Employees at every level stand to benefit from having a mentor. Follow these tips to find — and get maximum value from — your next career coach.
Learning firsthand about a role you hope to some day fill, discovering how to navigate unwritten company or industry rules, deciphering the ins and outs of office politics, and gaining introductions to valuable new contacts within your field — these are just a few of the many benefits of being mentored.
In fact, according to a recent survey by temporary staffing firm Accountemps, 86 percent of more than 2,220 chief financial officers polled said that having a mentor is important for career development.
So what can you, as the mentee, do to ensure you get the most out of a mentoring relationship? From finding the right guide to nurturing the relationship to knowing when to move on, the following advice can help.
Find the right mentor
If your company has a formal mentoring program, pinpointing a suitable mentor may be a piece of cake. If not, you’ll need to do a bit of legwork to find the right mentoring match.
Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps, suggests you start by assessing what career paths interest you and identifying what areas you could use the most help in. “Not only will this give you an idea about who to tap as a potential mentor, it will also give that person a clue about what to focus on if they choose to take you on as a mentee,” he explains. “It’s also important to take into account the connections you could possibly gain through a mentor; after all, in today’s workplace, networking is crucial.”
While securing a mentor within your organization means your mentor will be able to speak to specific challenges and help your in-house job prospects, Driscoll gives good reason to consider broadening your search beyond the borders of your current workplace. “If you want to be able to speak freely about on-the-job challenges, a mentor who doesn’t work for your company — say, someone you meet at a conference, seminar, or business lunch, whom you admire in a professional capacity — could, in some cases, be a better choice.”
Having identified a prospective mentor, Driscoll says that your best bet is to pitch them by email, rather than by phone or in person, so you can “put your case forward clearly, explain why you think they’d be an ideal mentor and give them time to consider your request.”
If they agree to a meeting, use that opportunity to “outline why you find their insights valuable and what you hope to learn from them. Be sure to mention your commitment to learning and what you plan to bring to the relationship as the mentee.”
Nurture the relationship
Once you’ve secured a mentor/career coach, Driscoll encourages you to start getting the most bang for your mentoring buck right out of the gate by immediately setting goals for the relationship that will make it a successful venture. “Reviewing your goals every so often will help to ensure the mentorship is working,” he adds. “If not, adjust your objectives and refocus.”
Next, book regular meetings with your mentor. “A phone call or coffee date once every week or two for a simple conversation in which you can discuss your work experiences, plans, and skills development will do the trick if you both have busy schedules,” Driscoll suggests, adding that, if time allows, you can agree to attend meetings, conferences and other professional events together. “You can also shadow your mentor at work or exchange and discuss written materials like your resume or articles of interest.”
Whatever you do, don’t forget to express your gratitude to your mentor — directly and indirectly. “Be respectful of their time and avoid canceling meetings or not following through on leads that they give you,” Driscoll cautions. “Your mentor is likely to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and contacts. Be sure to regularly express that you value and appreciate their guidance.”
Know when it’s time to move on
Whether you’ve moved on to a new phase in your career or feel that regular meetings with your mentor aren’t as beneficial as they once were, there will likely come a time when ending the mentoring relationship and staying in touch by other means could be the best decision for both you and your career coach.
Since first and last impressions are often equally impactful, Driscoll says, it’s best to end the relationship on a positive note. “Be clear and honest about why you want to end or change the nature of your relationship. If you’ve met your goals, let your mentor know how they have helped you, give clear feedback about what they did well, and what they might do differently and, most importantly, show your appreciation.”
If you’d like to stay in touch, tell your mentor that you would enjoy seeing them for lunch or dinner every once in a while. Even though the mentoring relationship may be over, a former career coach — especially one with whom you remain on good terms — may very well continue to provide you with valuable guidance, leads and assistance in achieving your professional goals.