If you want to build your skills, make good contacts and move up the ladder in your career, a mentor could be just what you need. Essentially, mentorship enables you to learn from someone who is successful or exemplary in their - and your - field. Having the right mentor can contribute greatly to your professional and personal growth. Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin answers all your questions about mentorship - and gives advice on how to choose and work with your chosen mentor.
A mentor (the person who provides mentorship) enables the mentee (the person receiving mentorship) to access their wealth of knowledge, experience and skills. Key to the mentoring relationship, is that it is driven by the mentee and responsibility to achieve career growth and goals should not be passed to the mentor. The mentor’s role is to advise, support and guide - not to do your work.
The intensity and frequency of the mentoring relationship will differ depending on what the mentee is trying to achieve at that particular time. The relationship might be ad hoc and less intense if all the mentee requires is to check in or bounce some ideas around now and then. If, however, the mentee has clear, deadline-driven outcomes such as transitioning successfully in their new job, trying to learn about a new field, or is in the process of starting a business, the mentor and mentee might meet more frequently and in a more structured and outcomes-based way.
Yes! Everyone should aim to have a mentor. Mentoring, when done effectively, can be highly beneficial at any stage of one's career.
A mentor is great to have, particularly when trying to navigate unfamiliar important intersections in your career, for instance:
- entering the workplace for the first time.
- being newly appointed in a leadership role.
- trying to change from one industry to another.
- wanting to gain knowledge in a particular field and needing advice on which direction to take.
A mentor generally has experience and knowledge in the area you are trying to develop, and can be a catalyst on your growth journey. Here are some of the ways that an effective mentor can boost your career:
- giving you access to their network, helping you get exposure to people who may be inaccessible to you.
- providing guidance and support to help you take control of your career and make better decisions, using their own successes and experience as a reference.
- coaching you to gain behavioural skills e.g. communicating well, being more assertive or confident, and leadership skills.
- helping you set career goals as well as providing direction on how to achieve them.
- helping you quickly learn something that may take longer if left to self-direction.
- acting as a sounding board for your ideas and thoughts.
Finding a mentor starts with what you want to achieve in a mentoring relationship. Your mentoring goals will guide you towards the mentor who meets the criteria. Having an idea of your mentoring goals will also help the mentor determine if they are the best person to assist, and to screen themselves out if they feel their strengths are not within your desired outcomes.
People make the mistake of thinking an all-round successful person will generally be a good mentor, but the ideal mentor is someone who has excelled in the particular area that you want assistance in. Be aware, too, that high profile people are often extremely busy and get many requests in this regard, so they might not be very available.
In trying to identify a mentor, look out for someone who:
- is seen as a role model, or exemplifies excellence, in a particular area.
- is willing and has the time to impart knowledge.
- is learning-oriented themselves and has a passion for seeing others develop.
- shares your values.
- communicates effectively, especially when providing feedback and constructive criticism.
Mentors can be colleagues, leaders within your company, contacts that you meet on social media, people within your network, former school professors or people referred to you by close family and friends.
The most important thing to remember as the mentee is that you are the driver of the relationship. Full ownership and accountability to achieve mentoring goals rests on you. Your mentor is there as a compass and guiding light, they are not accountable for your goals, you are!
Here are some tips for being a good mentee:
- Be appreciative of your mentor’s time (which, in most cases, is given for free).
- Do not act entitled to anything, including your mentor’s network, resources, or time. What they offer you is voluntary and trust sometimes has to be earned before they open certain doors for you.
- Come prepared to your mentoring sessions and do any “homework” the mentor gives you.
- Be open to receiving and implementing feedback and do not be afraid to give your mentor feedback on the relationship.
- Make the relationship mutually beneficial. If you identify something you can do for your mentor, offer your time and your skills no matter how small it may seem.
Mentorship has immense benefits for both professional and personal growth. But remember, you have to make it happen! As much as the mentor is expected to display exemplary characteristics, it is also important for the mentee to behave in a manner worthy of the mentor’s time and efforts.
If you want a step-by-step guide on how to identify and approach a mentor, you can download my free e-Resource.