My mentor: Zoe Venn, project manager, personnel, John Lewis

My mentor is a head of department within our online business, John Lewis Direct, where I worked before my recent transfer to our head office. He and I worked together on a piece of personnel project work – I was his HR contact.

I wanted somebody who could help me really understand my strengths and explore my career options. As I was new to the e-commerce industry, I needed support in putting structure around personal business planning, which I was getting involved in at a more senior level.


What I identified from his questioning techniques was that he actually used the coaching style when mentoring. As I am a coach myself, I was able to recognise a good one, and I think that is a key skill to have – it’s very easy to fall into the ‘tell’ situation when somebody asks for your help. He was really good at making me think through solutions for myself. I got real value from that. It gave me extra confidence.

I’d had previous experience of being mentored, within a formal mentoring scheme. Through that I identified what I liked in a mentor, what skills and personality traits in people I responded well to. I also knew the type of questions I would ask myself in trying to work out who would be a good mentor. I think that there’s something to be said for identifying somebody, yourself, that you really resonate with.

Next step

From my original three aims, around career planning, understanding e-commerce and business planning, I identified my new role and moved on from John Lewis Direct (JLD). My mentor forced me to think about leaving my previous role at JLD and what I needed to do to do a good handover and leave the business in good shape. He made me think about how to work through the transition into my new role.

Initially we met every couple of weeks, but once the project finished we began meeting once a month. I was thinking about my career options, and doing some research into what direction I wanted to go in. He was a sounding board for that. When it got to interview stage, we began to meet more intensely. What we’ve agreed going forward with my new role is that we’ll catch up once a month.

I have a structure in mind going into the meetings. We talk that through, agreeing what it is that I want to get out of that particular encounter, but the actual meetings are relaxed, over coffee. He’s very busy but I can always pick up the phone and say: “Hey – have you got five minutes?”

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