What I love about our career interviews is meeting people who are passionate about their work, and shedding light on careers that we wouldn’t necessarily think of but that can be so fascinating. There are so many different ways to work in fashion!
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Kristy whose job is human resources consultant, or what we sometimes refer to as a head hunter. She works for some of the biggest brands (Alexander Wang, Prada, Dior, Fendi, The Row…) and has had a very interesting journey to get where she is today…
As we loved meeting her, we also thought she’d be ideal to respond to a few questions we had about jobs in the fashion world.
How do you find your first job? How do you continually evolve? Where should you look? What kind of degree should you get? How much will you make?
If you’re interested, start with the interview (you’ll learn some pretty interesting things about working in the fashion industry) and then meet us back down below in the comments section to ask any other questions you might have. We’ll do a little Q&A with Kristy and post it in the weeks ahead. Voilà! Big hugs!
What was your dream job growing up? What did your parents do?
My mom is a music teacher and my Dad a commercial airline pilot. My uncle is a composer and author and my brother is a professional opera singer. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who worked in “business.” The only exposure I had to other career options outside of my own family were things like shop owner, or doctor or lawyer.
As a kid, I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had an amazing orthodontist. I loved that he had his own small private practice and the small business feel of the environment.
His whole lifestyle seemed very appealing to me. I wanted something that was my own and I thought that it was something in the medicine field. So when I went to school I was pre-med.
So you were pre-med? Where did you go to University?
I went to University of Texas, in Austin. I started out as a pre-med/chemistry major. I started questioning whether this was something I was really committed to. The pre-med track was pretty large, so I would go to class and I would be in a stadium with 500 or more people and a professor on stage with a microphone. It was really difficult to feel engaged.
So the summer after my junior year I studied abroad in Spain, Granada, where my school had a program, and while I was there I realized that I wanted to travel and I wanted to see other cities. But if I were to pursue the medical path then I would probably end up staying in school in Texas for another 8-10 years, I would never really get to explore, and that was the deal-breaker for me. So I decided when I got back that I was going to switch my major to Spanish, and my senior year I took all Spanish classes. I graduated on time and I moved to New York instead.
Did you come to New York for a specific opportunity?
No, I literally drove here with my two cats. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got here. I had one friend, who knew somebody that lived in Williamsburg, so we slept on her couch and faxed our resumes.
So what was your first job in New York?
Kate Spade was looking for an assistant manager for one of their New York stores, and I was like “Oh! I know what Kate Spade is!” I applied and I immediately got a call from them. I think they were desperate; they literally hired me in 3 days.
I was 22, I had no real management experience. It was a busy holiday season and I was doing a lot of selling on the floor. Incidentally, the store manager at the time was moving on a couple of months after I joined. I sat down with the head of the retail, and she said, “we want to let you know that so-and-so manager is leaving, and we really feel like you’re doing a great job, we really know you can handle this.” I told her that I really wanted to be considered for the management position. So within a very short amount of time, I was running a store.
Kate Spade was opening stores all over the US, so I would travel and help train the new managers and new sales associates. It just kept growing and growing and growing. It was this all-encompassing really fun, really great group of people. I really loved it. Then right before 9/11, I had been doing it for 3 years and I thought I should try something new.
So what sparked your interest in human resources?
From Kate Spade I knew wholesale people and PR people, and visual people, licensing people—there were so many options. So, I talked to them and I interviewed with a lot of the different departments. It was through a process of elimination that I realized what I really like doing is human resources.
I think human resources isn’t a very popular option among young people; they don’t really think of it as an option. But I realized that I love meeting people, I love meeting the right person for a job, I love welcoming them, I love getting them set up, I love training them on what to do. I just loved all these things about it, because I do have good instincts.
But then 9/11 happened, and it was a terrible time to switch careers, even in an area I sort of knew. So I decided to go to business school.
Do you think going to business school is necessary? Especially in the fashion industry?
I did an MBA with a focus on organizational development, and I wouldn’t think that a master’s degree is required in most jobs. But regardless of industry, if you study something other than business in undergrad, if you want to have higher income potential long term and you are interested in going to business school, it will never hurt you.
However, depending on which school you go to, it can also be a huge investment both financially and in time. So I think that if you want to go to business school, you go knowing it’s about the networking. You don’t really learn that much in business school.
So what does a career in human resources actually entail?
From my perspective, it’s someone that supports all of the organization of a company. It’s everything from staffing to recruiting. It’s communication around what a job is, what the expectation of a job is, managing performance, giving feedback around how a person is performing on the job, what the next steps are.
On the back end, it’s also making sure that employees gets paid, that they are getting their benefits, the payroll—all of that stuff. Administration on the back end is something that I’m not very involved in at all, but it’s obviously an important part of human resources. There are also compensations, so understanding what the compensation benchmarks are in the market—there are whole firms around compensation benchmarking and how to attract and retain really good people, and stay competitive. Then part of performance management goes into the development and training aspect, in order to retain these people, in order to keep them motivated and excited, and how to do that in a way that works for both sides.
You worked for LVMH in a variety of human resource capacities. How did you get hired there?
Getting my master’s really helped me to get the job at LVMH when I applied, which was a recruitment development job. They look for people with a combination of a liberal arts background and a business background that are able to speak other languages, have lived abroad, have lived in more than one country, and who have some retail or fashion experience. That’s pretty much everything they look for, so with my master’s I had all of that.
Can you tell me about what you did there?
I worked at LVMH Inc. with all the heads of HR for all of their brands and the brand presidents in the US. Once I started to earn the trust of the heads of HR, they would give me assignments to work on searches for them. I was very lucky because I was pretty successful early on in getting great people for them.
I built really good relationships with these people, and I was in charge of the MBA recruitment program. I would go to top schools and look for entrepreneurial fashion and retail professionals who were ready to jump right into operating roles at the brands. We hired only a handful of MBAs each year across the business groups.
I also worked on some corporate training and development. One of the people in the fashion division recruited me to come work for her, and fulfill a couple of different roles, and that’s where I really got the operational HR hands-on experience. So I did a year at Employee Relations. Then I moved onto Louis Vuitton where I focused on recruitment development, which was really what I enjoyed: recruiting for positions in the business both in the retail and the corporate side, working on employee management, understanding how to give the right training to the ones that really need it. It was a great experience, and I felt like my 5 years there were like a crash course in what I needed to know.
What is Employee Relations?
Employee relations is basically letting people go, coaching managers on how to let people go, coaching managers on how to discipline staff, how to make them improve their performance. It’s also store closings and job eliminations and working with counsel, and drafting separation agreements, and all the stuff that is so important but not that fun.
Do you think that human resources has a bad reputation from that part of the job? How do you deal with that?
It is true that employment separation is a reality human resources professionals have to deal with and it’s not fun. However, I do truly believe that often when someone leaves a company it is in both parties best interest so that makes it easier.
So what made you decide to start your own company?
I had my twins, and I went back to LVMH for maybe 9 months, and had a full-time nanny at home. I was just miserable. I never saw my kids, I would travel all the time, and it was just not worthwhile. I felt that I had kind of learnt everything I could learn at that job. I decided that I needed a change, and it was then that things just sort of happened.
I became friends with Jessie Randall (of Loeffler Randall), and she and a lot of other brands at the time needed a lot of help because it was right after the recession in 2008. They were rethinking their whole organization and they had never had formal HR before. So I started consulting with them, and then literally through a friend of a friend, started consulting with another brand, and then another brand. I was helping a lot of them through this difficult time when they had to reassess what was going on with their business.
How many people are in your company?
I’m really the only person. But I have a large number of people who help me. I pay certain people commission on referrals. When I look for a search, I don’t get paid for it unless I fill the job—it doesn’t make sense for me to pay someone who isn’t bringing in the business. So from my perspective, if I meet someone who I think can source really great talent for me then I am happy to work with them on that basis, but it has got to be somebody who is willing to work on a contingency basis. And not everybody is going to want to do that.
What kinds of services do you provide as a consultant? What kind of clients do you work with?
I function like any other search company, where I get a percentage of the salary. So it just made a lot more sense to focus on that. The great thing about search is that if you are working a lot of different searches, they all feed into each other and they all help each other. So when I work on the sale search for Rachel Comey, I might meet 20 people and maybe only one is right for Rachel Comey, but when Alexander Wang calls me or The Row calls me, I’m like “Oh this person wasn’t right for this but is right for this.” So it just started to get deeper and deeper, and now I would say probably 90-95% of what I do is strict search. But I do still consult for Loeffler Randall, I do still consult still with a couple of other brands, like Mara Hoffman and Gap. Now, it’s more like friends of mine, people with whom I have built relationships over the years and am friends with now, I help them just a little bit. I am more like a sounding board than an in-house agent.
Do you consider yourself a “head hunter?”
I mean, I’ve heard that term a lot and I’ve used it before. I think that I probably don’t use that word as often. I prefer professional recruiting, executive recruiter, so I think I say recruiter more because that’s really what I’m doing—recruiting people for fashion companies and HR consulting.
What’s an entry-level salary in an HR position?
HR is pretty much the same as anything else. An HR assistant is going to be paid $35,000-$40,000, and then coordinators $45k-$55k, and then managers $65k-$100k, because you could be a manager for a while depending on the experience level. And then director level is usually $120k plus up to maybe $150k/$160k. VP’s usually $175k plus. That is pretty consistent across most fashion companies, no matter which function, which area, it’s pretty consistent.
What are the biggest challenges you face working in human resources?
The biggest challenge I have is that I need help filling all the jobs. There is so much potential out there—I think fashion companies are always hiring, at least from what I see. I do post all of the jobs I’m working on on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, but my challenge is filling all of the jobs quickly with the right people.
And I would say that the other challenge is that every job is so different, every job is so specific, every job needs to be filled yesterday, and you have to know where to find that person. So in the search business that’s obviously what it is all about: knowing who they are going to like and who they are not going to like.
What’s an average day like for you?
I live in Brooklyn and I try to do three days a week that are home-office days, where I’m doing research and phone interviews. I do a ton of Skype interviews, I do a lot of recruiting in other cities. I would say most of my clients are based in NY, but I do still recruit for retail store positions, like managers, and a lot of my clients have locations all over Canada and the US. So those are usually my Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.
And then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m usually in Manhattan going from meeting to meeting to meeting. Those are the days I usually reserve for meetings and clients. I also do a lot of mentoring.
What do you do as a mentor?
I’ve been working with the CFDA Fashion Incubator. I love it, it’s great. I formed a team of professional HR mentors and I assigned someone to each brand. I know all the designers and the brands, so whenever they have an HR issue they filter through me and I either help them or set them up with somebody else.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t really have a specific mentor now. I would love to have one, but I don’t know exactly who that person is. Certainly people I have worked for over the years have been mentors to me, but I have never really had a formal mentorship. But I think that the idea is wonderful. I think that we all run into mentors in our lives.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I always think about one of my first supervisors, at Kate Spade, who said to me do the job you’re doing as well as you can, and the next thing will come. Just work really hard at doing what you’re doing, don’t worry too much about the next step. If you do what you’re doing really well, it will just happen. And it’s so true, I think about that all the time. Just do what you’re doing really well.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Having a successful business of my own while still being able to drop my kids off at school, pick them up, and manage my own time in a calendar and still being able to do what I love to do. I’m amazed every day that I am able to do this. The fact that I can work from home, work from wherever I want, being in total control of my schedule—it’s just so huge. It’s pretty amazing.
What skills do you think are most important to work in human resources?
The first one is extreme trustworthiness. You have got to be able to keep things extremely confidential. You also have to not really be fazed by things. I think it can be very difficult for very young people to know a lot of this information. Because when you’re in HR, and you know how much everyone is getting paid, and how many days off everyone else is getting, and you see things like discrepancies—that’s life.
You have to be really trustworthy, you have to be mature, you have to have very good instincts, you have to be a professional all the time. It is so important to be professional.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in working in human resources?
Intern. That is one thing I didn’t do in college and I really wish I had. Intern. I just had a regular job, and I got paid and that was that. I didn’t even think about doing an internship, but now if you want to get an HR assistant job, you have to have three internships in HR. So I would say intern in HR, see if you like it, and then if you do, do as many internships as you can while at school, during summers, and then you will get a job anywhere. And just work your way up. That’s the case with everything. I think the hardest part is knowing what you want to be.
What is the biggest mistake you see people make when breaking into the business?
I think that there aren’t enough people in HR. I think the biggest mistake is that people don’t see this as a real option. They don’t see how interesting it can be; they don’t see how much influence you have on the organization’s growth, how exciting it is to be in touch with every single aspect of the organization.
What is your dream for your career and your business?
Right now, I have to say I am so happy doing what I’m doing. I was just asked to be on this advisory board for the University of Texas. I will continue to do more counseling, career counseling, student mentoring, just helping to give information.
Obviously I love what I’m doing in terms of the search part of my business and the consulting part of my business. Long term, I definitely feel like I need to grow. I think I need more help, otherwise I will never be able to keep up with the demand, because there is so much demand.
Sometimes I do imagine becoming a bigger larger firm. Right now, I’m torn because I like looking independently, and I like the flexibility that I have. But if I don’t fill enough jobs quickly, then maybe my clients wont keep coming back to me. And so, I have to figure out a way to grow that works for me. I can definitely envision a big firm one day where I have people who outsource HR for fashion companies and then I have a search division with all of the different departments, specialized in different areas. I think maybe in the future I would like to work more with the clients and less with the touch points every day. It’s hard though giving that up, because I do love working by myself and I love being the only who evaluates, I just need more help bringing the right people to me.
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