional Vice President of the Northeast for Brooks Brothers. He had actually been working in retail since he was just 14 years old! Elias told us the long story of how he got to where he is now, along with some advice he learned along the way as he began to understand what it felt like to be emotionally involved in peoples’ lives with retail. What I learned from Elias was:
- Sometimes you need to drop the jargon and just make sure the end user understands.
- You cannot fix everything at once, so focus on the little things one at a time and the rest will fall into place.
- Have persistence, grit and passion.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The next person to come to our table was Jessica Cabin of Ann Inc. After giving us a little more about her background working with Ascena, she also gave some very valuable advice, especially on the growth/innovation field she works within. What I learned from Jessica was:
- Work in a retail store first to gain experience.
- Shop in stores to see what is working and what is not.
- Know Excel.
- Read about what’s going on in the industry, especially with key trends.
- Watch the competition and disruptions in the market and see how it relates to your business.
Then came Sara Beth of the Hallmark e-Commerce Division. She’s been working with Hallmark for a whopping 18 years, which she joked is longer than she’s done anything. Sara gave us a lot of incredible advice on how to not only find a job, but to retain it:
- Soft skills are more important than hard skills.
- You need to show that you know how to do your job and how your work then impacts the business.
- If one way doesn’t work, keep trying different angles until you succeed.
- Search for companies that have more opportunities than you’re looking to find.
- When in the interview process, use REAL examples of why you want the job and your emotional connection to the company.
Kathy Payne, Executive Development Coordinator of Dillard’s, arrived in the hot seat next, which was extremely coincidental. I had actually added her on LinkedIn that same morning! What a small world. She has done a little bit of everything at Dillard’s, but is always looking to increase their talent, even when there’s no opening. Some of Kathy’s advice was:
- Work for a company that is moving forward.
- Do your job like you would if you were the owner of the business.
- A business is all about the people, then the product, then the presentation.
- You need to have great communication skills, initiative, work ethic, pep and positive energy.
Last, but not least, we had the opportunity to speak with Nicole Mueth, Senior Product Manager for Women’s Athletics at Kohl’s. She gave us a little background information on her, telling us how she was a design student and actually worked for Bon Ton for six years before coming to Kohl’s. Giving us some great insight on both businesses, she informed us that Kohl’s actually has internal classes that employees can take for things such as public speaking or Excel, which, after all the Kohl’s reps I have spoken to in my life, I have never even heard about. This point definitely changed my perspective on Kohl’s. I respect a company that continues to develop each employee personally, even after they’ve been hired. Nicole, like so many others, had some awesome advice for us:
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to learn everything day one. Take things step by step, like remembering everyone’s name first.
- Accept your wins.
- Cross-functionality is huge.
- Know how to collaborate.
This networking session was my favorite portion of the National Retail Federation Student Program the first year I attended and continues to be my favorite. Having the opportunity to sit right next to these professionals and speak with them about their careers and how we, too, could be in their positions someday- no strings attached- is incredible and 9/10 times they’ll leave you with a business card, which is truly invaluable. This is a win-win for us, as we can hear about their roles and they can get advice from us, the toughest generation to market to, on what is working and what should change. It’s the generous people like Elias, Jessica, Sara, Kathy and Nicole that keep my excitement about the retail industry alive.