Last week, I sat down to interview Nichole Fallis at Frosty's Diner in Denton. She's a determined, focused student with big dreams of creating a product or company that will shake the ground of the retail industry. This past summer, Nichole was one of the few students across the country selected to intern at Nordstrom's headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Although she told me twice that she's still not sure how she got the internship, one can easily understand how after getting to know her. She's humble, authentic, professional, and most importantly, she knows what she wants. Besides her stunning blue eyes, what I find most fascinating about Nichole is her never-ceasing, organic enthusiasm... something that is often hard to find. She proves that with enough passion and preparation, you can achieve your highest goals.
Read on to learn more about Nichole, and uncover what it really takes to impress HR, land the internship, and excel in the office at one of the leading upscale fashion retailers: Nordstrom.
Name: Nichole Fallis
Hometown: I grew up in military family since my dad was in the air force, so I’m from a lot of different places. My parents have lived in Helotes, Texas in San Antonio for quite a few years now so I consider that my hometown.
Major(s): Merchandising and Digital Retailing
Where did you intern at? Which company and in what city?
Nordstrom in Seattle, Washington.
What was your classification when you completed the internship?
Junior going into Senior year.
What was your job title? What department did you work in?
I was a Buying and Planning intern, also known as a Nordstrom Merchandising Group intern. I worked in the Skincare 1 Buying Pod. There’s two, so I was on team one.
What is the internship paid or unpaid?
Part or full time? Exactly how many weeks?
Full time, 9-weeks.
Did you have any previous internship experience? If so, what experience did you have?
I did a local, unofficial internship with Austere magazine, but it wasn’t super professional. This was my first real internship with a real corporation at a corporate office.
What were the daily hours?
I worked a lot. Hours varied. Some days I’d only work 8 hours. Some days I’d work 10 or 11 hours. It was a personal choice; I wasn’t being forced to stay there. Either I wanted to be there, I wanted to help… or I had stuff I wanted to work on and get done so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning and I could work on other stuff. The weekly hours varied. Some weeks I’d only work 40 hours and some weeks I’d work over 40. Just depended on what was happening that week.
What was the dress code?
Nordstrom’s really flexible with the dress code. You kind of have to gauge your pod and division. Cosmetics was actually a little more dressy. I’m not sure why. The denim buying pod always dressed really casual in denim, and tech was super casual wearing flip flops. It ranges, so you have to base it off the certain pod you’re in.
Did you feel like your workload as an intern was manageable? Why or why not?
It was manageable but it was just enough to be overwhelming. But, that’s how it is at a new job.
What were you responsible for while at your internship? Describe you day-to-day activities.
I did a lot of stuff. One of the main things that the buying and planning interns did was go into this system called RDW and pull reports. For example, if my boss said “Oh I don’t think Kiehls is doing that good today,” then I’d pull a this-year last-year report and see how Kiehls was doing last year compared to today. I’d pull that information then give her a little brief over the actual breakdown of the specific numbers. There was also a lot of vendor communication so, if my boss needed me to call a vendor and ask a quick question since they weren’t responding by email, then I’d do that just to take it off of her plate. I also did other little stuff like comp-shopping during my free time. I’d scroll through Sephora and see the deals they had compared to what we had and see if some things weren’t lining up.
What was your favorite part of the internship? Least favorite part?
[In regards to my favorite part], when you’re at Nordstrom’s internship, they take you on all these different tours and you basically get to go to every different part of the company. So we went to the quality center, the call center, the studio. Honestly my favorite one was the quality center. If you have two feet that are different sizes, Nordstrom will let you purchase one pair of shoes that are two different size shoes. So there’s a lot of leftover shoes at the “Single’s Party” as they call it. So at the Singles Party in the quality center, they are really just trying to match all the singles together from all the stores in the U.S. and Canada. Also, when people buy fancy designer goods and return them, we can no longer sell them at Nordstrom full line stores. So, they go to the quality center and they inspect them, they refurbish them, and there’s actually a whole area where there’s a bunch of cobblers working and they fix the designer shoes and they’ get randomly sent to any rack store in the U.S. And they get sent directly to the manager’s office so that the employees can’t just buy them right away because it’s like Gucci, Chanel, and all these crazy products for really discounted prices that weren’t currently being sold but were very recently being sold. So, throughout the day the manager will randomly just place them in racks at Rack stores. That was something that was really interesting to me that I likedabout Nordstrom. The Rack is a true scavenger hunt, and seeing that side of it from the quality center was really cool.
[When I think of my least favorite day] there was one day when it was Amazon Prime Day. There was just this feeling in the pod that was a lot more stressful. It was a more challenging day, because we were kind of freaked out about what Amazon was doing and [wondering] how we [could] differentiate ourselves. It was like a really REAL day in retail. We were competing against Amazon. That was the gloomiest day. We were all just like “AHHHHH! Amazon is scary.” That was the day when it I thought “Wow, this is not just a fairytale.”
What did you learn from this internship that contributed to your growth as a professional?
This is such a broken record, but the importance of networking is crazy at the corporate level. Even though you’re there… you [still] have to network you’re a** off. Be a happy person in the work place because the people who aren’t stand out in a negative way and it’s not good. And just being a true team player and doing things like sending out a little email if you have ten extra minutes saying “Hey I’m not doing anything right now other than my intern project and I can help anyone else out that needs help.” People will come up to you and say “Oh my goodness, if you could just do this one thing…,” and it makes them so happy! Even if no one needs help, just the fact that you sent it out and to make yourself an option makes them think more positively about you as a new person who’s just come in.
Did your views on the retail industry change at all due to the experience?
Yes, because Nordstrom had us visit all of the different parts of Nordstrom, and we worked on the floor for a few days during the anniversary sale. I guess to me, I had always thought that corporate positions were the most important (which sounds bad), but I just kind of felt that way because it seems unrealistic otherwise when you’re not there. I thought, “Wow, I hope one day I get to work corporate.” I thought it was like this big thing, like a dream kind of. And then we’re you’re there you realize, yeah corporate’s cool but you can’t even have a job if it’s not for the people that make your job possible. It sounds really silly but, it’s just the idea that all parts are really important. Whether you’re in the quality center, in the fashion studio, or on the floor, they’re all truly equal and interdependent.
Where did you live in Seattle while you were interning? What did you enjoy or not enjoy about your living quarters?
I lived in U District, which is where the University of Washington is located. U District is not as sophisticated as downtown Washington where Nordstrom is located. It’s where the college students live. It’s a little bit more grungy. Seattle has a ton of homeless people, and some of them do live in the U District. I didn’t have a problem with that, but I know that that made some girls uncomfortable. I guess that was one of the sadder parts because you see that they don’t have a place to live. We lived in the University dorms. Mine was in Mercer Court and I got stellar roommates, so it was pretty great. It depends on who you’re rooming with because if you’re rooming with cool people it’s going to be great not matter what location you’re in. I will say the people that didn’t live in the dorm were really left out of stuff because we would just go from our dorm to do stuff. Those who chose not to go the avenue of dorming with Nordstrom… they just didn’t get to have as much fun I feel like.
What was the commute like to and from your internship?
The good thing about living at the University of Washington is that there are bus stops everywhere. From our dorm to the bus stop, it was probably just a 1 to 2 minute walk. But, public transportation in Seattle is a lot different than here because a lot of people use it… so it’s a lot more efficient than what you think of here. Sometimes I’d walk up to the bus stop and the bus would just come, and from there it only takes me 10 minutes for me to get to the bus stop that allows me to get to work… with a 3 minute walk. But some days, it would take the bus 10 minutes [to show up], so my commute could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 30 minutes. But at Nordstrom you don’t have to get to work at a set time. It’s just like, be here before this time, or between these times, so it was never super stressful. Sometimes you’re packed like sardines [in the bus], and sometimes children throw up, but other than that it’s fine.
Can you walk us through the steps of your interview process?
Towards the end of December 2014, I submitted my application online. Nordstrom doesn’t do any testing, so there’s no personality test, there’s no retail math test. You just turn in your application, and at the beginning of the year – I remember it being around the end of Christmas break – I got an email saying I got to the next step and that I’d be doing a video interview. The first Skype interview you could do any day before a due date. So you just logged onto the site and you did the interview any time you wanted. The first interview, you’re not actually talking to anyone live. You’re talking to this prerecorded lady who’s asking you questions and you respond. I recommend doing it during the day when your roommate’s gone and you have nice natural light on your face and you just look really good. And if you do well on that, they send you another email asking you to do the final interview which is using that same system but you’re actually with live people. And they’re flexible. They give you multiple times to choose from. I know when Neiman Marcus interviews, they’re just like here’s the time you’re doing it and if you can’t, then… sorry. But Nordstrom is not like that. They’re like “Choose between these times, let us know…,” so they’re very nice. You interview with a panel of people. Mine was with 4 or 5 people, and it starts exactly on time when they say it does, and it ends exactly when they say it’s going to end. They were very punctual which was cool. They asked some difficult questions; I was kind of surprised. I consider it one of the hardest interviews I’ve done. An example of one of these hard questions was “Explain a time in your life when you used numbers to solve a difficult life situation.” I can’t remember what I responded with. If you guys get to that point, be prepared for that question. [After that interview] they emailed me and let me know I got it and sent me the details and stuff.
What skills/experience/and classes benefited you the most while on-the-job?
Profit Centered Merchandising. It’s only the Excel part. I was never having to sit down and number crunch. Any class that has forced you to be adaptable, I would say is the most useful. I hate to learn to use Outlook. I hate Outlook. That sounds silly but that was challenging to me… learning how to use their mailing system. You have to be kind-of tech savvy because what you’re having to do is essentially getting on their reporting systems and figuring out how to pull their reports and it’s very complicated. They give you some training but nothing can fully prepare you.
What was the structure of the training program?
Nordstrom is not big on training, but they did offer the interns a few classes. At the beginning of the internship we had a lot more training and then it dwindled down. But, they did have a class where they taught us how to pull those reports. They had a class that showed us the best way to approach our intern projects. We listened to guest speakers [like Olivia Kim!]. We had basic classes on merchandising, but specific to Nordstom and they’re acronyms and terms that they use. We had a culture club too which was run by former interns where they told us stuff that most people don’t know. Like, at Nordstrom, no one chews gum because the Nordstrom bothers really hate when people chew gum. And they taught us things like, never bring another retailer’s bag with your lunch – like a Forever21 bag – into the Nordstrom corporate office, because people are going to look at you and wonder what you are doing. Make it seem like the only place you ever shop at is Nordstrom. We took classes that helped us merge into the culture which is a bigger deal to them than hard-core training.
What was the most challenging obstacle you had to overcome at your internship?
What made it challenging was we were given an intern project at the beginning of our internship. The project was really specific and you had to give a presentation towards the end of your internship. So, what was difficult was balancing digging in deep to that project while still helping my pod out.
How would you describe your relationship with the other interns?
My roommates were interns so I would say amazing. It was really fun. It’s just kind of cool when you have all these people who have such similar interests as you and are really passionate and are obsessed with the same company. I can remember going out to dinner with my roommates and we got horrible service. And Nordstrom is really big on service so we were like “ughhh… that was such horrible service!,” and then we all looked at each other like, ”wow.” People have really similar values as you and also the same interests. We definitely went out on the weekends, and would run into everyone in the same area, so it was a really positive, good experience. I heard rumors of other people not getting along, but I didn’t really have that problem.
What did you do after work Monday-Friday and on the weekends?
Monday through Friday, sometimes the HR department would have different events for us to participate in, like one of the duck-call things, little cocktail hours, stuff like that. Sometimes I would meet up with my roommates if we were getting off around the same time and go have one drink and head home. Or we’d go straight home and change into ugly, comfy clothes and then go walk down The Ave and get Indian or Thai food and maybe go thrift shopping. On the weekends we did everything. We went to Portland one weekend. We went to Pike’s Place which is the big market in Seattle. We just tried to see as much of Seattle as we could and at night we would go-out, go-out.
How would you describe your relationship with your boss and/or mentors?
My boss was really sweet… more soft-spoken, but would obviously speak up when she needed to. She was more nurturing. My boss was a buy-planner. So she was in charge of a product category, ours being Skincare 1. And too, her pod is broken up into a buy-planner, a buyer, an assistant buyer, an assistant buy-planner, replenishment buyers, and also a merchant assistant. But now, there’s also going to be a merchant analyst/office aide. That’s the structure of the whole entire pod, so basically everyone in the whole entire pod was my boss. But the person who was in charge of my documentation was the buy-planner. She was able to explain to me how to do stuff and invited me to vendor meetings. I got to sit down in meetings and talk with people and they’d make me feel like I was part of the team. I remember being in one meeting with the buyer in my pod and she was like “Smell these two scents. Which one do you think is better?” And then she was like “Okay we’ll take this one too.” So I made that decision, and it was going in the store. It sounds miniscule but they truly value your opinion. I wasn’t in the back just holding a clipboard; I was sitting at the table and helping them make decisions, and talking about what the packaging looked like, and what scents we think are going to be big at certain times of the year.
From your perspective, how would you describe Nordstrom’s corporate company culture?
Be an individual, but be an individual that works well with other individuals. When you’re walking down the street in Seattle, you can kind of tell who works at Nordstrom because they have really good style that is also very unique. And I think that’s something that’s really unique to their culture. They’re very much themselves but also very nice and humble at the same time. You can’t really tell who’s a higher up executive in the corporate office.
Would you recommend this internship to other students? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, yes! Because, Nordstrom is going to have world domination! Just kidding. There’s a few reasons. Nordstrom’s an old company and they’ve been growing as a company for a very long time, which is challenging in today’s environment. When I was applying for internships, I knew I wanted to be with a stable company; one that I was pretty sure wasn’t going downhill anytime soon. I wanted to intern for a company I wanted to work for. That was something I really looked at, and Nordstrom fit that for me. They’ve been doing really well, and they plan on growing a lot more by 2020. They’re also growing well with technology. I recommend it just because you learn a lot, they take your opinion, and the company is doing well… there’s not this weird feeling because people are getting fired.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a student pursuing an internship at Nordstrom?
They need to tailor their resume. But, I think for Nordstrom its way more about the cover letter. I could be wrong. But, I put a lot of time into my cover letter. I made sure they knew that I knew about their company history, so I sprinkled in a fact about how they were originally a shoe store, but in a fun and quirky way. Obviously if you’re applying for the buying internship, make sure that it’s evident that you have retail math skills, and that you’ve taken certain classes. Then in your cover letter, make sure it shows your personality, what you’ve done, and that you know the company. Also, if you know someone that knows someone, get them to pass on your application. That’s another big thing.
Wardrobe Styling: Nichole Fallis
Copy, Photography, and Graphics: Ashley Nudge