How do you find... a mentor?

Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR Director UK & Ireland

Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR Director UK & Ireland, answers questions about the do’s and don’ts of mentoring relationships.

1. What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone that you choose to give you advice and guidance in your career. In many situations informal mentoring works well because you are naturally able to choose who you would like to mentor or guide you. They are often someone who doesn’t work directly with you - and indeed may not work for your company.

2. What does a mentor do?

A mentor is someone who shares knowledge and helps guide you through career situations. They should give practical advice that can help you navigate through your career.

3. Why do I need a mentor?

Everyone needs someone to give them advice from time to time. Sometimes, you just need practical business advice; especially, if you have just been promoted, want to be promoted. You want to talk with someone who has done this successfully. Other times, you may need to see how someone continues to be successful when going through changes in their personal life; for example, getting married, having a family. These times can be stressful and it is good to have someone that you can talk to about these issues who has more experience but who isn’t your line manager.

4. Is there a good time to find a mentor?

Anytime is a good time to find a mentor. All you really need to do is ask that person to be your mentor. Be prepared to discuss why you have asked them to mentor you and what you would like to get from the relationship. Be courteous and thoughtful of their time when discussing your expectations.

5. Can anyone have a mentor?

Yes, anyone can have a mentor if you are open to a mentoring relationship. Mentoring is a two way process. It is not up to your mentor alone to help you. You have to be prepared and have an open mind about mentoring. You have to focus as much on the relationship as your mentor.

6. Can I have more than one mentor at a time?

Some experts say that you should have three mentors – your boss, someone senior internally at your company and someone externally to your company. Your supervisor should naturally be a mentor. Having someone mentor you more senior to you internally in the company can help you advance or help ‘sponsor’ you throughout your career.

I would recommend that you think broadly about mentors. Peers often make good mentors or look for people with strengths that you would like to develop.

7. Do I have to know my mentor from before?

Not necessarily but it does help to have some kind of connection, especially if you look for a mentor externally to your workplace. Communication, both ways, is key so it helps to have someone that you trust and that you can relate to.

8. What makes a good mentor?

In my opinion, a good mentor is someone who can listen and give advice in equal measure. A mentor may ask you challenging questions that may get you out of your comfort zone. But really, a good mentor works to build the relationship, building your confidence and helping you to achieve your goals.

9. Does a mentor need to come from within the business?

Sometimes that is more suitable, but in some situations, especially as you become more senior in your organization, you may need to look externally to people you admire who may have bring different experiences of working in other sectors or types of company.

10. Can my boss be my mentor?

Yes, but it is important to have other relationships that you can discuss situations with. For example, if you want to propose a new idea to your boss, you probably want to try that out on others first to help you get your pitch right or to help you think through pros and cons of different situations.

11. Can mentors be friends with their mentees?

Yes, but that really depends on your objective as a mentor. It is not necessary to be friends with your mentor but you should clearly respect them and be able to communicate effectively with them. In many situations, the friendship may grow as the mentoring relationship develops.

In some situations, what a mentee is really looking for is someone to help ‘sponsor’ them in their career and that may not necessarily lead to friendship but a business partnership.

12. What if I don’t like what my mentor’s telling me?

You need to be honest with yourself and reflect on the situation. Do I not like what they are telling me because it is difficult or critical? But, will it help me reach my goal? Or is it a situation that you don’t like what they are telling you because it doesn’t suit you style or values? If that is the case, then perhaps it is a communication issue. In any case, you should be able to tell you mentor if you are not comfortable with an approach or conversation.

13. What if I don’t like my mentor?

Do some analysis of why you don’t like your mentor? If you have self-selected the mentor, then perhaps it is time to find another.. If you have been matched in a formal programme, that makes it a bit more difficult to move on to a new relationship, but perhaps talk to the programme manager.

Remember that you can always learn from anyone: you don’t have to like them!. If you have a clear agenda for meetings, you can always strive to get what you want out of the meetings and stick to topics that are more amiable.

14. How often should we meet?

That is really up to you to determine in the early stages of your relationship. In many situations monthly meetings are a good starting point if the relationship is internal. Externally, these may need to be less frequent. The main point is to agree a schedule and stick to it.

15. How do I know if my mentor is doing a good job?

It is not all about the mentor doing a good job. You will get what you put in to the relationship – it is a two- way street. Overall, you will know if the relationship is adding value to your career and personal development. Start with mutually agreed goals of what you want to happen during the course of the mentorship and work from there. Remember, mentoring up or reciprocal mentoring is acceptable and encouraged.

16. How do I get the most out of my mentor?

Be honest, be prepared and value their time and contribution. Don’t expect them to provide a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all of your problems but determine how you can use the relationship to help you develop your network, confidence and abilities.

17. When does the relationship with the mentor end?

Sometimes on a formal programme there will be a specific end date. Sometimes in an informal relationship, these will end or wind down naturally. Some mentoring situations will be short term and sometimes they will develop into life long relationships.

Even if the relationship has ended, be proactive and arrange times to meet if you believe the relationship to be beneficial.

18. How do I become a mentor?

Be open and available to opportunities. Sometimes, joining a formal programme in schools or mentoring through a charity will give you a good start early in your career. The Cherie Blair Foundation, Bridge Builders and Girls Out Loud are good examples.

As your career develops, look for opportunities that you can assist and volunteer for programmes run by your group. Asking human resources is usually a good place to start.

by Leigh Lafever-Ayer

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