Style & Beauty

InStyle EIC Ariel Foxman On The Best Question To Ask In An Interview

"Yes, You Can Make It In Fashion" is a new HuffPost Style series that profiles men and women across every area of the fashion industry. It explores how the subjects rose to the top, how they thrive and practical advice they have for young people trying to break into their world.

There are many things about Ariel Foxman, InStyle's editor-in-chief, that make him an aberration from the norm. Not only is he a male editing one of the most successful women's fashion magazines, but before his current gig, he worked at The New Yorker and Details. Oh, and he also attended Harvard, NBD.

His ᅢᄐber successful career is a clear indicator that this guy knows what he's doing. And lucky for us, we got to chat with Foxman and pick his brain on everything from the best way to ask for a raise to how to answer some of the toughest interview questions. Here's what we learned:

On what an editor-in-chief actually does:

I think people have a preconceived notion about what editors-in-chief do and it's changed pretty dramatically over the last couple of years. There's the traditional role that the editor-in-chief has, which is to be the last person who sees every piece of content that is printed or published. And I do that. But the editor-in-chief at a brand as big as InStyle is also an ambassador for the brand -- so making sure that anyone in the industries that we represent or partner with is aware of our strengths and what we have to offer. And secondly, I'm responsible for growth. It's a multi-million dollar business; part of that comes from print circulation and ads; part from digital ad revenue; and part comes from additional revenue services (we sell shoes, bags and jewelry at Nine West).


On the biggest turn-offs in an interview:

When someone who is interviewing for a job is uninformed about our brand, I'm left confused about why they are here. I don't expect someone to know a whole lot about the job that they are interviewing for -- that would be very difficult to know. What I am expecting is [that you] have done your homework and your research, by reviewing what is available to the general public. There is no excuse for not having read our past six issues, for not having looked at InStyle on your phone for the last five days leading up to your interview. There is no excuse for not having looked at our videos on Youtube. There is just no excuse because that's available and it's essentially free. You would be surprised how many people come in and know nothing about the brand and don't even try and fake it. I think the other thing that I find really disturbing [is when] people are really chummy. I totally discount a lot for nerves, but there is this level of chumminess that sometimes occurs at an interview that I find really strange and it's so off-putting to the point where I feel like the person could care less if they get the job or not. People fret about what they are going to wear, but I think you should worry more about tone. Another thing that is really disturbing [and it] really depends how it comes across, and this is a trap that I think a lot of interviewers lay for people to see how you respond, is asking a question about your current job, or why you're leaving your current job. They are waiting to see, I think, if you're going to trash your current employer, or your current situation. Or, at the very least, are you going to take any responsibility for why you may be unhappy somewhere. Most people find a happy medium, of 'oh it's not really for me' or 'I'm looking for a change'. But there are other people who really rail against where they work. And who wants to onboard somebody who is so unhappy?

On how to impress in an interview:

Things that really impress me are a deep knowledge of the brand, a deep knowledge of the challenges our brand and the industry are facing and being able to articulate that and ask questions around that. Somebody who can talk about the brand, the company, the industry, in a window larger than a month. So it's not just the current issue, or what they saw this morning. I'm always impressed when somebody says in the interview 'I really would like this job'. And nobody says it. Very, very few people say it. When anybody asks me, what should I say in an interview? What should I ask? What's the best question to ask? When somebody says to you in an interview, 'Do you have a question to ask me?' My recommendation would always be to say, 'Is there anything else I can do to support my candidacy for this job because I guarantee, if you hire me, I will do my best not only in the job, but to make sure that you don't regret hiring me. I want this job so badly.' There is no question you ask that is going to have a better impact than that. And then you follow up immediately with a handwritten thank you note when you leave -- not as you're walking out. I've had people walk out and drop a hand written thank you note with my assistant which is weird, because it should reference something in the interview. It should be that afternoon, get that note in the mail. It should come with a stamp. Don't use your company to messenger it.

On what to say when someone asks you your biggest weaknesses in an interview:

I think that's a really lazy interview question and I'm probably guilty of having asked that years ago. I think an appropriate answer is, 'It's really hard for me to tell you what my weaknesses are, I'm sure I have them. I can tell you this: If I were given the job, which I hope I will be given because I know I would be a great match, the thing that I would have a learning curve around is...' So it's less about me as a person, because a lot of people are worried that now you are being asked to pick a fault. Everyone has faults and no one is really asking you about your personality, people are like, 'Well, I'll pick the most useful fault. Like I'm super organized, or I'm really early, or my roommate says I'm so clean.' And it's ridiculous.

A post shared by Ariel Foxman (@arielfoxman) on

On how to talk about money in an interview:

Let's say you suspect that what you would really like to make may not be in line with what you think they may offer. Or at the very least, you're not 100 percent sure they can afford it. Or they are not going to pay you what you would love to be paid and it comes up in an interview. The first interview. Somebody is trying to vet you and they want to know if money is really going to be the reason why we aren't going to be able to hire you. These words are not mine, but somebody said this to me many years ago and I think that it's really smart. The answer, or part of the answer to say is, 'I've never been in a situation where the compensation was ultimately the deal breaker when the opportunity was so right. I would love to keep having this conversation and let's tackle that further down the road.' And when you say something like that, it completely disarms the numbers piece of that. It's basically like, 'If we both love each other enough, I'm pretty sure we will both be able to give.'

On the most important thing for new hires to know:

I think that the most important thing for anybody when you start at a new company is to take the time to observe. It's really tempting to come into a place and want to exert influence and have your voice heard and have your opinion be known and make sure that your territory is marked. And all those things can happen in due time. You get all that and more with a lot more credibility and integrity, if you first have taken the time through observation and investigation to understand why people are doing what they are doing already. And if you don't take your time and you come in and say no when people say yes, or, 'I have a better idea,' or, 'We used to do it like this where I came from,' people are automatically in a reflex to discount you -- it's human nature. Simply because you've been brought in from the outside, people feel threatened by you. Another thing I think is extremely dangerous is when people decide this person is important, this person is not important. I guarantee you nine times out of ten you are wrong in your assessment. And that sort of alignment and clique-ness that you do when you come onboard is as useful as it is destructive. The people that you're aligning yourself with think, 'Great, this person is now in my camp, I'm going to use this new person.' And the people you've not aligned yourself with don't like you.

On how to ask for a raise:

I think when you're asking for a raise, it's not necessarily about asking for a raise, it's about asking what's next for you. Raises rarely come without new job titles and new responsibility. So when I hear somebody coming for a raise, that to me is somebody coming and saying, 'I'm working really hard and I'd like more money for what I'm doing'. Or, 'I have another offer outside and I may leave unless you pay me more money.' Both of those things are very hard for an employer to swallow. This is your job description, this is your salary. How hard you work at it doesn't accelerate or decelerator the salary. How much someone would pay you on the outside of the building also doesn't decelerator or accelerate. It doesn't mean that people don't get job offers and come back to their employer and try and accelerate their salary -- it happens. I don't recommend that. I think that's a card you play once knowing there are people who can play that card, [who] are, quote unquote, irreplaceable and people will pay -- it's a raise slash ransom. And I think nobody likes to pay a ransom. But if your organization feels that they need to pay a ransom to keep somebody, they do. It's a strategy, I don't know if it's the best strategy. Those are two things that I hear when somebody is going in for a raise. Now, if someone really wants a promotion. That's a different story. A promotion usually comes with some benefits -- one of them usually is a raise. So I think when somebody wants a promotion, they have to have their sights set on growth. And I think that is a totally, legitimately on-going conversation you have with your manager. And it's easier to have conversations about promotions, if, in between those conversations, you're having quarterly or bi-annual conversations that are not with the pressure of, 'Am I getting a promotion?' [Rather, they are] check-ins about how you are doing as a current employee and what your needs are for growth. So these promotion conversations don't come out of the blue.

On how being male has helped him run a women's magazine:

When I'm editing pieces it helps me when I'm trying to align myself with the consumer -- that must seem like unconventional wisdom. So I sit and go through each piece of copy and I have to imagine that when our reader is looking at a story online or in book, she's coming to it with fresh eyes but also with the lowest amount of expertise. Not interest or passion or drive, but expertise, just to make sure there is all the information in the story so she can try or act or buy. So if there is a story on creating a loose braid for the holidays and you're a beauty editor who has done this story a thousand times, you might assume a certain level of knowledge. [But] you can't assume that I know what you're talking about. And I'm sitting and trying to go like this [motions to hair braiding] and following the directions and often times I'll send a note to our digital editor like, 'I'm not quite sure this is entirely clear'. So in that regard it helps me because I'm kind of the consumer advocate.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

16 Fashion Editors With Inspiring Style