April 4, 2010
Mentor quest: tips for finding professionals who can help shape your career
People willing to share their workplace wisdom to further your career could be closer than you think.
Mentors can offer career advice or tell you how to improve your skills. They might be people you’ve worked with, or people you admire. You might find a mentor where you work, or at your church or through a trade association or professional group.
Mentors can be your personal board of directors. Having those connections can help you improve your performance, and in turn help you get better pay and maybe even a better job.
“If you have good mentors and good relationships, a lot of doors can open up,” says Nancy Altobello, vice chair of people at Ernst & Young, a professional-services company.
Where to find a mentor
Your company. Aside from your direct supervisor, a more experienced peer or a senior-level executive might be a good mentor.
Community groups. Someone outside of work can guide you without feeding into office politics.
Nonprofit organizations. You might connect with someone who shares your interests.
Universities. Look into college mentoring programs. The University of Washington has a program for graduate students to be mentored by faculty; Seattle University taps into alumni for its mentoring program.
Previous mentees. Those who have been guided may have a sense of responsibility to help develop younger employees.
Online programs. Sites such as micromentor.org and techstars.org offer opportunities to connect with mentors.
Retirees. Many have the experience and time to share their tidbits of wisdom.
--Staff and wire reports
Most mentoring relationships consist of junior employees connecting with someone more senior in their organization. Your boss can be a mentor, but he or she shouldn’t be your only mentor.
If you’re actively searching for a mentor, ask yourself if you can be open and honest with your direct supervisor. Do you think he or she acts in your best interest? Is your boss looking out for anyone’s career besides his or her own? The answers will give you an idea of whether this person could be your mentor.
Besides your boss, see who else in the company fits your criteria. For example, you might be looking for someone who has the skills that you want to learn or a manager with a background similar to yours who has successfully risen through the ranks.
Some large companies have formal programs that match employees with mentors. But even workers who have access to such programs should also seek other mentors, says Michael Fenlon, managing director of human resources at consulting and auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to rely on a mentoring lottery to create the basis of a connection,” Fenlon says.
It takes some work to build a connection, says Terri Scandura, dean of the University of Miami’s Graduate School of Business and an expert on mentoring.
Scandura suggests employees make a pitch to potential mentors, explaining why they should take valuable time out of their schedules to be a mentor. “Tell someone that you really admire his ability to develop strategic plans, and most will be so flattered they will say yes,” Scandura says.
It is then up to the person being mentored to maintain the relationship. That might involve getting a monthly spot on the mentor’s calendar for meetings, or coming prepared with an agenda of what you want covered in each meeting.
Fenlon advocates building a circle of mentors. New additions will come as your career progresses.
Given the unpredictability of today’s business world, he thinks having a team of advisers inside and outside your company can help connect you with opportunities.
“It is not possible to have too many mentors,” Fenlon says.
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