Sometimes, relying on hard work alone will only get you so far in the workplace. No matter how industrious you are, it’s likely you will encounter a situation where you would benefit from the advice and support of someone more experienced.
While a friend will listen and provide general guidance, a mentor can offer professional knowledge from a more experienced perspective. Because they work in your field, they know the ins and outs of your work — and can help you carve out a successful career and fulfil your own goals.
But what exactly is a mentor — and how can you go about finding one?
“It is important not to mix up the terminology ‘mentor’ with ‘coach’, while the skills required are similar, and both are used as professional development tools, the structure and the outcome of the engagement are quite different,” says Elizabeth Houghton, a career coach at Sutton Full Potential.
“A mentoring relationship is generally a long-term relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The connection is focused on creating an informal association between the mentor and mentee. Whereas a coaching relationship can be short-term following a more structured and formal approach, with set desired outcomes for each interaction.”
In short, a mentor is generally someone who has walked the path you are looking to follow. They will have the experience and skills to answer questions or help you decide what action to take, which can be invaluable to your career. Although it’s often thought that they need to be older than you, they don’t always have to be — they just need to have a proven track record of success in their field.
“If you are looking to become a people leader, you would seek out the very best people leader you know in your network to become your mentor,” says Houghton. “Where a coach is someone who will ask you lots of questions to enable you to dig deep and design your own solutions. A coach does not have to have walked the path you are seeking to be valuable and effective.”
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Why mentors can help you get ahead
An effective mentor-mentee relationship can help boost your self-esteem, confidence, self-awareness, motivation, purpose and wellbeing. A mentor can also help you improve on specific skills too, such as communication, decision-making and leadership.
“Your mentor will be able to support you with your approach to situations at work you are finding challenging, drawing on their experience,” Houghton says. “Your mentor will tell you stories from their experience that align with your current challenges which will provide you with a learning experience and support you with navigating the situation you find yourself in.”
Charlotte Balbier, a business, mindset and lifestyle mentor, adds that a mentor can provide emotional support and guidance too. “It can be very lonely and daunting when you start a new job or career, and you can easily feel lost and vulnerable. While you will naturally have someone to train you on your day-to-day tasks, having a mentor offers something very different — it goes deeper,” she says.
“It’s about shaping a person’s mindset and instilling the confidence in them to develop into who they want to be,” she adds. “A mentor can instigate big changes in how someone thinks, acts, reacts, and therefore ultimately the results they get. It can be truly life changing and really progress someone in his or her career.”
How to get a mentor at work
Choosing the right mentor for yourself can be quite a challenge. Firstly, you need to understand what exactly it is that you are looking to get out of a mentor relationship. Even if you can’t pinpoint the exact topic, you must at least have an idea about what you want to gain from a mentoring relationship with a professional.
“Are you facing issues in your career? Are you struggling with knowing how to take that next step up the career ladder? You need to select a mentor based on the area in your career you would like guidance on,” she explains.
“If you are struggling with professional networking and want to build up your network, seek a mentor out who has been on that journey of developing their professional network, so you can learn from their experience.”
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When researching your mentor, check to see what their professional background looks like. It’s also crucial to consider the chemistry you have, too. “Ask yourself what kind of mentor do you want? Do you want someone who nurtures you or someone who pushes you to do your best?” Houghton asks. “If your chemistry clicks, you know you have the right mentor.”
The choice of your mentor also depends on how you would like to interact. With many of us working from home, it may be possible to build a relationship with a mentor virtually. “If you choose virtual, then the location of your mentor does not matter,” Houghton says. “However, if you opt for face-to-face, you must consider the distance that you would need to travel for each catch-up.”
It can also help to look outside of your workplace for a mentor and to focus on your networks too. “The best mentor will be someone who will challenge your thinking and guide you to look at things from a different perspective,” Houghton says. “Limiting your mentor search to inside your current organisation may limit your personal growth.”
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