Having a mentor is an invaluable opportunity to benefit from someone else’s knowledge which has been gained through experience over time. It’s often knowledge that you won’t find in textbooks and having access to it can really help to fast-track your career.
But it’s important to choose a mentor you’re compatible with and who shares your values and your definition of success. So as well as looking at what mentorship is and the benefits it can bring, this article provides a useful guide to choosing the right mentor for your individual needs.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone whose help you enlist or who is appointed for you to help guide you through the learning process in your chosen career. It is often someone who has forged a similar successful career path who wants to help those who come after them by passing on their knowledge and expertise.
Mentors are not normally paid for their services, but donate their time because they enjoy helping others to achieve their goals. They could be anyone from a manager within your organization or a more experienced coworker to a retired professional wanting to give back to their former industry.
Benefits of mentorship.
There are numerous benefits to be gained from having a mentor, some work-related and others that can help in all areas of your life.
Knowledge: Your mentor has been there before you and has built up a vast bank of knowledge about your organization and your industry. Tapping into this hard-won experience can give you insights into smarter ways to do things that aren’t in any work manual or company handbook.
Feedback: A good mentor will offer constructive criticism where appropriate to highlight areas where improvement may be needed. You won’t get this invaluable kind of tough love from your friends and colleagues, so you should encourage your mentor to be honest with you about your progress at all times.
Encouragement: A good mentor will also offer support and positive encouragement when things aren’t going well to motivate you to keep trying your best. They may even have faced a similar challenge themselves in their career and can suggest a possible solution to your problem.
Impartiality: A mentor offers unbiased opinions which are not based on emotional considerations. So if for example, you have several ideas but can’t decide on one because you are too close to them, a mentor can provide an impartial view of what they see as the most practical solution.
Vision: A mentor can help you to identify and set career goals and then keep you accountable and focused on working towards them. They can also help with insights into how best to achieve your goals, often based on their own past experience.
Perspective: Working with a mentor can help you to better understand who you are and what you want out of life. Discovering that you can actually achieve what you set out to do in your career can give you a whole new perspective and inspire you to help others in turn.
Connections: Mentors usually have a lot of professional contacts, both within your organization and in the wider industry. A good mentor will be more than happy to share their network connections with you, which can provide you with invaluable new contacts and opportunities.
Inclusion: If you’re a new employee and your mentor works for your organization, their inside knowledge and experience can help you to adapt much more quickly and easily to the workplace culture, routines, policies, and expectations.
As well as helping the mentee, mentorship offers benefits for the mentor as well. If they were a mentee in a previous mentorship program, being a mentor can provide them with a way of giving back and helping the next generation of employees.
If they are in a senior position within the organization, mentorship can also be useful for honing and validating their own communication and leadership skills. And mentoring younger tech-savvy employees is a great way for senior mentors to keep up with the latest digital skills.
Other possible benefits to be gained from mentoring can include the opportunity to reinforce the mentor’s knowledge (the best way to learn is to teach), expand their current skillset, or improve their prospects of promotion.
Mentorship programs also benefit organizations and are common in many workplaces. They help provide a supportive work environment that contributes to less absenteeism and higher staff retention and helps to attract a more skilled talent base.
They also increase employee engagement, which is crucial for attaining company goals and success. A mentored employee is more likely to drive the organization’s agenda forward and encourage others to do the same.
And finally, mentoring is ideal for organizations that have employees who work remotely from home. Remote workers can begin to feel isolated after a time and virtual mentoring provides the opportunity for them to interact with others on a one-on-one basis and learn from each other in a relaxed and non-intimidatory environment.
Choosing the right mentor.
Given the many benefits they can provide, it’s important to make sure you choose well when selecting your mentor. Ideally, you would have more than one mentor, each with different areas of expertise. And having a mentor you identify with and admire plus one who approaches things differently to you would give you a more balanced perspective and teach you new ways to approach problems.
Factors to consider when choosing a mentor might include their:
Personality and values: Choosing someone whose personality and values align with your own will lead to a better and more rewarding relationship.
Interpersonal skills: Look for a mentor who can clearly articulate their thoughts, be a good listener and offer open and honest feedback and advice.
Commitment: A mentor must be able to find the time to help you, despite being busy with their own career. If you can ascertain upfront how much time they are able to spare you (i.e. a few hours once a week, once a month, etc), you can avoid disappointment later on.
Passion: Your mentor should excel at what they do and be an inspiration to those around them. If they have a genuine passion for their career, they are more likely to inspire you about yours, so look for a mentor who makes you want to be just like them.
Compatibility: Because you’ll be working closely with them, your mentor needs to be someone you feel comfortable with. Choose someone you intrinsically like and respect and if they were chosen for you by your organization and there’s a personality conflict, don’t be shy about asking for another mentor.
Discretion: Because you will be telling your mentor things in confidence, trust will be an important element in your relationship. Look for someone who will keep your confidences and who only has your best interests at heart.
Job satisfaction: They could be the absolute best in their field, but if they’re not happy in their job, this attitude is bound to rub off on you as well. Look for a mentor who loves what they do and who wants you to love what you do as well.
Expertise: The years of knowledge and experience your mentor has behind them will determine how much help and advice they’ll be able to offer you. So look for someone who’s walked the talk and studied at the school of hard knocks.
Goals: Finding a mentor who has already attained the same goals you’re aiming for is the best way to ensure that you’re both on the same page. They’ll know exactly how you feel about your career and the best moves to make to advance it.
Once you find someone who fulfills your criteria, ask them if they would be interested in mentoring you. If they are willing to help, be flexible and sensitive to their needs and availability, remembering that it is their time they are giving up to help you. And if possible, offer them something in return, such as help with a skill they may be lacking in and in which you are proficient.
Mentorship has been notable throughout history, including Socrates and Plato, Robespierre and Napoleon, and more recently Steve Jobs mentoring Mark Zuckerberg. And today mentoring is a recognized business technique used in many organizations with the aim of creating a pipeline of talent and ensuring a succession of leadership.
So if you’re starting out on your career and don’t have a mentor yet, it would be in your best interests to do all that you can to get one. And if a mentor is appointed for you by your organization, be sure to take full advantage and learn everything you can from them.
Because it’s no exaggeration to say that having a mentor is an invaluable means of fast-tracking your career and giving you the skills you will need to be successful, not only in business but also in life.