You need a mentor at work to advance your career. Early in your career it’s even more important to have a mentor as you will encounter new situations and need advice on how to navigate them. For example, what do you do when you’re offered increased responsibilities within your team but no raise or promotion with it? What if you get a new manager and like the company but now want to switch teams? Having a mentor during these times will give you many advantages. A career mentor will give you advice and help you navigate situations so that you can advance your career. Here are tips on how to find a good mentor.
What Is A Career Mentor
A career mentor is someone who gives advice to a less experienced person, known as their mentee. They give time and sometimes suggest additional resources to help someone with their professional or personal life and goals. Mentors do not have to be at the same company but they should have general expertise relevant to whom they mentor.
Sometimes mentor and sponsor are used interchangeably, but are they the same? No. Sponsors and mentors play key but different roles when it comes to advancing your career. It’s important to get a sponsor in addition to having a mentor in order to advance your career. Stanford created a quick table that easily shows the differences between mentors and sponsors.
Understanding the Role of a Mentor
So, what does a mentor do? A mentor gives advice to their mentee. Usually, a mentor and a mentee will agree on what cadence they will meet. It may be an hour or 30 minutes once a month or bi-weekly. It’s up to a mentee to come prepared to the meeting. Otherwise, how will the mentor know what advice is needed? As the mentee, identify what you want help with (situations to navigate, career paths, a certain area you want to work on). The mentor then gives advice on this topic. The best mentors have navigated similar situations in the past and have tools to help you better understand the situation.
How Do You Get A Career Mentor
Relationships with a mentor can happen organically or inorganically. The most natural ones tend to develop organically, so how do you put yourself in a situation for this to happen?
Look At Your Professional Network To Identify A Mentor
First, assess your current network to identify a mentor. Who can be a mentor? Not all mentors need to be level(s) above you, but they do have to offer something you do not have. Usually this is expertise but they can also be a very well connected person or someone that is in the room when strategic decisions are being made. A good mentor can also be in a line of business or profession that you may want to get into in the future. Are there people in your network today that meet any of the above? If not, who do you know today that has those connections and can make an introduction?
Ask Your Manager To Assign You A Mentor
You can also reach out to your manager and express interest in getting a mentor. Your manager can then reach out to their network to help make it happen or help you get involved in any formal programs offered by your company. In order for an arranged mentorship relationship to be most successful share why you are interested in having a mentor and what you’re looking for in a mentor. Share something in particular you’d like to work on such as transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager, or if you’d like to work on a particular skill set for your current job. This will help your manager identify a better mentor for you and the mentorship will more likely be successful.
How Do You Know if Someone is Your Mentor
Mentor relationships can start out formal and informal. In formal mentor relationships, you will have arranged your own mentor or assigned a mentor as part of a formal program. This program is usually run by your company but can be run by other professional organizations you are involved with outside of work. Mentor programs depend on how the organization implemented them. In some, they are very open and flexible and others will have specific topics and goals and a specific timeframe for the relationship.
Formal mentors can also be formed with a mentor or mentee specifically requesting a formal relationship. Either the mentor or mentee can reach out to the other and request to mentor the person or ask to be mentored. In formal relationships, expectations should be set in terms of what the mentee expects and what the mentor expects so that it’s not a waste of anyones time.
In informal mentor relationships you may never define that someone is a mentor / mentee. A mentor may observe a behavior and pull the mentee aside to give advice on how to improve in the future. A mentee may be at a crossroads for a career decision and requests advice from someone they trust.
How to Ensure A Mentorship Is Successful
It’s a must for the mentor and mentee to agree on the rules of engagement – what you expect from each other and how often you should meet. Both people must trust each other and maintain confidentiality. What is said in your meetings does not leave those meetings.
No matter the origin or formality, it’s important for the mentee to set the meeting agenda. If your mentor suggests a book to read or an exercise to complete, do it and come back with what you learned during the next meeting. Here are more tips on a successful mentorship relationship.
Don’t forget, your mentor is volunteering their time to help you. While they likely don’t expect anything in return, it’s always good to show your appreciation. Remember to thank them for their time and consider getting them a gift once a year as a thank you. Here are a few gift ideas for mentors to show your appreciation.
Have you had a career mentor? What success did you see with your mentor relationship? What recommendations do you have for someone just starting a mentor relationship?