By Karen Young, Director at Hays UK
Everyone with ambition needs a good career mentor. It’s as simple as that. Your career mentor is that confidential advisor who can objectively help you to overcome your professional hurdles in order to meet your goals. And yet you still don’t have one. Why not?
Perhaps it’s because career mentoring is prone to the following myths: 1. Mentoring is reserved for the most senior and well-connected professionals within a business 2. You have to be working somewhere with an official mentoring scheme in place 3. This mentor has to be somebody senior to you who works at your company, and 4. You have to commit to structured, consistent meetings of a certain duration with your career mentor, time which neither of you may have. With all of these assumed provisos in place, it’s no wonder you haven’t found anyone yet!
The truth is, to find a career mentor, all you need is a vision of where you at least think you want to be in your career, the drive to get there, and the confidence to seek counsel from whomever you deem inspirational and credible enough to help you.
With that in mind, how can you find a career mentor?
Step 1: Ask yourself – what is it that you need help with?
It is important that you start the process of finding a mentor by assessing your vision for your career. Ideally, where would you be in one year, three year and five years’ time? And which obstacles are standing in your way?
Don’t narrow yourself just to the skills you are yet to learn, or the feedback you were given during your last performance appraisal. Think bigger picture. Do you have a tricky relationship with a colleague or client, and is this hindering your progress? Is fear or a lack of confidence holding you back?
Remember, your chosen career mentor will be someone you trust, therefore they will keep everything you say confidential, so don’t limit your thinking at this stage.
To give you an example, quite a few years ago I was at a turning point in my career. I knew that I wanted to reach that next level, but there was something that was going to stand in my way – I dreaded giving presentations, and it showed. I knew that if I wanted to achieve my career goals, something would have to change. I would need to find a credible mentor to help me build my confidence and master public speaking – which brings me onto my next step.
Step 2: Assess your network – and think outside the box
Once you have identified what it is you need help with, it’s time to find the right person to help you. Who in your life has overcome the obstacles that you are now facing? Are they where you aspire to be now? Who do you know who is just really good at the skill you want to develop or perhaps the job role you would like to do in the future? As I alluded to in the beginning, don’t narrow your search too much. What’s to say this mentor has to be somebody who is part of an official mentoring scheme, more senior than you, or even somebody you work with?
When searching for your career mentor, consider former and current colleagues, your friends and family as well as your other social and professional circles. To continue the story of my own search for a mentor – upon realising what I had to do next, I thought about who I knew that could help me. In this instance it was a senior colleague who I decided to approach. This person consistently gave some of the most engaging presentations I had ever seen, and was, without a shadow of a doubt, the right person to be my mentor. The next step was speaking up and asking them for help.
Step 3: Take an authentic and humble approach
The way you approach your potential career mentor will depend on the nature of your relationship. If they are a contact from your professional network, I would suggest sending them a message first explaining how they have inspired you, what specifically you think they could help you with, and politely asking if they could spare some time to sit down and chat. Let them know the best number to call you on, and that you hope they would like to talk further.
If this person is at your current organisation, I would also recommend that you run this by your line manager beforehand. They may be more familiar with your potential mentor, or have experience in mentoring themselves, and able to give you some pointers on your approach. The point is, your mentor needs to be outside of your direct line manager wherever possible.
Whoever your mentor may be, the key is to be humble and human. In my situation I simply approached the person and said, “I would like your help please. I want to be able to deliver presentations as strongly as you can, if you could spare an hour or so and give me some initial guidance – that would be hugely appreciated.” At the time neither of us knew how much or little time this was going to take but as it turned out, it was not a huge ask in terms of time commitment – and it really helped me. Many years on, we meet on an ad hoc basis when I need their help and they are available to help me. But establishing and maintaining this mentor – mentee relationship took work, which brings me onto my fourth and final step.
Step 4: Nurture the mentor – mentee relationship
Remember, your career mentor is going out of their way to help you, therefore gratitude and respect is key to both establishing and maintaining this relationship. Before your first meeting, and every meeting from thereon, be punctual and well prepared. Note down the specific challenges you are facing, what it is you want to learn from them from this session and how you think they could help you.
You should also share the progress you have made from previous sessions, and examples of this progress in practice. For instance, every time you meet your mentor maybe buy them coffee as a small token of your gratitude. I always thank my mentor profusely for their time, and relay any positive feedback from my presentations, moreover, how their previous advice helped me achieve this result. To this day my unofficial mentor is great at giving me two minute feedback after any presentation if they happen to be part of the audience. One good element, and one to improve.
As I say, you don’t have to tick a certain box before being eligible for a career mentor. You simply need to have a vision for your career, and a methodical, tactful, yet authentic approach to seeking out this guiding voice. Personally speaking, finding a career mentor was one of the best decisions I ever made, and is something every driven professional should pursue on their path to career success. And remember, bear all of this in mind the next time someone asks you for help too!
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