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Mentoring for career progression

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Having a mentor in your life is one of the richest experiences you can have in a career development sense. It's one of the best ways to create significant visibility in your workplace. Having someone believe in you is critical in your path to success.

I will admit, I wouldn't have my own business today if it wasn't for my mentor having complete belief and conviction in what I do by pushing me so far out of my comfort zone to gain the growth I needed to be successful. A mentor can see things within you that you are completely unaware of.

It's rare that anyone makes it on their own without a nudge from time to time.

Here are some of the common questions people ask me when it comes to mentoring.

What do I need a mentor for?

You may want to get clarity on what steps you want to take next, someone to help champion your goals, to break down specific plans that seem out of reach. From a work sense, ultimately you want to get further in your professional life.

Ideally a mentor will NOT tell you what to do, however give you the tools and guidance to come up with it yourself, you already know what you want, you may just need someone to be that sounding board to help bring your ideas to fruition. Life is about you making choices that are right for you.

When you are ready to develop, take action and move forward, a mentor can help you get there. An investment of a mentor in your life is a commitment, if you are not ready for career growth, then wait till you are before you seek out a mentor. You don't want to waste their time, nor your own. When the time is right for you then I hope the below tips and ideas will help you on the road to discover your ultimate career development, progression or the next move.

How do I ask someone to be a mentor?

Most people are flattered to be asked to be a mentor. So don't be shy. Usually the only reason they would say no, is if they are short of time or they think they may not be able to develop you. Don't let this deter you from asking, as busy people find the time for someone they believe in.

'I'm wanting to get serious on my career, I would like to know if you have (what time you want)..... (over what period) to spend with me on this journey for career growth.'

Some people get overwhelmed using the 'M' word. If this feels too formal, let them know you are on a Career Development Path and would love to get some time with them to gain clarity, learn and develop from their experience. Sometimes it's nice to get to know them first by asking them for a 30 minute coffee to see how you connect and gauge the flow of conversation.

Bear in mind it can be awkward to start when you haven't done it before.

Does my mentor have to be older than me?

Not at all, I have mentors or key people of influence in my life of all ages, experience and expertise. I once had a women ask me 'Why did they pick me to be their mentor, they know more than me and I'm younger'. The world is moving so fast and we are all born into different challenges, technology, perspective and environments which is how we see our life. There is so much we can learn from different generations, it helps us see things through someone else's lens.

Who should I ask to be my mentor?

Ideally not your direct line manager, they have a roll that enables them to 'tell you what to do', it can also be conflicting, could cause tension with other colleagues and also seen as favouritism. May be constraining too as they may not want you to move direction as they 'need' you.

I would always go not one level above where I want to be, but two levels above. My vision is, someone already has what you want. Go find them and seek out what they did, what studies, how they networked, what contacts they have and how they learned from their mistakes can help you fast track your career so you don't make the same ones. Someone that potentially has a variety of contacts and resources to help you on the road to discovery for your career or someone with a wealth of knowledge that you could feed off.

Someone that you are inspired by or you think has a great attitude and achieved a lot in life, someone that you can relate too and will challenge you and encourage you to keep trying. A mentor can be a great sounding board and help with your professional growth.

Someone not like you........ Why? You are looking for someone that will challenge you gently and then a little stronger towards the end to get you out of your comfort zone. Someone like you could foster into a wonderful friendship, although they may not want to give you some sound feedback or challenge you. You may get a great friendship and not the growth you were after. It is about growth afterall.

How long should it go for?

Six months is a great time for a mentor:mentee relationship. With the view to extend post the six month period. I constantly get asked, why put a time on it?

1. By setting clear guidelines on time, gives the potential mentor an idea of how much time they need to invest. They are more likely to say yes if they have a guideline and can see an end to the commitment.

2. Most mentor relationships work, however if you just didn't gel together then this will give you and the mentor an out. A time frame helps you both. If they don't see you investing in yourself with their input they may want to part ways too. Time is precious, a mentor will always want to see you taking action and that their time is making a difference to your life.

How do you set up the mentoring process?

With every mentor:mentee experience the mentee (you) are the key driver here, you are the one that wants to develop. This is your time, so here are some guidelines on how you could make this work:

- Send monthly invites or the frequency you wish for. This will depend on how fast you want to move, every 2 - 4 weeks is good. Time escapes us, by sending diary invites it locks it in advance

- 45 minutes or 1 hour is a good meeting time frame

- 2 days before the meeting send them an agenda of 2-3 bullet points you want to cover, this shows them you are serious and have a plan in place. Also, helps keep you on track in your meeting together

- If you don't know your mentor then ask them to have a 30 minute catch up beforehand to learn about them and build your rapport before the mentoring begins

- Walk away with a clear action plan at each meeting, small steps lead to big changes

Can you have just one mentor?

I have three, although two are not formalised, they are 'key people of influence'. We have many aspects of our lives - it's not always straight forward or a one size fits all approach.

I have one to help with my business strategy and to set monthly goals. The other is to help me perform at my best, I bounce off their knowledge & expertise. The other to get inspiration and energy from on both a business and personal level to keep momentum happening.

I have this thing, where I believe no-one is great at everything..... So I believe that I can get more growth from different people and from the way they see the world to get information, ideas and resources. Why limit yourself to just one, be careful of what time you have though to invest in yourself without over committing.

How do I end a mentor relationship?

This can be tricky, which is why a time frame is important to set the expectation. You could use words like this: 'I really want to thank you for your commitment over the past six months, I have really valued .......... and......... and now feel capable to move forward with this. Would you be ok if I call you every now and then if something arises?'

This shows them your key takeaway's and let's them know what value you have taken from this experience. I always think a nice small gift or a letter of appreciation is great too. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone that has been a key influence in your life?

What if I don't see value and want to end the relationship early?

It's tricky, if your manager or someone has guided you to a mentor that you don't know. I would always start with three months with the view to extend if its working out. If that's not the case, then you could say to them:

'I have really appreciated the time you have given me thus far, I have valued your input and feel I have taken much from this experience already.'

Important to note: A mentor is not your advocate, nor is it your sponsor for the next role, however if you have been a little strategic in your selection, they could be the person who knows about the next position that becomes available and put a good word in for you. No guarantees you'll get the job, that part is up to you..... Creating the visibility with the right person and having someone with influence can help you gain belief in yourself to apply for that next role.

You may already know what you want, you just need a little push to get there.

Send me an email if you have never had a mentor before and would like an idea of what sort of questions you could ask them to get the flow of conversation started?

Remember, most people are flattered to be asked, it just takes a little courage to do it. Good luck choosing your first or next mentor.

Happy mentoring, Deb

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