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What to consider when looking for a mentor

by Liz Marchant

When it comes to achieving your goals, resolving challenges, or simply deciding what to do next, having a mentor can be invaluable. A mentor can be many things to many people ultimately, their role is to help you make informed decisions. A good mentor can act as a sounding board and help you  by sharing their knowledge, skills and expertise.

When we speak with successful women at the peak of their careers, many of them talk about the role a mentor played in their career development. They also talk about how important it is for them to pay it forward, becoming mentors themselves, in formal and informal ways.

While gaining a mentor might sound ideal for you, finding the right person can be tricky. You need someone you can gel with and trust, who understands your industry and the specific challenges and opportunities associated with it, and whose advice you respect.

How to find a mentor

The first step is to decide whether you want to embark on a formal or informal mentoring arrangement.

Formal mentoring
Many large organisations will have a formal mentoring program in place, which is where you’re assigned a mentor with regular, scheduled meetings. This is usually facilitated by a coordinator who manages the start-up, progress and evaluation phases, with specific aims and goals as set by the mentee. The relationship is regularly evaluated and operates within a set time frame.

If your company doesn’t offer this internally, there are plenty of firms and consultancies that specialise in mentoring.

Informal mentoring
An informal mentor is someone you choose and approach yourself; this could be a friend or family member, or someone you have met through an industry networking event. In an informal arrangement, meeting times are much more fluid. There is no formal evaluation of how the relationship is working and the aims can be non-specific if you prefer.

These arrangements typically last a longer than formal mentoring schemes, sometimes for years. If you don’t already know someone who would make a suitable mentor then ask friends, colleagues, or your social media network for a suggestion; just be clear about the skills and knowledge you want them to have.

The benefits of having a mentor

What you get out of having a mentor depends on your specific needs and can include:

  • assistance with career direction and progression
  • help to improve your motivation at work
  • an objective opinion on workplace issues
  • technical/professional skills sharing
  • improved confidence or morale
  • introductions to industry contacts
  • a sounding board for ideas
  • help with decision making.

 

How to make the most of mentoring

If you’ve found a strong mentor, it’s imperative that you make the most of that relationship. After all, you don’t want to waste a valuable opportunity to experience these benefits. There are three ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your mentoring experience:

  1. Communication
    It’s important to communicate openly and honestly and be willing to share. You’ll need to discuss your hopes and aspirations as well as your shortcomings with this person, so it’s crucial to know you can do so without judgement or misunderstanding.
  2. Goal-setting
    Even in an informal arrangement, it’s always a good idea to be clear about what you hope to take from this and ideally set some goals.
  3. Accountability
    To really get the most from a mentor, try to find someone who will challenge you and keep you accountable for any goals you have set, while still being supportive.

For example, if you want to make partner or be a CEO in three years’ time, having someone who is going to keep checking in on these goals and what you’re doing to get there, will help spur you on and stay motivated. They’ll also be able to help you form a plan of attack for getting there.

Whatever stage you’re in in your career, mentors can be an enormous help. From navigating difficult decisions or helping you get promoted to developing your skills or simply improving your morale, it’s a great way to ensure you’re optimising your performance and making the right choices for your career and your personal life.