Career Center Blog

December 4, 2013

What job candidates need to know about mentors


When I screen job candidates over the phone, I often ask them what their top factors are when choosing an employer. In addition to interesting, challenging work and a cultural fit, their answers also often include "the ability to learn" or "working with senior professionals who can teach me."

Opportunities for mentoring relationships are on many candidates' career wish list. It's important to understand how organizations view and approach these relationships. A few companies have structured mentoring programs, while some have informal plans. It's rare that an employer would discourage employees from establishing mentoring relationships.

One misconception a lot of entry-level candidates have is that someone will tell them how to manage their career or will set up a formal training curriculum for them. Employers look for self-starters who take the initiative to learn and problem-solve. When you start a new job, ask your HR manager about the company's protocols or programs for professional development, training and mentoring.

Most companies have some sort of buddy system, or at least one or two employees to serve as information sources, in the first few weeks of onboarding. (It's important to recognize the difference between a resource and a true mentor.) If, after a few weeks, you find that you are learning a lot from your manager or another senior professional, and there is nothing formal in place, feel free to ask if he or she is willing to be your mentor.

Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are looking to achieve before you ask someone to set aside time to coach you. Most people are flattered to be asked and are willing to help out, but you need to know what you want from them. For example:

• Are you looking for someone to help you learn more about your chosen field?

• Are you interested in conferences, professional associations or groups, classes or continuing education?

• Do you understand your career path, or do you need guidance in defining your career within your organization?

• Do you have a firm understanding of how politics can affect your career?

• What sort of "stretching" do you need to grow professionally?

A mentoring relationship is based on a good fit in many areas, including personality, alignment of skills/goals, and subject-matter expertise. Most professionals will have several mentors during their careers.

When you find a well-suited mentor who is willing to help you with your career, set up regular meeting times to chat about your goals, the steps you have taken toward achieving them, and your next steps. Be respectful of your mentor's time, and be sure to follow up with the suggestions and resources that he or she sends your way.

Kristen Fife is a Seattle-area recruiter, mentor and blogger. Email her at

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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