By Ashley Anderson
“Be inquisitive. Learn everything you can.” These simple, wise words come from Jim Gold, the 48-year-old retail lover, businessman and current president of specialty retail at Neiman Marcus. This talented entrepreneur’s 2012 total calculated compensation was nearly $5 million according to Bloomberg Businessweek – an amount that seems foreign to most of us college students. And where did Gold’s career, which ultimately led to his incredible and elite position, begin? The Executive Development Program at Neiman Marcus.
The Executive Development Program is an intensive 12-week training program that, once completed, leads to placement as an assistant buyer with one of the business divisions of Neiman Marcus. And, lucky for interested SMU grads, the EDP is based right here in metropolitan Dallas/Fort Worth.
The EDP first arrived on the Dallas fashion scene over 30 years ago as a way to grow and build future executives. In this exclusive program, aspirant store buyers and fashionistas spend time in the classroom learning theories and analytical approaches to running a business. Students are able to practice these techniques hands-on during their buying-offices rotations.
Kelly Knez is an assistant manager of human resources for Neiman Marcus. She explains that students select a store to shadow and follow the store’s current managers to understand each manager’s role and relationship to the buying office. “Detailed training is provided in regards to the actual buying process and understanding of where you begin as an assistant buyer,” Knez says.
Knowing you’ll be trained so extensively should help ease your nerves, allowing your inner confidence to shine through during the interview.
Now that you know what the EDP entails, it’s time to take that leap of faith and apply. What’s the worst that can happen? Natalie Bornowski, who completed a BBA double major in Marketing and Spanish at SMU, went through the program shortly after graduating. She says the EDP includes a number of different segments: “First, there is an online application that is split into a personality test and then a quantitative/math section.”
The next step toward becoming a Neiman Marcus EDP student? “If you pass this, then an on-campus interview is held,” Boronowski says. ”After this you can advance to the onsite two-day interview at NM corporate offices where you will participate in group projects, interviews and tours.” She says that after this process is complete, you’ll be notified if you have been selected for the EDP class. Jodi Kahn, manager of college relations at Neiman Marcus, says that job experience of any kind and leadership are two qualities they look for in a candidate.
Well…you did it! If you are one of the lucky ones offered a spot in the newest EDP class, congratulations – you deserve it. Typically, a class includes between 25 and 30 specially selected students, most of them recent college graduates. In addition, men comprise about 35 percent of each group – always a bonus for fashionistas used to working in a predominantly female fashion environment! Bornowski explains that throughout the 12-week program, students will be in class completing projects, homework and tests as well as rotating part-time in a buying office.
During this time, another interview process begins to find the best buying fit for each candidate. “Some students will be placed in a buying office while still in EDP, others will be placed directly at the end of EDP, and others will still continue to rotate after EDP has finished,” Bornowski says.“It all depends on the interview process and finding the right buyer/assistant fit.”
Tayler Lee graduated from the EDP and now is the assistant manager for fine apparel at the Neiman Marcus NorthPark store. Lee believes the program has equipped her to one day achieve her goal of becoming a buyer for the store: “The program teaches you about the ins and outs of assistant buying as well as the history and traditions of Neiman Marcus.”
Tips To Take Home
Though this process may seem overwhelming, it is one that many students in the Dallas area and across the country go through to be part of one of the world’s most prestigious and well-known luxury department stores. The program is offered exclusively in Dallas, so why not take a chance? Follow the advice from employees at Neiman Marcus and current EDP graduates and you’ll be one step ahead of other applicants:
Tip #1: Knez says her primary role at Neiman Marcus is interviewing candidates for positions and promoting the EDP. Fashion-loving students should start learning about the store and how it works before they even apply,” she says. “Build your career from the ground up to establish knowledge of the industry, customers and retail environment.”
Tip #2: A graduate of the EDP, Bornowski says: “Be yourself! I suggest you take in everything you learn and conduct your own set of interviews. Don’t be nervous – just breathe and smile.” The SMU graduate compares the process to greek “rush,” or recruitment: “You want to be sure to find the right fit for you in terms of a job, just like you want to find the right sorority.”
Tip #3: Tayler Lee, a graduate of the EDP Program, currently works as the assistant manager for fine apparel at Neiman Marcus. Lee advises potential candidates to try out many different aspects of the program. “The program is a direct feed into an assistant- buying position. But, after you are an assistant buyer, the program can launch your career at NM in many different directions,” Lee explains.