A career mentor is an individual who holds your hand through the different stages of your career growth. This is someone who has more experience, knowledge or skills and is willing to guide another individual into the modalities of how things are done and how to grow their career.
The value of career mentors
Help you create a strong CV: Your mentor most likely has wealth of experience in writing resumes. They have done it throughout their career and hence understand the intricacies of what is needed and what is irrelevant. A mentor will advise on what language to use on your CV, how to format it, how to optimize it according to the role you are applying for.
Offer guidance in a project: Mentors offer valuable insights and input in projects and tasks assigned to you. Sometimes you may wonder what to do to ensure maximum success in a project. Talking to someone who has done a similar project before can be quite the eye opener. They will help you see why doing it a certain way is better and guarantees more success. This way, you get to learn from their mistakes and improve on what they already succeeded in.
Help you identify resources and better way of managing tasks: Your mentor has tried and tested various ways of doing things. You do not have to learn the hard way. With a mentor, you have a springboard to start on and get propelled to further growth and career development.
Help you professionally brand yourself: A career mentor will help you identify your strengths and opportunities in a particular role and advice on how well to position yourself for growth in such a role or another, depending on your skill set, talents and passion. At the same time, a mentor provides access to their already established professional network. They can point you in the direction of someone in their connection pool, who can help you work on a particular skill. This way, your professional brand is created and continually polished.
The following are applicable tips that could help you find a career mentor.
- Identify what you want
Identify what you want to achieve. You do not expect to approach someone with a vague plan and hope they will be willing to take time out of their busy schedule to help you. Ideally, mentors are people who have succeeded in what they do. This means they are extremely busy people and will only give time to things that are likely to succeed. Mentees who seem to understand what they want are more attractive to mentors than those who still need time to figure themselves out. However, it is possible, especially for entry-level individuals to be confused and to not know what they want yet. If that is the case, approach a mentor with the several possibilities you would like to venture in for their guidance and advice.
- Identify your potential mentor
This embroils clarifying one’s career needs and refining them to suit one’s goals. The SMART approach may be a suitable tool to use. Clarifying specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound goals may be the first mile of a thousand others. The greatest achievers in life have made remarkable strides on their careers after someone held their hands. This means that your mentor should be someone you want to be ‘when you grow up’.
They should inspire you, challenge you, stimulate your creativity and push you to tap your fullest potential. Identify what they are good in and what you would like to get from the relationship. It is wise to note that you can have different mentors at the same time. For instance; you can have a career mentor, a spiritual sensei, a life-skills coach, etc. just ensure that all these interactions are well within what you can manage and set reasonable time for. It beats logic to overwhelm yourself with coaches whose wisdom nuggets you cannot sufficiently apply in your life.
- Reaching out to a potential mentor
The next question to grapple with is where? In countering the where, you need to come up with a 1-5 year plan on where you want to be career wise. This forms a fundamental pathway to finding a career mentor. Many make mistakes of spending a lot of time in finding a career mentor only to change careers later. This is not only a waste of time but shows a lack of direction.
Secondly, locating a mentor is long and tedious as it is stressful. It literally involves stopping a few individuals on the corridor, short elevator pitches and endless emails sent out. Great career mentors can be found in one’s line of work especially in our workplaces.
In the book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg likens the process to a character in the book in search of its mother. It is a short story about a bird that hatches from its egg in an empty nest and goes in search of its mother. The little bird asks everyone it comes across with ‘Are you my mother” including kittens, cows, dogs and hens. In most instances it gets a big No for an answer but rarely relents.
The right career mentor will not simply say a yes but explicit an organic interest to your life, career, interest and you in general.
- Nurture the relationship.
Unlike most natural relationships that are two-way, a mentor mentee relationship is usually one way. It is the mentees responsibility to keep it going. Keep your career mentor updated about your progress, initiate chats, express interest in what they are doing. Most mentors lose motivation to maintain the relationship because of this simple concept. It is important to note that the mentor may have a number of other mentees and a workload of duties to juggle with and therefore delegating the role of maintain a career relationship may seem a bit far fetched.
The relationship may seem feebly, epitomized by a few answered calls but that should not scare you. Stay on the radar of your mentor by making your presence and admiration known to them. This can be done through retweeting their tweets, liking and commenting their posts in a positive way and the list is endless.
Finally remember, it is perfectly okay to change a career mentor. The relationship is should only be maintained if growth is experienced. Conversely, hoping from one mentor to another may stunt your career progress and it is therefore advised to take time before changing career mentors.
All the best finding your career mentor!