We speak with the independent executive recruiter and human resources consultant to launch a new series on the importance of mentorship in career-building.
When it comes to navigating a career path, no tool in your arsenal can be quite as valuable — or as tricky! — to use as mentorship. We’re partnering with The co-lab, a member-led, inclusive global networking community for fashion, beauty, wellness, retail and consumer luxury professionals, to bring you ‘The Mentor Minute,’ where we chat with professionals about how they’ve used their role as both a mentor and a mentee to get where they are today.
You might not know Kristy Hurt by name (yet!): Her role as an independent executive recruiter and human resources consultant at Kristy Hurt Consulting is mostly behind-the-scenes, so her work is often invisible. But many of luxury’s biggest businesses — think Tom Ford, Aesop, Prada and Goop — would be lost without her guiding hand helping them find the best people for roles all the way up to the C-suite level.
Before she ever struck out on her own in 2009, however, Hurt spent over a decade working in hiring, first running three Kate Spade New York City locations while helping them open other stores, and then in Human Resources at LVMH. “I did hiring for Kate Spade early in my career when I was running stores for them, which included sales, management, visuals — that kind of thing,” she explains. “When I moved to LVMH, I recruited for all kinds of jobs, all levels, all functions; that would include anything from design, to sales, to executive-level management, digital content, marketing.”
Now Hurt does the same thing for a broad range of businesses across fashion, beauty and retail, primarily based in New York and Los Angeles, but she’s recruited for jobs worldwide. And if that wasn’t keeping her busy enough, when the pandemic hit, Hurt launched The co-lab, a global online networking community where professionals at all experience levels can connect through a Slack channel, enjoy panels and podcast interviews, and get access to job listings. So really, who better to discuss the importance of mentorships in career paths with than someone whose entire job is to help folks find and land the perfect role?
Read on for Hurt’s tips on maintaining your mentorship connections, her thoughts on how they can evolve over time and her number one piece of advice for getting your emails read. (Hint: Tell her Fashionista sent you!)
What has been the importance of mentorship in your career, both as a mentor and as a mentee?
This is really interesting for me to think about, because I have definitely mentored a lot of people, and I’ve definitely been mentored, and I continue to do both and play both of those roles, but I’ve never done it in a very formal capacity. What I mean by that is, I’ve never worked for a company that had a formal mentor program, and while I do a lot of career coaching and mentoring for my business, I’m not a quote-unquote “career coach.” When I mentor professionals or students who are just starting out their professional careers, I’m coming at it as an experienced professional, from a hiring perspective. I give them very specific mentoring based on my career and my experience.
People will come to me because they want help either figuring out what they want to do, or they know what they want to do and they want help getting a job and to present themselves in the best way possible. So I work with them to review their application materials: how are they presenting themselves online, how are they presenting themselves in a resume or a written document, how are they using various social media, including LinkedIn, to reach out to hiring managers and HR people.
I’ve never actually had a formal mentee who I’ve followed in a formal way through their entire career. But the funny thing is, because I’ve been doing this now for so long, I’ll find that I’ll touch base with people and they’ll come to me for advice when they’re at various turning points in their career, which I think is really interesting, to see how they evolve over time.
I’ve been self-employed now for thirteen years, but I spent over ten years as an employee — five years at Kate Spade and five years at LVMH. I had a couple of different bosses or supervisors at those companies and they were all people that I really looked up to and I would say were mentors for me.
There’s one person in particular who, when I first joined LVMH, taught me everything about recruitment, because I didn’t really have formal HR experience when I started at LVMH; she would give me, over time, new responsibilities that she knew I needed to learn to develop as a professional in HR. I specifically remember her calling me into her office and she would give me a new task, and it was always something that I’d never done before but she felt I was ready to take on; I remember it feeling so intentional, which looking back today, I’m so impressed by her management style, how she delegates tasks and supports you as you need support but then also gives you the feeling that she trusts and knows you can handle it.
Sometimes it’s a little scary to take on something new that you’ve never done before, but when you have your supervisor’s trust — for them to say you can handle this and it’s a great experience for you to have — really does build confidence. It’s so great to have that experience, because now as a leader and a manager of other people who look to me for leadership, I know that I can do that same thing for them. I think that when we have positive mentors in our lives, we really learn from them and then we’re able to pass that on.
As you’re talking about these experiences, it seems like it’s always quite organic. Talk about the evolution of those relationships.
This is part of the reason we started The co-lab, to help people and to give people opportunities to network: Networking and staying in touch with your professional contacts, even when you don’t necessarily quote-unquote “need them,” is so important.
The woman that I was talking about earlier who gave me a lot of responsibility when I was working at Louis Vuitton, she ended up leaving the company and moving back to Europe; we stayed in touch and we don’t talk very often, but she eventually became an executive coach and started her own business. I remember her coming to me at one point after I started my own company and asking me for advice as she was starting her own practice and her own business, which was really interesting to see how that evolved. We can all help each other. I think it’s so important to keep those relationships going, because you never know when you can help them, or they can help you. I often feel like the person in the mentoring role doesn’t realize how much the mentee is getting out of it, and to be able to pay that back in some capacity in the future is so lovely and rewarding. And it’s amazing how quickly things shift.
When we were starting The co-lab, we were trying to figure out pricing around the membership and someone suggested the idea that more senior-level executives shouldn’t pay and that only those new in their career should, because they’re the ones who need help in mentoring from the executives and we need executives to be members because they’re the ones who have all the expertise. My view was, students and new grads and innovators who are growing up in a more digitally-native world have so much to teach executives. Yes, executives have experience and they have years under their belts that the new grads don’t have, and they might know more about the way things have been, but we’re all learning together, so I’m really glad that we kept it uniform and accessible for everyone.
We just did a panel on the future of digital fashion, and we had a young innovative designer who lives in London doing augmented reality and designing face filters for Instagram — like, “What shoe are you?” and then it shows a stiletto that’s circling your head. She was designing the actual shoes. These are design opportunities that exist now, that are going to continue to exist in the future. This girl is maybe 22 or 23, and we had one of our members who’s much more senior, who’s a handbag designer, interview her for the panel and I could tell just that the young designer who’s doing all this work in 3D and digital was teaching the more senior-level, more experienced designer so much, just because methods change, technology changes. I think that we are creating opportunities in The co-lab for more senior and more junior professionals to teach other and to mentor each other.
Specifically, The co-lab takes all these opportunities digital, which obviously in the last year or so has been necessary. If you were looking to establish that mentor relationship for the first time virtually, what would you recommend to somebody in terms of making that first contact?
In our private Slack, we have a mentorship channel, and so anyone who wants to be a mentor or a mentee can post and say what they’re interested in learning or what type of person they’d like to connect with. I can’t tell you how many people I have heard from who are excited, despite how busy they are and how senior-level they are in their careers — they actually find so much reward from doing mentoring and giving back and helping young graduates who are just starting out. I’m often surprised that they are able to dedicate their time, but I find that a lot of times, people get to that point in their careers, where they really do want to help people out.
As far as someone who wants to get a mentor for the first time, I think a good thing to do is to really focus on what you want to learn or what type of person might be best to help you. Let’s say you want to work in fashion and you want to work in marketing: You might pick someone, if you’re more analytical, who’s gone up the digital marketing route, or if you’re more creative, someone who’s gone up the content, editorial or brand-marketing route. Follow them on social media, tell them you’re really impressed with their career, add them on LinkedIn, ask them for fifteen minutes of their time.
But I think before you do that, it’s good to follow them for a little while if they have a public presence, because they’re probably doing talks that you can participate in, or go to a conference, or watch an Instagram Live. Actually invest your own time in watching something that they’re putting out into the world. Then, when you contact them directly with a note asking for fifteen minutes of their time, you can say to them, “I saw your talk and I was really impressed by you, I loved what you said about x, y or z; as a young person starting my career in marketing, I would love to have ten minutes of your time to ask you some questions. Is that something you would be open to?” Something like that is so much more impactful than just a random email like, “Oh your career is so impressive, can you help me with x, y or z?” without having any kind of evidence to back up that you know who they are, or what they do, or what they stand for.
There’s so much information that’s out there that’s publicly available, and it makes such a difference to me when I get these cold messages from people on LinkedIn. It’s so much more meaningful to me, and I’m so much more likely to do it if I feel like they’ve already done their homework and they already know a little bit about me and what I do and who my clients are. Doing your homework makes a cold ask so much more impactful.
Or, if you can get a warm introduction through someone that I know, that also makes a big difference. If it’s someone that I’ve done favors for, they’ve done favors for me, or if we have a good relationship, then of course if they ask for me to talk to someone I will. But I get so many random emails every day and I’m not really able to respond in-depth to all of them.
How do you think that you can achieve a balance between being engaged and maintaining relationships and, for lack of a better word, risking being kind of pesky or asking for too much?
It’s always good to think about what you can give in return — like, let’s figure out something that we can do as a barter, or a trade, and it’s amazing how often people are willing to do stuff like that. I think that if you ask the right questions, even if you’re a young person starting out, there’s always something that you can offer; you might be a wiz at social media, and someone much more senior in their career might not be great at social media, or even really know much about analytics.
As far as persistence, we always say in The co-lab that ‘polite persistence’ is key to getting what you need. Usually, if you make a simple request and you don’t hear back, I think it’s okay to follow up a few times with polite persistence and say, “I just want to bump this up to the top of your inbox, I’d love fifteen minutes of your time, if there’s any way I can give back or help you, here are a few ideas.” Sometimes that’s awkward if you haven’t actually talked to the person yet! But I think that with polite persistence, you can usually get what you need, and if you’re warm and friendly and humble in the way you approach the person, and you think about ways you can offer something back to them, they’ll really appreciate that. They might say, ‘No I don’t need anything, I’m happy to do this.” But at some point in the future, there might be something, because a lot of times, these assistants are one day directors, and they might have something that person needs in five or seven years. That time really does fly.
Is there ever a time or situation in which a mentorship relationship has run its course, and if so, how would you recommend handling that?
I don’t think so, because there’s no formal beginning or end to a mentor relationship, you know? Long periods of time can go by where you may not speak to one another, but luckily, it’s not such a critical or important relationship that you have to break up, so these things can sort of fizzle out naturally. As long as you’re kind to the person and you always thank them, and you’re always respectful, communicative and responsive when you hear from them, I don’t think there ever has to really be an end. We’ll carry these relationships throughout our lives, and now in the age of social media, we like to follow each other even on our personal Instagram accounts and keep in touch with each other that way, even when we’re not reaching out for a specific favor or job request or client request.
It does get to the point too where some of these people retire. But even still, I think that those friendships will carry on. That’s the whole point really, that they don’t ever really end. When I think about the three or four bosses that I had that were significant in my early career, these are people that I don’t talk to that frequently, but I might see them once every five years literally at this point, and that’s okay. It’s just nice to get together sometimes and talk about business and best practices and that kind of thing. It’s almost like they’ve become peers, which is really cool, because obviously I worked for them and it was a very different dynamic, and it’s fun to see how those dynamics change over time.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.