There has been plenty of advice these days about how each of us is responsible for our own careers and our own success, but there is one aspect that has been overlooked when counseling such a strategy: It’s lonely. And scary.
It is not a weakness to admit you’d like to have someone in your corner as you plot your next move. You may feel isolated because everyone else is so intent plotting their own job strategies, or you may just be totally in the dark about what exactly a “next step” means.
Whatever the reason, forming a career path that makes sense for you can be a daunting task.
That’s why mentors can prove to be a gift from the gods for those who need someone not only providing advice based on experience, but a supportive pat on the back when it’s needed.
The advantage of having a mentor is that is gives you a person who will provide honest feedback in a secure environment. It helps you to work on the areas that you need to grow and develop.
While many companies help workers set up mentoring relationships, there are times when an employee may want to seek out help confidentially. In that case, begin by deciding your needs, your goals and your skill gaps. Then decide who would best help you meet those goals and needs.
Keep in mind that some mentoring relationships may last less than a year, and may end when a specific goal is accomplished. This short-term mentoring also may appeal more to the mentor, since it does not require a long-term -- and possibly endless -- drain on his or her time.
Once you’ve thought it carefully through, then you can ask this person to meet you for coffee or lunch, and test the waters. You want to be sure that anything that is said will be kept confidential if a mentoring relationship is established. Trust and confidentiality are critical because you’re going to really make yourself vulnerable by laying it all out there.
Another issue to consider is whether you need skill advice, or career advice. A professional organization or local university may be able to provide you a mentor that can improve a specific set of skills, but choosing a career mentor may require more time and thought since you will be plotting your next 10 or 20 years of worklife based on this advice.
Some other things to think about:
* Find a mutual benefit. When you find someone you think would be a good mentor, look for ways to offer something in return. If you're a technology whiz and the mentor is not, offer to help with this aspect.
* Be respectful. Show up for scheduled meetings, don't hog all the mentors time, listen carefully and take notes and make sure you always express your appreciation and above all, be willing to take the mentor's advice. If you're going to argue or ignore everything the person says, then you might as well forget it and let the mentor have his or her valuable time back.
* Pay it forward. Mentors have a sense of service to to others, or they wouldn't be helping you out. It's important to them to know they've had an impact and that their service will be passed on. Let them know that one day you hope to help someone else, if you haven't done so already.