A career mentor is someone with more experience than you who shares their knowledge and expertise to help you grow in your career path. This is normally a long-term relationship that is focused on supporting you (the mentee) with your development through advice and encouragement. If you want to get ahead in your career, I recommend having a mentor at all points in your career.
Good mentoring helped me move forward in my career.
When you are starting out in your career, you may have learned a lot from school, but how do you continue to grow in your career? Once you reach the work world, no one will hand you a textbook with a roadmap that says, “do this and you will reach the top of your career track.” You might get a manual on how to do your job from your manager, but once you master that, what’s next? You can hope that pure hard work will help you achieve that promotion for where you want to go, but I learned that it doesn’t quite work like that. It helps to have some direction to help you figure out what skills or networks you should focus on.
Throughout my career so far, I have had some really amazing mentors. One was my manager from my first human resources job after graduation. She taught me everything about human resources and provided me with challenges and opportunities to help me grow as a human resources professional. Even after she left the company, she still supported me with advice and how to handle challenging situations. She shared her honest perspectives and suggested opportunities for me to further grow in my career. While I have changed directions from human resources to career development, her mentorship was valuable to my continued career growth.
Another person who mentors me is Jane Keresztes (the founder of Crossroads). When I met Jane, I sought her out to teach me about career counselling and self-employment because that was the direction I wanted to go in my career. She shared her advice and wisdom with me, making suggestions for what certifications I should get, the tools I might need, and what worked for her as she ran Crossroads for over 10 years. That advice was so valuable (and I followed it) and now I have the opportunity to work alongside her and still continue to learn.
I have had other mentors who have helped me with understanding my personality and strengths, provided advice on career advancement, and really have gone out of their way to help me grow and support me in my success. One takeaway that I learned from being a mentee is that you still have to put in the work. Your mentor is there to guide you, however, it is still your career so you are responsible for taking action to move your career forward.
Where can you find a career mentor?
When you are pursuing your dream job, it is important to find someone who already works in that field. You may not know a lot of people when you are starting out, so here are some tips for finding a career mentor.
Mentors can be found nearby, like in your school or workplace.
When you are in school, you are likely being taught by professionals who have some experience in the industry you are interested in. That instructor or professor could be a potential mentor that you can learn more from.
If you are a working professional, then you may benefit from having a more experienced colleague as your mentor. Invite them for coffee — chances are, they would be honoured if you were to ask them (plus it’s easier because you aren’t a complete stranger).
Join a mentorship program.
Professional associations usually offer a mentorship program to connect new professionals with senior professionals. If your school offers a mentorship program, take advantage of it to meet alumni. Usually the coordinator of the mentorship program will pair you up with someone who wants to be a mentor, so it takes the pressure off asking them to be your mentor. Mentorship programs usually have a fixed duration, so if you want to continue with the mentorship, you may have to ask your mentor if they would be open to the idea.
Use your network to find potential mentors in your field.
Perhaps a family member or friend can introduce you to someone. LinkedIn has over 575 million users, with more than 260 million monthly active users, so you can research potential mentors around the world. Your professional association may have networking opportunities for you to meet your future mentor. Building my own professional network has offered me many amazing opportunities to connect with great mentors.
They just have to have more experience than you.
A career mentor is someone that is more experienced than you. However, they don’t have to be the CEO of the top company in your industry. They can be someone who is a couple of years ahead. Hopefully that takes the pressure off when asking someone to be your mentor.
Why would someone want to be a mentor?
It sounds intimidating to potentially make a complete stranger your mentor… I get that. However, it is not as difficult as it you might think. I have talked to a lot of professionals and most people want to give back. They feel valued when they can share their knowledge and experiences to help others achieve success. People naturally like to help… but they won’t know you need the help unless you ask for it! To be fair, this may not be the case with every person you meet (or they might be too busy), but I have found that most people do like to help.
Also, your prospective mentor does not need to be a stranger. They can be a former manager, professor, family member or friend. In fact, I encourage you to build a relationship with a potential mentor first so you can get to know each other’s personalities and see if you are a good fit to work together. There is less pressure and it becomes easier to ask them to become a mentor if you already have a developed relationship.
A good mentor can make a real difference in your career and life. It may not be immediate, but you will realize its positive impact over time (I know I did). And in the future, perhaps someone new to your career field may contact you to become their career mentor.