A mentor can play a key role in fast tracking your career…but what’s in it for them?
At some point in your career you too may be called upon to be a mentor. The first thing that might cross your mind is “I’m not old/ wise/ established/ accomplished” enough to be that, but, someone thinks otherwise.
Read on for tips on becoming a mentor extraordinaire.
1. Think About Your Own Mentors
Whether they were “official” or “ad hoc” mentor relationships, what stood out to you about colleagues assisting you with your career? Make a list of the things you appreciated…and those you didn’t. Maybe your mentor constantly cancelled appointments. Or asked you for “favors” of admin type work. That’s a bad mentor, and few of us have had them. But what did your good mentors do? Write down the actions or qualities that you would like to emulate.
2. Choose Wisely, When You’re Chosen
Now it seems as though mentees choose you and you’re obligated, but that’s not really the case. It could be that someone approaches you who is “Clueless.” So consider your options. Do you want to take on a project? (You know you’re picturing an Alicia Silverstone-style makeover!) That can be a huge gift to someone.
Or, is their cluelessness irreparable in a way that could reflect badly on you? If you feel you are being pursued by someone who is not a colleague you want to associate with, don’t “lead them on.”
If it’s an overt request, thank them, tell them you’re honored yet it’s not a good time because of work/ travel/ family obligations, but you have some resources for them. (More on that below.)
3. Choose Wisely, When You’re Choosing
Maybe you have met someone a few rungs below you, even an intern, who reminds you of “you.” That is the perfect person to offer your wise assistance to. Don’t make it creepy, but say something like “Hey I really appreciated your help with the McDonald project; I’d love to take you to lunch.”
At that meeting ask them more about their history and aspirations. Figure out if it’s a good fit. If it is, you can even mention that they remind you of you at that space in your career and you’d love to be a “resource” to them. That is their cue to either pick up what you’re throwing down or let it lay.
If they email you with a question, fantastic. You are a mentor! If they duck and cover in the halls, well you were not meant to be. Sadly this may be a good hint that you yourself need to check your career. IS there a reason they don’t want to be associated with you? Perhaps not, but I would put a wary eye on what they might be thinking.
4. Prepare Resources in Advance
If someone specifically asks you to meet with them for career advice, whether you want to or not, you might want to send them a curated list of resources. (This works well for informational interviews too.) As a freelance writer, I am often asked how I broke into it and what skills you need to be successful. I could recreate this information with everyone I talk to, but rather I have a list of website resources, LinkedIn groups and the like that I direct them to. Then, even if we do choose to have a follow-up chat or meeting, I can customize it to their specific background or skill level, rather than repeating the same information I would share with everyone.
You also can quickly find out how serious they are. Did they check your resources? Or are they asking you those questions again? Don’t waste my time!
5. Stay in Touch
As we discussed last week, it can be a precarious position for a newbie to ask someone else for help. So, make it easier on them. Send them an email now and then with an article that you found interesting. Take the reins and be the one to suggest the meeting every now and then.
6. Champion Them
If you truly feel you have a diamond on your hands, take every opportunity to champion them with colleagues at your level. It’s not that you want to give them special treatment per se, that might even get them in hot water with their peers, but if there’s a high profile account or assignment that you think they would be perfect for, suggest them.
7. Make It a Two-Way Street
Sometimes it can be helpful to have an ally a few rungs down the ladder. You don’t want to turn them into a spy or gossip, but it might be useful to have their take on a new policy in your company, or advice on training or other resources that could make them more successful. I had a boss who had NO idea that we spent twice as long on many projects because the copier jammed incessantly. The person overseeing the junior account executives told us to deal with it. But we were wasting time and resources and that seemed silly. When I mentioned it to my boss, she was able to investigate and put in a request for a new machine. The investment more than paid for itself in improved productivity but without her ear, I wouldn’t have known where to start!
Is there a skill set that someone younger than you might have? Tech comes to mind. Maybe they can show you the ropes on social media or give you insight into a site or app that might be useful to you in understanding their demographic.
Don’t ever overstep your bounds in asking for favors, but sharing knowledge can easily be a two-way street.
The mentor relationship can be valuable throughout your career. Remember people who are just starting out won’t always be newbies. Being helpful is vital to the success of your company — and your profession — and can be good for your career too. In fact many companies expect that more senior level executives will share their knowledge.
Taking control of the mentor relationship allows you to ensure it’s beneficial to both parties.
by Cathie Ericson