Information on finding a mentor and getting the most out of the relationship.
A mentor is increasingly regarded as integral to an individual’s career success. They are different from coaches in that they act more like a sounding board. While a coach will work with you to define and achieve specific goals, a mentor offers advice, guidance and reassurance, and helps instill confidence.
Often mentors will occupy a position that the individual ultimately aspires to reach so they can provide meaningful insight about suitable career paths to follow. Individuals can have more than one mentor at one time and several throughout their career. What is important is making sure that they are appropriate for you and right for the stage you are at in your career.
Fiona Vigar, a chemical engineer and previously a mentor to graduates at Shell where she was a team leader in Global Opportunity Identification, reckons that it can be particularly helpful to have a mentor as a young career person.
“The transition from graduate to a working person can be difficult and it’s most beneficial to be guided in some way,” she says. “There is often graduate training available but it’s not tailored to an individual’s specific needs.”
Finding a mentor can therefore prove to be a good early career move but you must go about it in the correct way.
Finding a suitable mentor
Some organisations have formalised mentoring schemes in place for graduates but if this isn’t the case, discuss the possibility of being matched with a mentor with your line manager. The type of guidance and support you need will dictate the kind of mentor you are looking for and where they are to be found.
They could be an experienced person from your own department who understands the requirements and demands of your current role and will help you develop; from outside of the department in a role or function you aspire to be in; from outside of the organisation who will act as an independent sounding board; or a person from your network/family circle outside of work who can provide support and guidance on personal as well as career issues – perhaps a family friend who holds a management or leadership position.
Consider carefully the source, skill set and personality of your mentor. Good mentors display high levels of emotional intelligence as well as excellent people and social skills. They are also highly self-motivated and confident and it is vital you feel you will be able to build trust and a rapport with them.
Drive your own development
As a mentee, the onus is on you to ensure you are properly prepared for it and therefore able to maximise the benefits of the relationship. According to Vigar there are four essentials to take on board:
• Set aside time and energy for the mentoring session.
• Think about what you want from the mentoring and be ready to explain it to your mentor.
• If you are already in a job, think about your next few moves and where you would like to be in five or even ten years’ time.
• Reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses as this will be a useful reference point during discussions with the mentor.
Thorough preparation will provide the mentor with the best chance of helping you and the more you are able to tell the mentor them about your aspirations and needs the better.
Vigar says that one graduate at Shell felt she needed economics experience so she was able to facilitate that by getting her seconded to another department while another wanted senior level insight so she took the individual along to leadership meetings. “Plus she sat alongside me when I was project manager just taking minutes but she believed it was a valuable experience,” she notes.
As Vigar explains, mentors are also key to helping an individual build their network.
“In a global oil business, it’s really important to have a good network across a number of locations, departments and skill sets and a mentor will help to build this,” she says.
Focus on the relationship
Arrange to meet at least twice a month so you can build the rapport. Keep things fairly flexible so that you can call on the mentor in between times if required. Monitor how beneficial you feel the sessions are. If it feels like the mentor is simply handing out advice rather than relating and tailoring it to your needs then the relationship probably isn’t working as well as it could be.
Vigar stresses that it is also important for both sides to realise when the relationship has reached the end point.
“I mentored one graduate for three years but acknowledged that it was time for the individual to have a different mentor,” she says. “We discussed it and found her a new mentor who was right to take her to the next stage in her career.”
Bear in mind that being mentored also offers a good grounding for one day being a mentor yourself, which is a valuable addition to the CV and can prove beneficial in your career.
“It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s not just about the mentee,” Vigar says. “The mentor can gain things from the relationship too. I learnt about parts of the company I didn’t know about via my mentees and saw things from a different perspective.”