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The Independent Online

Sally Fitzpatrick, 25, is an assistant buyer at Claire’s Accessories, she gives her views on the importance of work placements.

When I was at school was always very creative and I did an art foundation course, which is when I realised that I was really interested in fashion design. From there I started my degree at Birmingham City University in fashion design and retail marketing.

Having done various work experience placements, I was very keen to get into buying. I think the best thing about work experience is that it gives you a sneak preview into what that job might really be like before actually embarking on that career choice. That’s why it was crucial for me.

I had a contact at Claire’s Accessories in Birmingham and I managed to secure myself a six-week work experience placement that I did in the summer of my final year. It was fantastic - I had a brilliant time and made lots of friends. They were obviously impressed with me because I was asked to go back during the Christmas break of my final year, which was a fantastic opportunity.

I made a point of staying in touch and I was very lucky; the head of buying e-mailed me to tell me that a role had come up, and that if I was interested they’d like to see me. I’ve been here for two years. When I started I was a buyers’ administrator, which means quite a lot of responsibility. One thing is approving the samples coming in that will be sold in stores – you’ve got to check that they are of the right quality and style.

There’s a lot of liaising with suppliers from the Far East over shipments too, checking that samples are right. I went on comparison shops, where you check out what competitors are doing and write reports. Visual merchandising is another aspect: you have an input into how things are going to look in-store. There is a lot of administration involved, with approvals and spreadsheets and things like that – it’s a very varied job.

I’m now an assistant buyer, which means a bit more responsibility; you basically buy for your own little department. I was buying for a section called Special Occasions, although obviously I was assisting the buyer and not doing it all myself! Within Claire’s there has been the opportunity to step up if you’re willing and you want to get noticed. It’s really exciting if you show that you’re keen and get involved in as much stuff as possible.

You can now download Skillsmart Retail work experience guides at