Mentoring: the inside story

The perception can often be that creative agencies view students as free labour. For me, it’s absolutely nothing to do with getting stuff done for free and in most cases mentoring and placements happen without any work being done for our paying clients. Perhaps in light of this you are thinking what does the student gain then by spending a couple of weeks away from their coursework and what’s in it for the agency? Are the students just there to make the tea? Well it’s a bit more complicated to explain than a single-sentence answer allows, so here goes.

When I was a student myself, the people that made a real impact on my career are the colleagues who took on an unofficial mentoring role some of whom I still keep in touch with, such was the strength of their influence at the time and even now. The principles and discipline taught to me back then still play a part in my job almost every day. To be in the position to pass that kind of influence on to the next generation of colleagues is a privilege.

For the student it’s their first taste of the ‘real’ world. Studying is for the most part something undertaken in a bubble and for a large portion of those taking part it’s a direct continuation of their school years. With that said, the industry’s integration with higher learning is much better than it was while I was a student myself.

An agency placement is the first real test of whether or not this is the industry the student wants to be a part of. Does it meet their aspirations and do they see themselves fitting in? Hopefully the answer is yes and if so, this is the first chance to impress and be remembered by at least one, probably more potentially life-long connections all the while discovering what the industry expects from them when they graduate.

For the mentor it’s an enriching experience in a number of ways. First and foremost, it’s rewarding for the mentor to be able to share accrued knowledge with a willing learner and at the same time give something back to their profession. Secondly, it’s refreshing to hear new ideas from a passionate, well-read student who can often be more abreast of the latest developments or trends. Thirdly is the mentor’s own personal development. Students tend to be a diverse bunch, coming from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures each with their own challenges and circumstances to overcome. Each one furthers the mentor’s own knowledge, experience and interpersonal skills that little bit more.

Every student is different and not all are as receptive to the advice and guidance on offer, some feel the need to beat their own path above all else, and that’s fair enough. What worked for me might not work for them, but I sincerely believe it’s the tougher of the two paths

It’s incumbent on a mentor to encourage the student to flourish whilst not being afraid of failures, there is no shortage of far greater minds than my own giving voice to the virtues of failure and what is to be learned from it. 

For students and mentors alike, a placement or mentoring environment pays out on based on what is paid in. Ultimately it should be something positive and rewarding for both, but particularly for the student on the first beat of their path to a successful career as a creative. As for who is making the tea, we all take a turn. Except Malcolm.