Steve Jobs was Mark Zuckerberg’s; Warren Buffet was Bill Gates’; Sir Freddie Laker was Richard Branson’s. What exactly are we talking about? Having a mentor, of course. Believe it or not, these highly successful billionaires all turned to mentors when they were starting out their careers.
So if you’re seeking to climb the corporate ladder, switch careers, start a business or get career advice, it pays to have a mentor to help guide your career footsteps.
Who is a mentor?
A mentor is a professional whose career guidance you seek because you admire their career achievements, work ethic and wisdom, experience and expertise. They are usually in a position of seniority – possibly a few rungs above you on the corporate ladder.
Mentors show a passion for their job and enjoy the opportunity to help you perform your role more efficiently and productively with their guidance. They give you career advice and help you network to gain a competitive edge. They will help build your character, gain self-awareness, teach you to focus on your goals, challenge you and help maximise your potential. This partnership between the mentor and the mentee (you) is based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
While this experience no doubt favours the mentee, it is also considerably rewarding to be a mentor. An article in Business Insider reveals that “Many business leaders believe it is important to share the lessons and advice they have received, seeing this cycle as a sort of entrepreneurial ‘pay it forward’.”
Why Do You Need a Mentor?
Mentors Have Inside Knowledge
Since mentors are usually seniors in their field, they are aware of fluctuations and movement within the industry and can tell you about job openings, professional courses and training programs. For instance, your mentor can brief you on upcoming job opportunities thanks to his/her contacts and prepare you for the job interview as well as share personal insights on the company culture, possible pay scale and senior management.
Mentors Have Experience and Expertise
They have already put in the blood, sweat and tears to build their careers. You need to appreciate their feedback, learn from their mistakes and take their advice on board.
Mentors Give Professional Advice
A mentor will give you unbiased, honest advice to help your career progression. S/he can help hone your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Since there is no emotional attachment, you know that the guidance you receive is trustworthy. And all this is for free!
Mentors Offer Networking Opportunities
As they say, ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know’. Thanks to years of hard work, mentors have built up their own professional network which can help your career progression. Make sure you appreciate any information or connections they give you – but do not rely solely on them for your next career break.
How to Find a Mentor
If you’re at university, your department will have a mentoring program with senior year students in your course. In some cases, your faculty may also pair you with a corporate mentor from your chosen industry. If your university does not offer a mentoring program, various professional industry bodies do, but you need to be aware of deadlines for these mentoring opportunities. For example, the Australia Council for the Arts has a 12-month mentoring program for artists.
If you’re already on a chosen career path, you can look for a mentor within your organisation since many companies now offer mentoring programs as part of their staff’s professional development. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has valuable resources on government mentoring programs.
You can also seek a mentor from your social circle. A relative whose career you admire; a friend of a friend who launched a start-up; a neighbour from five doors down who is renowned for his business acumen.
You can also use job networking sites like LinkedIn to follow leaders in your field or use Twitter to search for hashtags of successful people in your industry. There’s also no harm in contacting the person directly to ask them to mentor you. The worst thing they can say is “no.”
While most mentoring programs are free of charge, there is a new system which allows people to engage with a mentor for a small fee. For instance, Mentor Walks pairs entrepreneurial women needing career guidance with leading female professionals for a fee in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Tips on Maintaining a Successful Relationship with your Mentor
- Define exactly what you are hoping to get out of the working relationship right from the start.
- Make sure you agree upon exactly how you will communicate with each other and how often you will meet.
- Behave in a respectful manner with your mentor. Do your homework, dress professionally and come prepared to all meetings.
- Remember that your mentor is a busy professional who is giving you the benefit of their time. Be aware of this and never turn up late.
- You must drive the working relationship by proactively organising meetings and following up with your mentor regularly.
- You will need to have at least 3-5 meetings to build a rapport and see if you have a good working partnership. If things do not flow smoothly, you can always seek a new mentor, but do not burn your bridges with your previous mentor.
- When you receive feedback from your mentor, you need to acknowledge this by taking the advice and acting upon it. Make sure your mentor knows that you value and appreciate his/her guidance.
- Find ways to say thank you by asking if your mentor needs help with anything work-related. It’s your way of giving back.
- Make sure you keep in touch with your mentor even after your mentorship ends, especially on sites like LinkedIn.
Acquiring a mentor as your journey your way up the career ladder can make the entire process a lot less daunting, as they guide you through the critical choices and decisions you’re required to make in your professional life. With a mentor, you aren’t left in the dark, and are always encouraged to play to your strengths and to work on areas of your skillset that need improving.
For more career-related advice, be sure to check out more of SkillsTalk’s career articles here.