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Why should you get a mentor? Here is what it did for me…
When I worked in London a few years ago, before moving to Sydney, I was really stuck in a rut at work. I knew how to do my job and I was doing it fairly well, but I’d lost passion and enthusiasm. I’d also spent almost a year being managed by someone who didn’t inspire me before a new (and brilliant) manager started and I was torn between going out and finding a new challenge, and a crippling fear of leaving the comfort of what I knew.
I built up my courage and confided in a senior colleague, telling them that it was making me unhappy but I wasn’t sure what the best course of action was. They saved the day. Within a week I found myself in a pub in South London ready to meet my new mentor. He had worked with my colleague in a past life and they both made a habit of mentoring junior, but likeminded, people outside of their respective organisations.
What does a mentor do?
I’d had no idea at the time that this type of networking existed – I’d met plenty of people at events, or through agencies I’d used, that I admired and had interesting chats with about their career progression. But here was someone I’d never met before, who didn’t know anything about me, except that I needed someone outside of my immediate circle to talk to about my career and advice on how to handle it. Why was he doing this for me?
Friends and family are usually wonderfully supportive at times like this, but are they always candid? I think my poor housemate at the time would have told me anything to cheer me up when I’d had a bad day at work – but that wasn’t helping me ultimately.
My mentor listened to me describe my situation, my feelings, my hopes, my doubts… without judging, without forming an opinion of my character. He acted as a sounding board, patiently taking everything in and objectively assessed the situation as he saw it, before discussing the avenues he thought were open to me.
Almost everything he told me seemed like common sense once it had been said. But my lack of, and his abundance of, experience was what separated us.
We met every few weeks for a number of months and each time I took away some valuable advice, feeling more confident, until I made the decision to move to Australia.
My mentor never gave me a script of what I should say to my manager, or told me what jobs I should apply to, or what companies I should aim to work for. He got me to a place where I could manage those decisions myself, taught me to look forward and not dwell on what I should or could have done. Instead of reacting emotionally to situations at work, I learnt to move past what I couldn’t control. I came to realise that my job wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, I had just outgrown it – and I became ready for the next step.
(I should also say here that I ended up working for the same company on the other side of the world, so you never know where you might end up and it’s important to resign in a professional manner if you do decide to make a career move!)
How do you get a mentor?
Getting a mentor isn’t all about fast-tracking your career, it’s about becoming a really great version of yourself, realising your potential and having the confidence to aim for a career that makes you happy.
I was lucky enough to meet my mentor through a colleague – but if you don’t feel like opening up to anyone at work, think about your LinkedIn connections. Is there anyone in your industry you already have in mind as a mentor? Get an introduction to them through one of your connections.
Attend industry events and network with people face to face – if you feel you have clicked with someone, approach them about a mentorship. Many professionals will not have mentored anyone before, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to the idea.
Mentoring is beneficial for both the mentor and the mentee. It might not seem like it when you’re offloading, but the mentor is developing their professional self by helping you. I hope to mentor someone in my future – it would be immensely rewarding to give to someone else what my mentor gave to me.
1.Decide what you want to get out of the mentorship – do you need advice on how to progress, or do you think you need a new job? The answer to this will indicate who your mentor should be. If you want to progress in your current role, someone senior in your business might be a suitable mentor, if you want to leave then it’s best to look outside your organisation.
2.Leverage your online connections as well as your close network.
3. Meet on neutral ground – whether your mentor is from outside your organisation or not, removing yourselves from your day jobs means you start each meeting in an unbiased setting.
4.Take notes with you – when you connect with a mentor really well, it’s easy to go off topic. While it’s ok to develop a friendly relationship, remember what it is you’re there for!
5.Show appreciation – don’t forget that your mentor is meeting you in their own time.
6. Pay it forward – if you’re at a junior/mid level now, embrace your mentor’s advice and be open to acting as a mentor yourself in the future.