Who has been the most positive influence on your career?

Throughout our lives there are a few key people who influence our career choices - debate the options, shorten the shortlists and help us decide the path that’s right for us. Of course, not everything always works out as planned, but those people help us evaluate our choices, prioritise what’s important and give meaningful advice that really sticks. Who’s your go-to person when you reach a career crossroads? Who challenges your thinking, the way you view the world and inspires you to take on new challenges?

Our parents and teachers tend to be the earliest influencers on our choices. My earliest career-shaping memory was when I was 5 years old and on that project where you have to draw what you want to be when you grow up. My Mum took these things quite seriously and was keen for me to not think about gender stereotypes, but to keep an open mind about what I wanted to do. I drew a picture of a penguin and, keen not to backtrack on their empowering talk, I have to say my parents supported me. I took swimming lessons and my Mum took the opportunity to get me to eat fish pie.
The serious message behind that has stayed with me, and I do still talk to them when I’m thinking ‘what next?’ And since then I’ve had some great mentoring conversations and relationships with both academics and HR professionals which have been incredibly valuable.

If we’re lucky enough, and of course open to it, we meet others with different life experiences who inspire us and encourage us to think outside our comfort zone.  It might be a lecturer, your first boss, a colleague, a close friend, or someone in your industry who agrees to be your mentor. It may be a one-off meeting or a longer-lasting relationship, but the influences we remember tend to mark the most poignant times in our lives.

Many people choose to ‘pay it forward’, supporting others in their careers, whether formally or informally, as they were supported. Talking to HR professionals about who guided or informed their career choices and career development, the most influential mentors tended to fall into three camps. Most people talked about the value of a more senior HR professional in their organisation championing their career development, others purposefully chose a mentor outside of the HR function to give them a different perspective and some chose a mentor outside of their organisation but within their industry. They talked about the value of becoming more business and context savvy through these wider relationships, key to career development. 

But what was common for everyone I talked to was how they sparked up when they thought about those who had provided career advice or challenged their thinking. For me that really does demonstrate the value of finding a great mentor and having challenging career conversations.

All I need now is for the CIPD to open that office in Antarctica for my childhood dream to come true…


Take a look at HR careers which is packed with professional development resources and will help you take control of your career.

Get involved in Inspiring the Future, mentoring a young person as they enter the world of work.

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