When you first start out in your career, it can be a dream come true to have an older, wiser, big sister type helping you make the right decisions. For women especially, having a professional mentor can give you the confidence you need to go all the way.
Amy Bannerman, InStyle‘s fashion editor, has been mentoring a young woman through Kids Company’s School of Confidence for the past year and a half. While the charity recently dissolved, she’s continues to guide her mentee in her career choices.
We spoke with her about why it’s important to have other women to look up to, and why every career experience is a useful one.
1. How did you first get involved in mentoring, and why?
I’d wanted to do it for years actually, but I was assisting at Elle when I first looked into it. I was going to work with children, but the problem was I had to commit to it weekly and I was travelling a lot at the time, so it wouldn’t really have worked.
A few years ago I was speaking to a friend of mine who mentored two young people from Kids Company. He introduced me to John Frieda, who ran the School of Confidence. Then I went for a meeting with him and that’s how it started.
2. Tell me a bit about the young woman you mentor. What kind of career guidance do you give her?
Eniola is 23 and she got a first in her psychology degree last year. She’s naturally super intelligent, and she’s now trying to work out what she wants to do with her career. So we talk about that a lot. She’s doing work experience at the moment with Models 1.
She’s incredibly proactive so she’ll line stuff up and ask my opinion on it. We talk through things, or I’ll make suggestions. I’m not really there to facilitate things, it’s more to help her come up with the solution herself. She’s become more confident and proactive since I started working with her, but she’s also had a whole support system around her with Kids Company.
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She came on a shoot with me the other day, and we meet up every couple of weeks and have a chat, or go to an exhibition or for lunch. She thinks it’s more like being a big sister and giving advice, but it’s more focused on her career path than anything else.
She’s really interested in blogging and raising awareness of mental health. She loves fashion and beauty, and she doesn’t see why they have to be separate and why there’s such a taboo around mental health.
I don’t really know that much about blogging, but since I’ve met her I’ve started one of my own. I’ve learnt so much from her, too.
3. Do you think it’s important for all women to have a professional mentor? Why?
I’d say it’s really useful. I’ve had people in my life who I’ve definitely looked up to in terms of career. It’s never been an official thing, it’s more like people who have taken me under their wing.
It’s incredibly important to have these women you can look up to, and if you need to ask their advice you can. Especially in the fashion industry, where there’s no real structure.
4. What did you learn from these women?
They were all just successful people in what they did. I had a friend who was an agent who gave me advice on what direction to go in, and what choices to make when needed.
I learned from all the people I’ve assisted over the years, like Bay Garnett from Vogue, who’s incredibly inspiring and very unusual as a person in this industry. She’s very laid back and easy to talk to, very unaffected by the industry, but she’s incredibly high up at Vogue.
You pick up different things from different people. It’s important not to rely on just one person, and realise that you can learn different things from different people.
5. What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I didn’t receive it, but kind of worked it out myself that nothing you do is wasted. Even being 16 and doing crap temporary jobs, (or working in the Marmite factory, which is something I did at the time and it just felt horrendous), you learn something from everything in work.
6. What’s the best way for someone to find their own mentor?
Find someone you admire. Obviously it helps if there’s some kind of personal connection, but look at somebody who you’d like to be like and ask if they would give you direction. I think most people are probably quite up for it.
It depends on what job you want to do, but you can also look into different schemes.