Recently I was in a meeting in which the topic of mentorship came up. Someone posed the question to us: did we have a professional mentor? And, if we didn’t, why not?
A mentor is an experienced, trusted adviser. As an objective, impartial adviser, a mentor can guide you during periods of change and growth throughout your career path. A few years ago, a national survey about professional mentorship found that 76 percent of respondents said that having a mentor was important… but only 37 percent currently had a mentor themselves.
Finding a good mentor in your workplace could be highly beneficial for you both personally and professionally. Mentors are advice-givers whose experience can help you spot opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
Professionally speaking, a mentor is a source of positive guidance in your career, offering support, advice and feedback. A strong mentor can act as the sounding board you need to make vital career decisions. Particularly if your mentor is within your company or your industry, they can advise you on what developmental programs or trainings you need. They may learn about job opportunities or trainings before you do. Because of their different perspective, mentors may see qualities and strengths that you did not know you had. They can open your eyes to opportunities that you may never have considered.
A mentor’s perspective can also help with your personal growth. Your mentor can be there for you as a listening ear, but also can ask questions to help you work through decisions and solve problems. With any area of your life, it can be beneficial to bring fresh eyes to a situation.
If you have never had a professional mentor, here are some questions to ask yourself about what type of mentor you need. These questions are adapted from The Essential Manager’s Handbook, by DK Publishing.
- Do you need a mentor who works for your current organization, or can they be external to your organization?
- Do you need help with a specific challenge, or are you looking for more general mentoring?
- Are you looking for help with a short-term situation, or for a long-term relationship?
- Does your mentor need to have a specific area of expertise (for example, psychology, leadership, career guidance)?
Also, when choosing your mentor, think about the qualities that a good mentor should have:
- Make sure your prospective mentor is someone you trust and respect.
- Choose someone who listens, gives feedback, and asks for clarification to fully understand your thought process. While you certainly want your mentor to give you advice, you’re looking for a conversation, not a one-way lecture.
- Make sure they are reputable and a good role model.
- Most importantly, your mentor should be available, invested in you and genuinely interested in helping you succeed.
So far, I’ve discussed mentorship from the perspective of employees. However, professional mentorships benefit employers, too. Having a mentor at work can improve employees’ productivity and morale. A mentor is an additional source of support and guidance, particularly for employees who are early in their careers, which takes some of the burden off of supervisors. Employees who have strong relationships in the workplace are less likely to leave for other jobs. According to NationalMentoringDay.org, 89 percent of people who’ve had a mentor go on to mentor others. Workplace mentoring creates a culture where employees are eager to help their co-workers grow.
If you are a business owner or leader within your company, I encourage you to consider developing a mentorship program. It is a small investment of time and energy that will improve your employees’ performance. I also encourage anyone, regardless of their position in their organization, to consider mentoring those with less experience.
Choosing and maintaining a successful mentor relationship can have an important impact on your personal and professional development. Even if you only have a mentor for a short time, you will continue to rely on the wisdom that you gain throughout your career.
Sharine Sample is the Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. Learn more about Goodwill’s employment services at www.goodwillnwnc.org.