How to get work experience with an Interior stylist if you’re just starting out.

This Exactly how I would get work experience with an Interior stylist if I was just starting out.

This Exactly how I would get work experience with an Interior stylist if I was just starting out. This images is of Interior Stylist Emma Morton-Turner holding boxes of props

You know how the saying goes… “It’s not what you know, in fact it’s NEVER what you know, it’s ALWAYS who you know that gets you ahead in ANY industry”. If I was starting out from scratch right now here are the exact steps I would take to get work experience to become an interior stylist.

Step One – Why work experience

I’ve talked about this quite a lot in this post and on this YouTube video but in a nutshell, you need to expect to do work experience when you’re just getting started and that might mean working for free. Photoshoots are fast paced and expensive. An Interior Stylist probably won’t have time to stop and direct a newbie on what to do and how not to get under the crews feet once the shoot gets going. Harsh I know – but true. That’s why Interior Stylists hire experienced assistants who know how they work and can move at their speed.

When we have a work experience on a shoot they are often the second assistant. This means the assistant can direct the workie and the shoot can run doubly smoothly.

In order to get work experience you need to find an interior stylist to assist.

Side note 1 – I’m a hard interior stylist to work for. I talk fast, work fast, need constant coffee/Dr Pepper/ Sugar injections and although I’m a really lovely person, on shoots I talk direct. No nonsense -whether you’re the assistant, photographer, client or workie. That’s why I’ll never have work experience on their own on my shoots. They need a comrade. 😉

Side note 2 – Be prepared to do work experience for free for the first few shoots. I always recommend experiencing an editorial and commercial shoot as a work experience before charging an assistant fee. This is because you’ll need to learn the ropes first. As a work experience, you should have your travel covered and lunch provided at the least.

Step Two – Make Contact with a Freelance Interior Stylist for commercial experience

It’s never been easier to get in touch with a complete stranger than it is right now. Need a name, Google it. Need a phone number, Google it. But when it comes to making contact with interior stylists social media is still Queen. The first step is to make contact with an Interior Stylist via social media. Now, when I say make contact I mean make contact – don’t stalk them.

  • Choose one or two interior stylists that you admire and have been following for a while and start to like and comment on their posts. Do this regularly enough on anyone’s feed and they’ll notice you and recognise a familiar face.
  • Continue to like their posts and leave a meaningful comments on their posts. “Nice shot” isn’t going to get you noticed. “I love how you styled that fabric with that wallpaper on your shoot in Homes and Gardens. I’m now following @GrahamAndBrown after finding them via you” #influenced 😉 – will not only bring a smile to their face but they will remember you next time you comment.
    Also- side benefit, apparently when you leave a longer comment other people who see your comment are more likely to follow you too.
    This may sound like a cheesy comment – but I’m a cheesy person. You do you. The main thing is to leave a sentence or two that makes your personality shine through and your comment stand out amongst all the others.
  • After commenting consistently on an interior stylist’s posts for a few weeks or so, drop them a DM. Ask them something simple about a shot. Let them know you love the last shoot they shared. Tell them “you’ve been to the location they are talking about when you were assisting/doing work experience and also loved that cat but it started to scratch the very expensive sofa that was on loan”. Again, be honest and meaningful.
  • When the stylist replies you can ask them a question. Start a conversation. This is when you can let them know that you’re starting out in styling and would love to help them on a shoot if they ever needed an extra pair of useful and willing hands.
  • Keep the conversation going.

Side note – if your social media handle is something vague like @M2Lemon or @Sonfun2345 the stylist will have no idea what your real name is or that you are serious about a career in styling. Consider changing your profile to @JosephineSmithsInteriors or Just @JosephineSmiths. If you have an abstract handle it’s harder to be remembered. It’s also worth thinking about your career in 2, 3 or 5 years time. Start building up your brand name and presence now with a profesh name/handle.

Another side note – If you have only just started following the stylist, like and comment for a bit longer – two to three months or so, before DMing them. If someone has just started following me then says they love my work” it’s a big of a red flag.

Step Three – Contact Magazines for editorial experience

Magazines are a whole different ball game nowadays. Whereas there used to be big teams in a homes department, now there are hubs where a handful of people work across a number of titles. They often work from home and getting in front of them is much harder – but not impossible.
Magazines also do less photoshoots and when they do they often hire freelance Interior Stylists (in which case see step two)

How to approach magazines

  • Research – Always start with a magazine you love or read regularly. The more you can show enthusiasm for a title the better.
  • Name – Find out who the best person to contact on the magazine is. You’ll need to find the panel in a magazine where the team and contributors are listed. This is called the flannel panel (I have no idea why)
    There are many names given to the same type of positions so use your best judgement. The Homes Editor may do the same job as the Interior Editor… or may not. It doesn’t matter too much as if you get the wrong person they can let you know who the right contact is or may even forward your email on. I would avoid emailing the editor of the magazine directly- unless the whole team is small. Look for the heads of departments or stylists. They’ll be the ones booking stylists and assistants. They have the work experience booking power.
  • Email – Now you have the name and know the magazine well you’re ready to email asking for work experience. 

Step Four – How to write your email.

You have the name and job title of the person you want to contact and that’s a great start. There’s nothing worse than receiving an email that starts ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. By having the right name you have already made an effort. The very most important thing to remember when writing an email is to make it about the receiver NOT ABOUT YOU! If your emails starts out with

“I want to be an interior stylist and I’d love to help you on a shoot so I can get experience and I can get shoots of my own”

Yep, I would bet most interior stylists have received a message like that. Most don’t get a response for work experience.

If your email starts out with what the interior stylist can do for you, they don’t get the impression you’re going to be very helpful on a shoot. Make the email all about how you can help them. What do you bring to the table? This may sound really obvious but it happens all the time.

What to include in your email

  • Features. It’s always a good idea to show someone you’ve been following them for a while and know what they do. Let them know you loved a specific piece of work they did a few months ago.“I loved the Red Thread shoot you did for LivingEtc. That Mind the Gap wallpaper was incredible!”It shouldn’t be a feature that’s in a current issue – anyone can comment on that. You’re a “true fan” so share something specific.
  • Share your enthusiasm. Share your enthusiasm for interiors – whatever that is. I started out by making tassels and I needed cushions for the tassels and then curtains and then upholstery and then I went for a completely inappropriate job on a magazine and fell into interior styling. People love that story (It’s here in case you’re interested) and it shows that I have a love of interiors running through my veins. Share that. (Again, I’m cheesy. You do you)
  • Share who you’ve worked for. If you’ve already carried out some work experience share that in your email. The Interior Styling world is pretty small and lots of us know each other (we chat all the time in the Interior Stylists Facebook Group for members) Name drop interior stylists whenever you can. It will probably help.
  • Fancy a cuppa?– Always share in your email that you’re happy to do the hard graft. Assisting (and styling) is hard, physical work. The days are fast-paced and sometimes long. There’s lots of loading and unloading of vans, the boxes are endless as are the rolls of tape. There will always be a need for copious cups of tea for the whole crew and as the work experience that will fall on you. Make sure you let the stylist know that you’re more than happy to keep the cuppas flowing. It proves you’ll work hard and do whatever it takes to make the shoot a success.

Step Five -Follow up

The most important thing to remember once you have sent a request for work experience, whether that is in house on a magazine or to a freelancer, is to be patient.
There are so many reasons why you might not get a quick response.

  • The stylist may be away on a shoot or is mega busy prepping for a shoot and isn’t at their desk replying right now.
  • They may get 100+ emails a day and put yours in the dreaded ‘to get back to’ email pile. (#guilty!)
  • They may not respond at all but may put your details on file (lots of us do this)
  • They may be inundated with requests like this and they don’t have time to deal with them (really big interior stylists never reply but do get in touch when they need help)
  • Another thing to remember is that not every shoot has the need for an assistant. Interior Stylists have their regular assistants and it’s not always possible to have an extra pair of hands on the shoot. Or they may just not have any shoots on when you email.
  • What to do – Give them a call. Most stylists will either have a profile page on Inside Stylists or a portfolio website with their contact details on. Call them up and see if there is anything you can help with. It may be research or picking up props ahead of a shoot. Some stylists need someone to go to the flower market for them.
    It’s much harder to ignore a phone call than an email and you may just call at the right time.

Step Six – Don’t give up.

If you get a “not right now thanks” ask if the Interior Stylist has anyone they can recommend you get in touch with. If you contact another stylist saying “So and So recommended I get in touch with you” it will have more clout. You’re more likely to get a response.
Don’t get despondent. This is a long game. Do the marathon not the sprint. Play Chess not chequers.

Step Seven – Where to find a community of Interior Stylists

Without blowing my own trumpet, the very best place to find a huge community of Interior Stylists is within the Member’s Facebook group. That’s where the interior stylists, writers and assistants hang out, ask for assistant help and talk all things shoots and features.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming a member have a look here.

P.S. At the risk of pissing people off and to protect my already bulging email inbox I must let you know that I only hire assistants and work experience from within the Inside Stylists Community – sorry. But there are plenty of stylists for you to contact on the Interior Stylists Profile pages. Check them out here.

Still got questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer them there.

Emma morton-turner EmmaMT

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