My mentoring relationship with Esther O'Halloran began nine or 10 years ago, when we both worked for Pret A Manger. I was working on the retail side but, wanting to move into HR, I decided to study for a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualification.
I asked her advice on choosing a course, and realised there were other people in the company at the same stage, Esther set up a study group. Afterwards, our mentoring relationship continued on a one-to-one basis, and she supported me as I applied for my first HR role. I really needed someone to give me a bit of support and guidance – but also to share their own professional experiences. While coaching is all about giving you the answers, mentoring, for me, is about giving you advice and allowing you to think things through from a different perspective.
It was a casual arrangement. Sometimes I would discuss an assignment with Esther, or I might want to talk through a work-related issue with someone who wasn't my line manager – for instance, to get some perspective before giving a presentation.
Initially, we met monthly, but over a period of time we began to meet on a quarterly basis, as I gained more experience.
Our meetings were very informal. This was never an official mentoring relationship – rather, it was about me developing my relationship with her, someone who was senior to me without being my line manager. The relationship is very much driven by me. Esther will always support me, and she will check that I am OK, but our relationship was never structured or organised.
Esther and I still meet. I was headhunted recently, and had to go through quite an intense application process. Esther supported me through that process. We probably met twice a week for three weeks. I'm moving to Nando's in February. It's a new company for me and I will be taking on a more senior role, so I expect to meet Esther more regularly over the first few months.
When Esther left EAT, I missed having her there to say "trust your instinct – give it a go". As a mentor, she does push me sometimes, but I think I need it. What makes her such a good mentor is that she listens, she's non-judgemental and she's very good at helping me believe in myself. I always say to Esther that for me one of the five best things about working for Pret was meeting her.