Olivia Parrish: my mentor

My first experience of mentoring was with my boss in my second HR job, when I was still quite junior and trying to figure out if it was the career for me.

I was really inspired by him – he was very commercially focused, and he gave me my interest in business. He pushed me gently in the right direction, and really gave me confidence. It’s only looking back that I see that he was actually mentoring me. Our meetings ranged from formal appraisals to informal one-to-ones. He played a huge part in me developing a career in HR. We are still in touch, although more as friends now.

When I worked for Balfour Beatty, I took part in a formal mentoring programme. I was really excited about it, but although the scheme was good, the experience was a little disappointing, because I couldn’t get time with the person designated as my mentor. They were part of the wider group, and as we didn’t know each other, we had to do some initial relationship building. We never got to meet properly, and the mentoring relationship didn’t really get off the ground.

I wouldn’t say it put me off mentoring, but although I’m interested in it as a development tool, from a professional point of view that disappointing experience made me look towards my own internal network of colleagues and people I’d known.

Those people, who are mainly people that I’ve worked very well with, have become almost like a network of mentors. We’re in touch regularly, to talk about what’s going on. We discuss options, or talk through particular challenges. We exchange e-mails and meet occasionally. One of them in particular is brilliant at networking and at keeping the group in touch. It’s easy to say to them ‘I’m thinking about this’.

When I was applying for my current role, which was one that I’d coveted for ages, I really had to think it through. I was doing interim work and thinking about the next stage in my career, so it was a very challenging, transitional period. That group of people provided background, gentle support. They helped me get my head around what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.

I really see the value of mentoring, and once I’ve finished my first six months in this role, I will look for a mentor. We have a formal mentoring scheme here, but at this stage in my career, I think I will look for an external mentor. It doesn’t matter what sector they represent, but they should be objective, and able to ask the right questions.

Olivia Parrish, head of HR, Cooper Parry

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