If you want to do something to improve your career prospects, getting a mentor outside your organisation has the quickest return on investment. The power of a mentor is in the opportunity it gives to get third-person perspective from outside your current employer. It is the opportunity for you to discuss your career aspirations with someone who has already been there, seen it and worn the t-shirt. The research on career success reveals that those who actively seek out feedback increase their self-awareness and have a greater likelihood of career success.
You need to give careful thought to mentor selection. It’s not about accessing your mentor’s network to find job opportunities. It’s much more about thinking where you want to be in 3-5 years’ time and more importantly how to get there. The perversity of recruitment means it’s difficult to acquire the skills and experience you need to achieve your career goals. Recruiters hire those who already have the prerequisite skills and experience, not those who aspire. Together with your mentor you can discuss the options open to you.
What makes a good mentor?
The mentor is the obvious candidate for the discussion on what you should share about your future career plans with your present employer. You need that external third party perspective. A good mentor will provide ideas around volunteering, project management and secondments, all of which may provide avenues to building skills and experience. Mentors can also give an insight into market intelligence, how to gain knowledge of your competitors, which companies are the exponents of HR best practice and perhaps more tellingly which organisations to avoid.
How should I use a mentor?
The mentoring conversation gives you the opportunity to practice your presentation and communication skills. Those who get the most out of their mentors have prepared for the conversation; there is a structure to the conversation, and often homework to take away. Always go into a mentoring conversation with an open mind, be prepared to be challenged and perhaps most importantly be prepared to learn new behaviours. Mentoring relationships have a timeline, typically 6 to 18 months in my experience.
How do I get a mentor?
So what’s the best way to get a mentor? Interestingly, people are flattered to be asked. Do your research, use LinkedIn and your network. If you don’t know your prospective mentor, make sure you get introduced by a third party who knows you and your mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask. What’s the worst that can happen? If they say no, there’s always someone else you can ask. CIPD members can also approach their branch for mentoring recommendations.