Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Career Mentoring
How do I find a mentor to help me in my career?
What is a mentor?
A mentor is an advising role and can provide insights and feedback from their own experience to help you in your career. They can help to build your confidence, provide a safe space and be a trusted person to go to as a sounding board. They can be a good a person to help with objective guidance and be that shoulder to go to when you really need it. This is particularly relevant perhaps in those situations where you don’t want to speak to your manager about a sensitive topic. Mentors are a giving relationship and a mentor typically expects very little in return from you.
In many cases, women who work in organisations without formal mentoring programs have less access to mentors and enjoy fewer benefits from the relationship when they do have one, as reported by non-profit organisation Catalyst in Making Mentoring Work, and this is a frequent barrier to advancement. If you are working in a business that does have a formal program, get engaged in it and make the most of the opportunities it can provide. If not, don’t worry. The strategies below will provide a solid foundation and tips to guide you in what to look for, how to find the right mentor and how to make that mentoring relationship work.
What should you look for in a mentor?
In seeking a mentor, what are the things that you want to be looking for?
- A mentor might have knowledge or skills that you need either in the role that you’re in or for a future role that you’re building towards.
- They have experience that you would like to gain insights from for your career.
- They can help you manage relationships and difficult situations or navigate the politics of your workplace.
- They can provide support and guidance in times where you may be having workload issues, balance issues or a career crisis.
- And they can also help you navigate your way into a new area of the business, a new role, or even a new industry.
How do you find a mentor?
Few women have a mentor, which we hear again and again from women inside the Women Rising program. We see the impact that having a mentor has on women’s careers as the women progress through the program and seek out this guidance in their career. It’s worth investing your time and energy to build these supportive relationships.
When it comes to finding a mentor here are some tips:
- Mentoring relationships can be set up through your manager, a matching service through HR, introductions through peers or friends, or by direct request.
- Before you select you who want to mentor you, or make an approach, think about where you are at with your career development, what you want to focus on right now, and who the right person or people could be to help you.
- If you don’t know anyone who fits the bill, ask your peer group or people you trust who they know that has the skills or experience you want to learn. Only ask someone to mentor you when you have done this clarifying work for yourself.
- Connection and chemistry for mentoring relationships are really important. You want to hopefully feel that you click. It’s not essential, but it is great when you have that.
- Remember you can have multiple mentors at the same time. Again, think about the specificity. What is your intention for that individual mentoring relationship?
How do you make mentoring work?
Here are some tips for making a mentoring relationship work:
- Be clear with your intention for the relationship and specific with your request of your mentor. There’s nothing worse than having someone just ask you either randomly or ambiguously, ‘will you be my mentor?’ It’s hard for the prospective mentor in that situation because they don’t know how you can add value to that person. Will it be a good use of time and energy for both parties? So, you want to be clear with your intention and specific with your request.
- Know what your ‘ask’ is. Are you requesting a one-off mentoring session? Are you asking for a formal mentoring relationship for a six-month period, or do you want to have a phone call once a quarter?
- Set a timeframe so that you are setting a container and a boundary for the relationship. If it’s more than a one off conversation, a good guide is 3 months to start with, then you can assess how the relationships and relevance is working.
- Take responsibility to manage the relationship. Don’t leave it up to the mentor to set up meetings or determine frequency.
- Although they won’t expect it, give back to mentors. Whether that’s sharing some information, sharing knowledge that they may not have, or making connections that may be helpful.
- Follow up. It’s great when you are mentoring someone and you’ve given them some advice, tips or strategies and they come back and share what they did with that information or with that knowledge that they gave you.
- Do you have a current mentor?
- If you do, what does your mentor support you with?
- If you don’t, which areas of your career do you currently need mentoring? It may be around an aspect of your career planning, or it could be around your personal brand. Maybe it’s a more personal thing about how you balance your workload. What are the areas that you feel you need that mentoring support?
- If you think about your ideal mentor, what are the qualities you are seeking and how can you identify who the right mentor is?
- How will you identify the mentor or mentors you need, and what support do you require? Think about whether you need to ask your manager, a friend, your peer group, someone else in your organisational department that you really respect who the best mentor could be for what you are seeking support with.
A final word on mentoring – please remember that external mentoring does not ever replace your inner wisdom. We can seek advice and guidance and learn from other people’s experiences, and that is invaluable. But that does not replace what you know to be true for yourself. Take in external guidance and then give yourself some time to reflect on it, take what you need and leave the rest, and then move forward from a place of your own inner wisdom and knowledge.
It’s incredibly important that you always remember we are not seeking validation from a mentoring relationship. It is one input that we then put into the melting pot and come out and lead with our own inner guidance.