LEADERSHIP

Finding a career mentor

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Many successful people acknowledge that without the influence, guidance and advice of a mentor, they would not have achieved as much as they have.

A mentor is someone who voluntarily offers his or her time and knowledge to advise and assist another. Whether a formal relationship between a professional person and a novice or an informal relationship with a family member, friend or role model, finding the right mentor is critical and imperative to the success of the relationship.

“I have been fortunate to have a number of mentors throughout my career,” says Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, Africa’s leading staffing solutions company in the white collar recruitment industry. “At different stages of my career development I needed the guidance and advice of different people, each with unique expertise and experience to share. Some of these mentorship relationships were facilitated by my employers and some of them I developed naturally.”

The mentorship relationship is meant to be a long-term relationship in which the mentor provides ongoing guidance as your career progresses. To ensure a successful long-term mentorship, it is important to find the right mentor, understand and communicate clearly what the goals are and make sure that the relationship is managed professionally and effectively.

Finding the right mentor

“Approaching a more senior, more experienced or more knowledgeable person than yourself and asking them to be your mentor can be quite intimidating,” says Kay Vittee. “You may wonder why he or she would even be interested in you and your career and why he or she would want to help. Remember that they, more than likely, had or have a mentor of their own and you asking them to mentor you is a way in which they can pay-it-forward.”

Also keep in mind that people like to be admired, acknowledged and complimented and being asked to be a mentor certainly does all that.

Because you are going to spend a significant amount of time with this person over the course of your career, ensure that your personalities are compatible. Although the mentorship relationship should be kept 100% professional, if you do not like the person, the relationship will not be sustainable.

Advice on how to find a mentor:

  • Identify what you want to learn from your mentor, what kind of commitment you are looking for in terms of time and input and what role you would like him or her to play in your career.
  • Research your industry or organisation and identify the professionals you respect and admire. Consider retired professionals who are still contactable and available.
  • Approach your selected mentors in a professional manner, clearly stating why you believe they would be the right mentor for you – show respect for their experience, expertise and insights – and provide an overview of what the relationship would entail.
  • Do not be despondent if you do not receive responses immediately, these people are busy professionals and they may need some time to consider the request before rejecting or committing to anything.
  • Do not take rejections personally, analyse why your requests have not been successful; perhaps the person you approached simply does not have the capacity to take on the project. Consider relooking the profile of your desired mentor.

Once you have found your mentor, be organised and focused in your planning; set up a schedule for your meetings and correspondence. This will help your mentor manage his or her time and manage your expectations.

Always be honest; the better the quality of your questions, the better quality answers you will get, the more honest you are about your concerns and fears, the better advice and assistance you will receive.

Keep the relationship professional, avoid becoming too familiar with your mentor, the more personal the relationship becomes the more complicated it can get.

“I am often approached for advice or insight into a specific matter,” says Kay Vittee. “I see these interactions as a form of mentorship, although they are not labelled as such. I share my knowledge and experience and I hope that the other person learns something through the interaction.”

Your learning needs not be restricted to a formalised mentorship relationship only. Engaging with professionals regarding a specific topic or challenge only when needed is another form of mentorship, albeit less formal.

A multi-strategy approach to your career - mentorship, academic studies and workplace training - is an ideal formula for growth; by combining traditional learning with hands-on experience and the sage advice and guidance of a mentor, you are sure to reach your goals and achieve success sooner than you would by relying on a single strategy approach.

Jill Hendricks

 

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