by Mike McDonagh, Director at Hays Ireland
What is the purpose of a mentor and why do you need one? A mentor is your confidential advisor, who can objectively help you overcome professional hurdles in order for you to achieve your goals.
In order to find your mentor, you need a vision of where you want to be in your career, the drive to get there and the confidence to seek mentoring from someone you deem to be inspirational and credible enough to help you.
So how do you find a mentor?
Step 1: Stop and consider this question – what is it that I would like help with?
It is important that you start the process by assessing your vision for your career – where do you want to go with your career, what is it about your professional life that you need independent help with? Ideally, where would you like to be in one year, three years and five years? And which obstacles are standing in your way?
Don’t narrow yourself to just the skills you are yet to learn, or the feedback you were given during your last performance appraisal. Think of the bigger picture. Do you have a tricky relationship with a colleague or client, and is this hindering your progress? Is fear or a lack of confidence holding you back?
Remember, your chosen mentor will be someone you trust, therefore they will keep everything you say confidential, so don’t limit your thinking at this stage.
To give you an example, a number of years ago I felt that I needed a different perspective on my professional life and career. The support I received from Hays senior management was excellent, but I felt that as someone who had worked for the same company for over 15 years, an external perspective would be valuable.
Step 2: Look at contacts, assess who could be the right person for you
Once you have identified what it is you need help with, it’s time to find the right person to help you. Who in your life has overcome the obstacles that you are now facing? Are they where you aspire to be now? Who do you know that is really good at the skill you want to develop or perhaps the job role you would like to do in the future? As I alluded to in the beginning, don’t narrow your search too much. What’s to say this mentor has to be somebody who is part of an official mentoring scheme, more senior than you, or even somebody you work with?
When searching for your mentor, consider former and current colleagues, your friends and family as well as your other social and professional circles. To continue the story of my own search for a mentor: Upon realising that I felt an external individual would be beneficial, I contacted someone I knew through my network who had completed a course in executive coaching. I knew they would be balanced, independent and supportive, but I also knew they understood my role in Hays and what I was trying to achieve.
Step 3: Think about how to approach them
The way you approach your potential mentor will depend on the nature of your relationship. If they are a contact from your professional network, I suggest sending them a message first explaining what your situation is, what specifically you think they could help you with, and politely ask if they could spare some time to sit down and chat. Let them know the best number to call you on, and that you hope they would like to talk further. I often think that asking someone for “advice” rather than “help” works better!
If this person is at your current organisation, I also recommend that you run this by your line manager beforehand. They may be more familiar with your potential mentor, or have experience in mentoring themselves, and be able to give you some pointers on your approach. The point is, your mentor needs to be outside of your direct line manager wherever possible.
Whoever your mentor may be, the key is to be humble and human. In my situation I simply approached the person and said, “I would like some advice please. I’m looking for some independent perspective on my role and future path at Hays and I’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss some of this with you.” At the time, neither of us knew how much or little time this was going to take but as it turned out, it was not a huge ask in terms of time commitment – and it really helped me. Things as simple as reminding me to get back to reading books (I’d been doing a lot of reading years ago, but had stopped for no real reason!) was one of the pearls of wisdom my mentor gave me. It wasn’t rocket science, but their ability to step back from my own situation and see what might help me was invaluable.
Many years on, we meet on an ad hoc basis when I need their help and they are available to help me. But establishing and maintaining this mentor – mentee relationship took work, which brings me onto my fourth and final step.
Step 4: Remember to nurture the relationship between you and your mentor
Remember, your mentor is going out of their way to help you, therefore gratitude and respect is key to both establishing and maintaining this relationship. Before your first meeting, and every meeting from thereon, be punctual and well prepared. Note down the specific challenges you are facing, what it is you want to learn from them from this session and how you think they could help you.
You should also share the progress you have made from previous sessions, and examples of this progress in practice. For instance, every time you meet your mentor maybe buy them coffee as a small token of your gratitude, or perhaps bring them for lunch (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one!). But that feedback is essential – “you really helped me with “x” or “y” problem”, or “that suggestion worked really well” – people always want to feel valued and appreciate hearing back from you.
You don’t have to tick a certain box before being eligible for a mentor. You simply need to have a vision for your career, and a methodical, tactful, yet authentic approach to seeking out this guiding voice. Personally speaking, finding a mentor was one of the best decisions I ever made, and is something every driven professional should pursue on their path to career success. And remember, bear all of this in mind the next time someone asks you for help (or advice!) too!