How A Mentor At Work Can Help Your Career

How A Mentor At Work Can Help Your Career

By Mark Swartz

You wouldn’t try to navigate a sailboat alone through rocky waters. Better to have with you an experienced hand who knows where the boulders are hidden.

A workplace mentor helps you steer your career around stony shoals. They spend time with you, for free. Their role is to advise, lend perspective, and act as a sounding board.

Finding and working with a mentor can put wind in your sails. If your employer doesn’t have a formal mentoring program in place, you’ll need to make the first moves.


Identifying A Potential Mentor

A mentor is often someone who has more experience or seniority than you. They have insightful knowledge to share that they’ve gathered over time. Frequently they’ll open doors for you and introduce you to other people in their network. Why? For the sheer satisfaction of helping you grow and succeed.

The person could be someone you already know - such as a manager or executive in your company. See if you can spot those you admire. Or ask around to ascertain which ones have a solid reputation.

Look for people who don’t already have too much on their plate. You want them to be able to spend some time with you on a regular basis, or be available for a timely consult.


Making The Approach

Mentoring relationships can emerge spontaneously after you’ve worked with someone, perhaps a boss or another person on your project team. If not, you’ll have to take the initiative.

Try to have your boss or a colleague make initial introductions for you. Otherwise you’ll essentially be making a cold-call.

Should that be the case, do your homework before making an approach. Look the person up on LinkedIn. Read their professional history. Search for common backgrounds or interesting facets you can mention in your preliminary contact with them.

Because you already work at the same employer, mention this right at the beginning. It’s a reassuring opener. Be polite, complementary, and state your intent simply and briefly.


Make It Easier For The Mentor

Asking someone to be your informal advisor requires a commitment on both your parts. Which is why you have to come prepared. Know what your goals and expectations are regarding the mentoring process.

They’ll want to hear why you feel the need for this sort of relationship. What is it that you want to accomplish? Which issues would be addressed first? How often and where would you meet?

Perhaps you’ve had a mentor in a previous job. Talk about how it went, what you gained from it, and ways things could be improved this time around.


Topics For Your Mentoring Sessions

Your mentor’s time is limited. Make each session count. Bring topics that are most meaningful to you.

The range of subjects will derive from your current role and level within the company. Typical issues that get discussed include:

  • Dealing with an immediate or urgent workplace issue
  • Learning how to not get tripped up by the organization’s politics
  • Asking questions about to how to do your job more effectively
  • Obtaining advice on getting promoted, asking for a raise, honing your management skills
  • Securing introductions to relevant people within and outside of your employer
  • Personal matters that are impacting your performance


Get The Most From Being Mentored

Your mentor may set an end date for your sessions, or may leave things open ended. Be sure not to overstay your welcome.

To get the most from your mentor, stay committed to the process. They’ll pull back if they notice you getting lazy. Also review the relationship on a regular basis. Is it still positive for each of you? Does it need to be tweaked as progress is made?

You should feel comfortable in communicating openly with your advisor. And your relationship should balance being supported and appropriately challenged.

Mentoring tends to be somewhat subjective. The person who mentors you might have their own biases or agenda. Weigh the suggestions they make against other cues you pick up at work. The combined perspective can give you what you really need for smoother sailing.