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Building a Career at Nordstrom

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Academy of Art University School of Fashion alumnus and Nordstrom Assistant Styling Sales Manager Eric Miller and Nordstrom Assistant HR Manager Natali Paniagua. Photo by Bob Toy.

On Tuesday, March 13, Eric Miller, assistant styling sales manager at Nordstrom’s flagship store in downtown San Francisco, was part of the company’s internship presentation at 2300 Stockton, talking to Academy of Art University School of Fashion students. Just one year and a day ago, Miller was sitting in the same room, listening to a similar talk, but as a student. 

At that time, Miller, a Spring 2017 B.F.A. fashion merchandising graduate, originally applied for the buying internship at Nordstrom’s headquarters in Seattle and the business internship in the downtown SF location. 

He was both a full-time worker and student (splitting classes between online and on-campus), while also interning for a flagship store founded by one of his instructors, Tommy Pham. Impressed by his work ethic, Nordstrom decided to hire him full-time.

“Based off my track record (being in school, internship, working) they said [that] they felt I was already at the endpoint of what I would learn at the internship so they made a full-time offer instead,” he explained. “It’s not going to happen for every person, but depending on your history and what you’ve been doing to work up to this point, anything is possible.” 

Miller and his fellow presenter, Natali Paniagua, assistant HR manager at Nordstrom, spoke to the class about the company’s history, structure and vision. Paniagua placed an emphasis on “finding the best people to ultimately take care of our customers.” Within the available internships—sales, business and corporate in headquarters—students work side-by-side with their department heads to learn the in’s and out’s of Nordstrom, from the sales floor to the business side.

“We’re looking for people that want to grow with the company,” Paniagua told the room. “We want people that actually want to build a career with Nordstrom.”

Although he almost became a pharmacist, Miller has made huge strides in his career in retail, especially within Nordstrom. As an assistant styling sales manager, he teaches new hires and seasoned salespeople to become experts in delivering customer service and follow-through. Among several other responsibilities, Miller spearheaded initiatives to offer weekly styling tips and trends to customers and leads shopping events with outside businesses, such as Salesforce and FourSquare. 

Miller said he’ll soon be moving into a new position within the coming months, an example of the mobility opportunities within the retailer. 

“We’ve both had the opportunity to wear many different hats,” Paniagua said. 

Entrepreneurship in Fashion (FSH 450) instructor John Sun, who sat in on the Nordstrom presentation, said having speakers come to the school is always a great way for students to learn what opportunities are out there, but to also know what it takes to get in through the door. 

“[These presentations] show students that there is a path for them, but they really have to work hard to get there,” he said. “It comes down to work ethic—what you put in the classroom, you’re going to get out of it.” 

Miller said networking with his instructors and constantly asking questions was an invaluable part of his Academy experience. Though he was pressed for time between work, school and his internship, he always made an effort to connect with his teachers and encourages current students to do the same. 

“Our teachers aren’t just random people, they’re people in the fashion industry,” he said. “They’ve been in the industry longer than I’ve been alive.”

Yijing Lu, a B.F.A. fashion merchandising student, said through Nordstrom’s visit she realized the value of being professional, even while still in school. After briefly speaking one-on-one with Miller after the presentation, she said it was refreshing to hear from someone who was in her exact position not too long ago.

“Being in school, especially here, is pretty much your first job experience,” she said. 

“Every day is your interview. Keep that in mind, even in your classroom setting or anywhere for that matter,” Paniagua shared as a last bit of advice. “Every day is your interview for the next day. So, know that your performance today can reflect your performance for tomorrow and what can come for the next day.”