A mentor can be an important catalyst for career development. It’s important, therefore, to take the initiative and seek a mentor, either within or outside one’s workplace. Mentoring refers to a developmental relationship between two people where the more experienced person, or the mentor, acts as a teacher, coach and guide to the mentee, who is seeking to move ahead in education, career or life in general. Let’s take a look at what can be gained from having a mentor at this stage in your career:
- Perspective and Experience. A mentor can give you the benefit of his or her perspective and experience. He or she can help you assimilate to a new position and give you an insider’s view on how to get things done.
- Think Outside the Box. A mentor can help you look at situations in new ways. He or she can ask hard questions and help you solve problems.
- Define and Reach Long-Term Goals. A mentor can help you define your career path and ensure that you don’t lose focus and continue down that road even when you become distracted by day-to-day pressures.
- Accountability. When you know you are meeting with your mentor, you ensure that all the tasks you discussed in your last meeting are completed.
- Set Realistic Expectations. Idealism can be very detrimental to teachers. Think of a mentor whom you consider great. Seasoned professionals can share their failings and consequent learnings with their mentees. This will provide a foundation for accepting failures as inevitable and recoverable. Growth and learning are uncomfortable. Feeling that way is normal and expected. If you let them know it is going to happen, then it reduces fear.
- Trusted Colleague to Discuss Issues. A mentor can be a great sounding board for all issues—whether you are having difficulty with your immediate supervisor, an ethical dilemma, or need advice on how to tackle a new project or ask for a raise.
- Champion and Ally. A mentor who knows you well can be a strong champion of your positive attributes and an ally during any bumpy spots in your career. You get the insights and hindsight perspective that comes with first-hand knowledge.
- Expand Your Contacts and Network. A mentor can help expand your network of contacts and business acquaintances.
- Open Doors. A mentor can open doors within your company, in other companies, or onto a board.
- Inspire. A mentor whose work you admire can be a strong inspiration. A good mentor will positively impact your morale and engagement, leading to increased effectiveness in your current role.
- Work Better. With the help of a good mentor, you can work more efficiently with a clearer view of the future you are trying to achieve. This helps you feel more confident in your job, which leads to better job performance and more success along your chosen road.
Making the Most of the Mentorship Experience
- Don’t just settle down for instructional mentoring. Instead, work on building fuller developmental relationships with mentors who help you build confidence and credibility within the workplace.
- Don’t mistake mentoring and coaching with friendship. When selecting a mentor, choose someone you really respect and has the respect of the company you’re in.
- When investigating new job options, talk to current employees and look at the company’s record of accomplishment in mentoring. Critically important is choosing the right environment.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss race, ethnicity, and gender issues with your mentor, as these may significantly impact assignments, promotions, and perceptions about you within the workplace. Engaging your mentor in honest discussions can strengthen your lines of communication over the long-term.
- Signal to the mentor that you’re willing to work around your weaknesses, that you don’t want to just be acceptable but exceptional.
- Challenge your mentor to challenge you. If you’re stuck in a professional rut, seek your mentor’s guidance on opportunities that stretch your current talents and skills.
Realize that your development is ultimately your responsibility, whether or not your company offers formalized mentoring programs. But mentors will help you stretch yourself in ways that you might not have tried without their encouragement.