Why Mentors Matter To Your Career

Mentoring is not a common business practice these days. That's too bad – whether you are looking for a job or simply managing a burgeoning career, a mentor can be of assistance.

A good mentor will provide impartial advice, coach you and answer questions, help prepare you for unfolding career challenges, and may teach you new skills. For example, he or she may use role playing to prepare you for tough interviews. A mentor may even be able to help open some doors, enabling you to land interviews with employers that you'd otherwise attempt to get into (more on this point to follow.) Mentoring is traditionally not something you pay for – generally, successful business people volunteer for this role because someone helped them in a similar way in the past. On a paid basis, similar assistance is available from career coaches.

For many of us, as we move through our practitioners, the closest we come to mentors is our supervisors. In rare cases, an exceptional supervisor may truly provide some of the benefits of a mentor. But mentors should be impartial, and a supervisor is anything but impartial. Here are more guidelines:

  • Do not necessarily include friendship on the list of criteria for a mentor. Mutual respect, candid, trust are all good – but if your mentor becomes your buddy, will she tell you need to dress differently? Will he tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself? Look for friendship elsewhere – you need something entirely different from your mentor.
  • Remember that mentoring is a two way street. Perhaps there are skills you can offer to reciprocate -teaching them internet skills, maybe, or offering to house sit. Or depending something more in line with a small Christmas present, homemade cookies or just a heartfelt letter. You will hopefully come to know you mentor well enough to select the appropriate expression.
  • Your mentor may expect you to set the pace. Some protégés require assistance only periodically. You should clearly communicate your requirements – for example, monthly meetings or sometimes you only need to meet on an as-needed basis. If you do not establish and communicate your expectations, do not be surprised if they are not met.
  • Recognize the limits. Let's say you want a job at XYZ company, and you know that your mentor has a friend there. Understand that your mentor may not be able to (or want to) take advantage of that relationship in any way. Or, let's say they do take advantage of the relationship and manage to get you an interview. Should this occasion, recognize that you have asked your mentor to put his or her relationship with a valued college on the line. If you miss the interview, or get hired and perform poorly, your mentor is likely to feel that you have violated their trust. Bottom line: walk this path carefully!
  • > A mentor's assistance is more akin to that of an exercise coach than an emergency room physician. They can not work miracles, they can not achieve sudden results, and absolutely all they can do is help you develop yourself – a challenge that extremely you, and only you, can achieve successfully.

Which leads to the final and sometimes most important matter: how do you find a mentor? You will not find them under "M" in the yellow pages. In fact, you may manage to cultivate this type of relationship without ever using the word mentor (you may have already done so, perhaps without realizing it). Is there anyone you look to, on a consistent basic, for career advice? If not, is there anyone you know who you think would be helpful? Look for someone in a similar career field. If you are in school, you may ask a favorite professor if they have any contacts within a specific field (professors make poor mentors, unless you wish to follow an academic career path). Once you have identified potential mentors, you may proceed by contacting them and politely requesting some of their time, to ask some specific questions.

From this point, take things slowly. Do not intrude excessively on your prospective mentor's time. Offer to take her to lunch, invite him for early morning (before work) coffee. Ask about her job. What are the pressing issues she faces? What would she have done differently, early in career, knowing what she now knows? Try to get a feel for the career growth strategies he used, and whether they're work for you. Evaluate the shared comfort level and his appearance willingness to continue providing information. After a few meetings, you may choose to ask her if she is willing to provide career advice. You may want to use the word "mentor," or you may feel it's best not to hang a label on things.

It can be a lot easier to navigate your chosen career path with assistance from someone who is somewhat familiar with the territory. If you are serious about long-term career growth, a mentor can be tremendously helpful.