“Be nice to everybody and treat people with kindness. You never know who’s going to give you the next big opportunity.”
For recent graduates, hopeful creatives and those looking to get a foot in the professional door, internships can serve as the bridge between inexperienced and employable. In saying this, time and money constraints (or just a general lack of availability) can make it difficult to secure work experience that’s right for your future self. So how do you land a dream job without undertaking an internship?
For more advice like this, browse through our Life section.
Career journeys aren’t always linear, and it can often be the unexpected opportunities that lead us to our ideal roles. Whether you’re pursuing a job in the creative industries or dreaming of heading up a software company, landing that perfect position is really about kindness, determination and resilience. Below, Fashion Journal readers share the stories of how they secured their dream roles without an internship.
Rachael*, 27, she/her
I was so shattered when I wasn’t offered a graduate role with the firm I wanted. After many failed interviews, I gave up and enrolled in a completely different uni course, thinking my chances were over. In the end, I realised I couldn’t give up too early and I applied for a junior admin-type role at an organisation within the industry where I wanted to work. I stayed there and got as much experience as possible (six months’ worth) before eventually moving to a different firm; one that was more related to my studies.
I’ve been building my knowledge at this firm for just over a year. I finally got offered my absolute dream role and I’m starting next month! Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I think I’ve ended up getting a lot of broader experience rather than a siloed or singular understanding of how the profession works. I’m moving ahead of some of my fellow uni grads, considering I’ve gained a better understanding of the industry! Don’t give up. Sometimes the back doorway is the best way!
Adina*, 27, she/her
Contacts, contacts, contacts! I work in politics, so networking is a must-have. I joined political groups at university and spent some time volunteering for a local MP. When a part-time opportunity opened up, I knew the employer and the employer knew my work, so I was a natural fit. I tapped into those networks again when I needed a full-time job after graduating and landed a dream gig very quickly.
Being a young woman in politics has some unique challenges, many of which have only become public over the past few years. Regardless of industry, know your worth, know your rights and stand up for yourself. If your workplace doesn’t look after your interests, it’s probably one you don’t want to be a part of.
Florence*, 30, she/her
I started an Instagram, shared my work and made connections. When I was first starting my career, I thought being talented was enough, when in reality the people you meet are the key. You can be average at what you do but if you have the right connections, you can do it all. And I don’t mean ‘connections’ in the sense of being nice to people just for the sake of building a network or taking advantage of people.
I try to be nice to everybody and treat people with kindness. You never know who’s going to give you the next big opportunity. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study and try to be the best at what you do. It’s a little bit of both.
Mischa*, 21, she/her
I had just graduated with an associate degree that was highly regarded in the fashion industry. I deeply researched the role I was applying for. If there were areas I felt I wasn’t confident in, I would watch tutorials on YouTube or read articles on the topic. I also made sure I researched the company and knew all their power words. I logged out of LinkedIn and then viewed the people at the company to get an idea of who they were and where they’d worked in the past (make sure you log out so they can’t see that you’ve looked at their profile!). This made me feel more comfortable going into the interview, as I knew what they looked like and what their ‘vibe’ was.
I think it’s important to fill out a formal application and email the recruiter or someone in the team. You want to detail that you’ve applied, are excited about the role and would be interested in speaking further and setting up an interview. Doing that little bit extra will make them remember who you are. And fake it until you make it. I believe confidence in my interview is what got me my job without any experience in the field. Knowledge is power when going for jobs, so do your research and be confident!
Saskia*, 23, she/her
Honestly, a lot of luck helped me a lot in landing my job, but also knowing what employers were looking for and trusting myself. I’m currently a junior art director. During uni, I didn’t prioritise internships (even though I was told to). I felt they weren’t going to give me the life experience I was looking for.
Instead, I travelled a lot. I gained personal skills that internships couldn’t have given me. I made this clear when interviewing and luckily enough, they were a company that saw travel as a huge benefit to professional wellbeing. I’m still at a junior level, but I don’t feel junior in my workplace. My wage is the only thing that reflects my entry-level position, but no one in the company has ever questioned my skills.
Zara*, 26, she/her
My dream job has always been to be an artist, but I convinced myself that it wasn’t realistic and set out to study design instead. It was a disaster. I had nothing but time on my hands (thanks, COVID). So in 2020, I undertook a government-funded program for small businesses (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme), which helped me pay rent while I was starting out. From there, I attended monthly markets, selling my prints and merch. I also learnt to tattoo and now do that from my art studio in Brunswick.
Since then, I’ve been a part of group shows around Melbourne, with a solo show coming up in November. Although it’s not exactly what I had in mind growing up, it’s pretty damn close. Working for myself, there isn’t an employment hierarchy. But career-wise, I’m still very much climbing the ladder. Coming into the creative industry has been tricky, especially with my practice being so varied (painting, tattooing. illustration and so on).
For me, my career goals have been achievements like working from my own studio, becoming a full-time artist, making consistent money and working on exciting projects. Looking back at what I’ve achieved so far, it’s mostly down to backing myself, applying for things, and talking to people. It’s about who you know, not what you know – particularly in Melbourne. I wish I’d wrapped my head around that earlier. As more of an introvert, networking is probably the toughest part for me, but it’s something I’m starting to enjoy.
Leah*, 40, she/her
I studied graphic design and was a print designer, but I wanted to get into digital design. While being a print designer, I did an HTML/CSS short course to learn how to design websites. I mocked up a few dummy website designs for my portfolio and ended up landing a job in an eCommerce company.
In the end, I didn’t have to do any coding because I worked alongside two developers and I learned so much from them. I then decided I wanted to be a user experience (UX)/user interface (UI) designer and design apps, so I did a course in UX design, usability testing and design thinking. I had to complete these courses while I was still working. From there, I managed to land a job as a UX designer at International Business Machines (IBM). I then decided I wanted to be a product designer in the software as a service (SAAS) industry. My UX design role and the previous design thinking course taught me skills in innovation design, so I easily got a role in product design.
Today, I’m a Design Manager and lead a team of designers. I’ve found that as I climb the ladder, my wants and desires have changed. I’ve pivoted many times to get where I wanted to be. The girl I was when I studied graphic design never in her wildest dreams would’ve thought she’d be the Design Manager of a software company today. I’m 40, so I’m not really a recent grad, but maybe my ladder-climbing journey might inspire others to make smart moves and upskill through courses. Always have a growth mindset and never stop learning.
Nicola*, 26, she/her
I was rejected from several jobs and almost made it to the end of three graduate programs. I kept getting knocked back at the final stage. Then COVID made it even harder. I ended up applying for a job ad that was really ambiguous. I didn’t totally understand the role, but I applied for it because I saw that I had skills that matched the selection criteria. I was invited for the next round, met the manager and realised it was a job I really wanted to do. I wasn’t expecting a long-term role (it was for a one-off project), but after it ended, the company liked me and found other projects to keep me on board!
If I could magically change anything, it’d be the sheer volume of rejection from applications that take so long to put together. It’s really discouraging and has an impact on your workplace confidence, even after you get the job. For me, it was important to be open to work and vocal about it. It can feel embarrassing, but it means you’re opening yourself up for people to help you (the job ad for my current role was sent to me by a friend, I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise!).
Beatrix*, 26, she/her
I applied for an internship and was rejected, so I continued at uni. The business where I applied for the internship ended up growing so quickly, they later called me asking if I’d be interested in a (paid) social media position. I worked across all facets of the business. We were a small team and would give help wherever help was needed.
My advice would be to try skills in areas you wouldn’t normally explore. After putting my hand up to help, I learned the entire business model. This landed me a brand manager position after nine months of being with the company.
For more advice on landing your dream role, head here.