One of the most effective approaches to career management is the personal development that results from a good relationship with a mentor. A mentor relationship can be extremely valuable at any career stage, whether it’s before college graduation, during an internship, or even at the most senior executive levels.
A mentor’s role is distinctly different than that of a direct supervisor or a coach. The former focuses on explaining, instructing and motivating, while the latter relationship is short term, task driven and performance based. Instead, a mentor is focused on the personal relationship and provides long-term perspective and support that enables you to develop greater self-awareness, skills and development for your career and life goals.
If you want a mentor, the onus is on you to seek one out and state up front what you expect from your relationship. Being direct about your expectations for the relationship is one of the keys to making it successful. Always remember that a mentor is not required to help you; agreeing to do so is an act of generosity and should be treated as such.
Network to find a mentor
One option for finding a mentor is looking within your current organization. If you choose to go this route, do not choose one with any managerial authority over you, however indirect. If your company has a mentorship program, consider joining it. Having a mentor within your company has several benefits. They understand your organization and can help you develop strategies that will accelerate the achievement of your goals. They can also become a champion for you, which is equally helpful.
Another option is to find a mentor outside of your company who is a member of your industry or field. These mentors are familiar with the particular work challenges you face but offer possibly a wider viewpoint. Consider people from your existing network, look within local chapters of your professional or trade association, or simply ask for introductions.
The Mentor Relationship
The mentor meeting is your chance to elicit guidance and perspective as well as a space to examine new ideas and explore change. You likely chose your mentor for his or her personal experience and knowledge, which can be invaluable to your growth. Such information is unlikely to be found in books, generic information sources or training. So make a point of asking mentor questions about his or her background and experiences.
To make the most of your mentor relationship, keep the following in mind:
Define the agenda and move the relationship forward by being proactive in setting in-person meetings. Quick email queries are okay occasionally but no substitute for one-to-one interaction.
Be clear about how long you expect the relationship to last.
Be willing to accept changes to your way of doing things.
Be as honest as you can about your goals and challenges.
Be open to new insights and feedback from your mentor.
Be willing to implement, or at least consider, the changes your mentor suggests.
Remain independent and do not use the mentor as a crutch.
It is extremely important to never take the relationship for granted. Your mentor has volunteered to spend their time, a valuable commodity, on your growth and development so be sure to show appreciation throughout the process. A handwritten thank you note or an offer to help them in some way is a good way to show that you are grateful. This ensures you both get value out of the relationship.