When we spoke to our Head of Commercial Credit Chris Green about improving gender balance in our senior roles, he talked about how important having a mentor can be to your career. We think it’s great advice. A mentor can be a real positive no matter what stage of your career you’re at, or how senior your role is. However we know from experience that it isn’t always an easy thing to make a start with. How do you know whether it’s really right for you? If it is, how do find the right mentor? And once you start, how do you make the arrangement work?
To help you work out the answers to these questions and more, we’ve decided to shine the spotlight on mentoring in a short series of articles. You’ll find suggestions and advice on everything from what to think about before you start, to how to end things when the arrangement has run its course. We’ll also speak to some of our people, and find out how they make the most of their mentoring relationships.
For now we’re going to start at the beginning, with a few ways that mentoring could help you in your career.
1) By giving you the chance to work with a role model
If you feel that you know the kind of role you’re looking for, then having a mentor who’s either already in or who’s been in that position before could be really useful to helping you get there. They’ll quickly understand the career challenges you’ll face, and may well have direct experience of the same kind of obstacles themselves. They’re also in the ideal position to help figure out what the most important skills are to take you where you want to go, and how you can develop them.
A role model mentor could also be a great way to get specific support on a more short-term basis, such as a project which stretches your skills, or the transition to a new job.
2) By helping you to understand and focus on what it is you want
People who know what they want to do aren’t the only ones who can benefit from having a mentor. It’s easy to get stuck climbing the ladder you’re on when you don’t really want, or to feel at a loss as to how to make your next move. A good mentor will have your best interests in mind, and will help you to reflect on what you’re good at and the kind of work you enjoy. They can also help you make a plan to get more of the things you enjoy into your working life, give you the confidence to make changes, and help keep you on track.
3) By letting you benefit from someone else’s mistakes and successes
We all know the importance of learning from mistakes, but what if those mistakes don’t have to be your own? You could save yourself a lot of time and pain.
Your mentor will give you the benefit of their experiences when they’ve faced up to similar challenges, sharing what worked and what didn’t. More importantly they’re likely to have reflected on why they got the outcome they did, and rather than simply giving you a formula to follow, they can make suggestions about what you should consider when you plan your own approach.
4) By holding you to account
There’s no easier promise to break than the ones we make to ourselves – just look at the history of broken New Year resolutions for proof. Make those commitments to somebody else though, and the incentive to follow through on what you say you’ll do becomes a lot greater.
Even if you’re the kind of person who makes a point of always seeing the tasks you set yourself through to the end, your mentor could challenge you to set your standards higher and to stretch yourself.
5) By giving you both positive and constructive feedback
It isn’t always easy to get an accurate beat on how well you’re handling the challenges you face at work when you’re in the middle of it. Maybe your feelings of discomfort are making it seem like everything’s going wrong. Or maybe you have a blindspot to how you’re affecting the people around you, or there’s an angle you simply haven’t considered.
If you simply need to vent, talk to a friend or family member. A mentor should be honest, objective and far enough from the situation to both help you see the things you’re doing well, and recognise where you can improve. They may be able to see your problems from a different perspective, and help you widen your own so that you come up with better solutions.
6) By letting you access a wider network
We don’t recommend making this your primary motivation in approaching a potential mentor – if you’re only in it for who the person knows, there’s a chance they may feel like you’re using them. But if both parties agree it’s a good idea, your mentor might be able to make introductions to people who will be useful to know.
That might simply be about improving your profile. Alternatively, it could be to give you another source on advice on a problem you’re facing, or even put you in front of someone who can have a direct influence on the problem itself.
How do you choose a mentor?
Hopefully you have a clearer picture of how mentoring could help you get more out of your career and move it forward. Why not take some time to think about how a mentor could benefit you, and whether it’s something you want to pursue?
If you decide that to give it a go, here are three things to bear in mind when choosing the right person.
1) Trust is key
Your mentoring meetings should be a safe place where you can be honest about the challenges you’re facing. You’ll need to know you can trust your mentor so that you can be open about the things that concern you, while knowing that your conversations are confidential. This is number one for a reason: consider it the foundation of a good mentoring relationship.
2) Make it someone you admire
A mentor should be someone whose advice and talent you respect. Even if they aren’t a direct role model, they should be someone who inspires you to be better, and demonstrates the kind of skills and behaviours you look up to.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be very senior, or even at a level more senior than you. If you believe their advice and reflections would be valuable to you, or that they can help you improve your skills, then they may make a good mentor.
3) Shop around
Commitment is essential to a good mentoring relationship, but that doesn’t mean you’re locked into the first person you approach. Try meeting with a number of people to find out if you connect, especially if you don’t have much of a relationship with them already. The way you interact personally will be as important as their experiences in making the relationship work, so give yourself options, and don’t be afraid to be honest if it isn’t working. Telling somebody that you want to look elsewhere may feel awkward in the short term, but you’ll both lose a lot more by continuing a poor arrangement.
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