Alan Cairns: my mentor

I’ve known Jan Jones for a number of years. She is a former boss of mine, and has informally mentored me for the past three years.

What started out as a professional relationship has developed into friendship, and although Jan is now based in New York, as vice-president of HR at Tyco Fire and Building Products, we meet when we can, and of course talk on the phone.

We can have very honest and direct conversations – Jan has a no-nonsense approach. We discuss both specific issues and more general aspects of my career development.

The best way I can describe having Jan as a mentor is that it’s like having someone else hold a torch down a very dark corridor. When I was preparing to be interviewed for my current role, in what was a new sector for me, I asked Jan how she would approach it. She advised me not to try to get the interview panel to like me, but to bring them evidence of my previous experience and achievements. It was a subtle pointer that made all the difference.

I’d had a mentor before Jan, when I worked at JCB in a non-HR role. The set-up was very different – I was allocated the mentor, but it also worked well. That mentor provided stimulus, and really opened my eyes.

I am about to start mentoring someone – I feel that I owe it to other people to share my experiences. I want to give my mentee a path. I hope to show them not what they have to do, but what they can do.

Alan Cairns, HR director,

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