Why you need a career mentor, and how to pick the right one

Job interview between young women and businessman

Your career can be a tricky one to navigate at the best of times, so having a relationship with someone who can offer guidance can be highly beneficial.

You might think a career mentor is something you would only need to use at a junior level, a stepping stone to give you a head start in your chosen career path. But really, a relationship with a career mentor can be an advantage no matter what stage of your career you’re currently at or how senior your role may be. Your career can be a tricky one to navigate at the best of times, so having a relationship with someone who can offer guidance can be highly beneficial.

From helping you with tough decisions to improving promotion chances, the advantages are many. Over the course of this article, we’ll expand on the benefits, provide tips on how to seek out a mentor, as well as advice on continuing the relationship in the correct way.

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Benefits of career mentors

How to seek a mentor

Mentoring expectations

Mentoring and career goals

The benefits of a career mentor

There are numerous ways a mentor can be advantageous to your career. For a start, they may have experienced similar situations and can offer advice based on their own career history, whether it’s specific support on a short-term basis such as an individual project or helping you transition to a new job. Look at them as a role model, by sharing the challenges you face they can easily pinpoint the ways to approach challenges in an authoritative, knowledgeable way.

As a result, they’re in a position to share their mistakes and advise on what didn’t work when they were in a similar scenario. Rather than offering a set answer, they can reflect on their outcomes and offer suggestions about what to consider when you approach your challenges.

By working with them, you’ll make commitments to your mentor which can act as an incentive to follow up on your promises. Rather than being a taskmaster, they’ll challenge you to set standards and really stretch your abilities.

Your mentor will be in a position to offer feedback that’s positive and constructive. They’ll be honest but considered in their advice, and thanks to their unique perspective, they’ll approach it in an objective manner, widening your own view of the challenge so you can form a better solution.

It’s a fringe benefit, and certainly shouldn’t be the main reason for finding a mentor, but if it’s mutually agreed, they might be able to introduce you to beneficial contacts. Whether it’s improving your profile, offering another source of advice or direct solutions, a career mentor could open up a large number of doors

Older women coaching and writing notes about younger women

How to seek out a mentor

It’s up to you to track down your mentor, but whatever stage of your career, you should possess a pool of contacts that could potentially be who you’re looking for. Whether it’s more senior colleagues, former colleagues, a respected University lecturer or anyone else you might feel suitable, there’s likely plenty of people you can ask. Alternatively, a search on LinkedIn for people who currently possess your dream job could yield the results you’re looking for. Message them and ask for some time when you can ask them some questions on their own success.

If they agree, you’ll want to be properly prepared for your email or face-to-face meeting. Write down some questions that help to get a sense of their career path and how they reached their current position. Perhaps more importantly, you should be able to gauge how well you’re getting on with them.

Once you’ve got a read on them, you can ask if they’d be interested in a more formal mentor-mentee relationship. If they agree, how often you’d like to meet up is entirely up to you, but it’s important to take their own schedule into consideration when you do so.

Setting expectations with your mentor

Remember, it’s important to understand the arrangement you and your mentor will have and what’s expected of them, as well as yourself. For example, do not get the idea that the mentor is there to tell you exactly what to do. The relationship will likely falter as a result.

Additionally, since both people are investing time in the relationship, it’s important to understand that they ensure you’re valuing the time as much they are. As the mentee, you’ll be doing the actual legwork, so prepare questions for them, knowing that it’s you who’ll have to carry out and deliver results.

Don’t mistake their guidance for thinking they know everything. Mentors, like most people, simply do not have all the answers you may require of them. If they don’t have specific advice, don’t think they’re just being evasive. The only true way to work through something is to do it; the experience you accrue from getting on with the situation and learning from it is crucial, and arguably more important than any advice someone could give.

Man and women engaging in a mentoring session

Aligning the relationship with professional goals

It may be a difficult one to truly do, so rather than looking at how your mentor’s outlook your industry and your company’s values align, see how you agree on items such as determination, trust and learning. These are more concrete aspects upon which to build your relationship.

Additionally, rather than offering a direct solution, they should be the sort of person with strong empathy and communication skills. They’ll develop your path with insights rather than answers. Someone who does most of the talking without listening to your own ideas is someone you should steer clear of. The ideal mentor will be someone who knows the value of failures but will be there to keep you in check if you’re really heading in the wrong direction with something.

Ideally, the right mentor will be someone who can challenge you. It’s important to be able to bounce ideas to one another, rather than simply taking on their suggestions without question because they have seniority. Look for someone who won’t dismiss your ideas, but instead encourages you to challenge your stances and suggestions.

Find this person and the benefits will be limitless. What’s more, you may challenge their perspectives and improve their outlook and career opportunities as a result.

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