A mentor is often seen as a great guide for the inexperienced, kicking off their fledgling careers, and sending them on to secure their first important role. But how many of us stay in contact past entry-level, as the path gets steeper and harder on the long road to the top?
Complacency can seep into our once fiery determination, with familiar tasks, responsibilities and people an easy comfort. A mentor can be a great contact to re-inspire, motivate and advise on what to do next.
So what do you look for in a good mentor?
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Experience is the number one attribute any good mentor has. If they haven’t been there, done it, and got the t-shirt, can they really help you? An experienced mentor will be able to paint not only a broad picture of your intended career path, but also delve into the details, the minutia, that help make you successful.
The higher up they are in terms of seniority, the better. A C-level executive, especially a founder, is able to give you a clear view of how many businesses operate, without the tiered filter of information privilege often reserved for the boardroom.
Of course whilst such a professional is likely to be able to help you understand the bigger picture when it comes to how companies think, they may be too senior to actually be able to relate to your job, your position, and what positions you aspire to currently require.
So don’t stop at one mentor when you could have many, it’s great to take in different opinions, and if you can find a common thread between them, follow it. However don’t take that to the extreme, if you constantly ask another professional for advice and don’t take it, you are wasting each others time.
Want to get inspired? Lack of motivation will likely lead to failure, so find someone who loves what they do. You can’t get inspired for the both of you, and a less than enthusiastic mentor may rub off on you. A good motivator loves every aspect of what they do and will jump at the chance to ‘talk shop’.
Let such a mentor fill you up with the same enthusiasm, passion counts, especially at interview. Many qualified applicants apply for a new position, but only the most motivated and eager are likely to succeed.
Passion convinces an employer that you will be a reliable hire, someone who will go beyond transactional requirements to really prove their worth. You want to be the candidate that no one is doubting, the one employers believe will add value to their organisation for years to come.
How are your soft skills? Can you hold a conversation across junior, middle and senior level? Do you know when to back off and when to push? How to communicate effectively with different personality types?
If you don’t, connect with a professional who does. Communication is one of the most important skills any professional can have, it is what drives business success across multiple sectors and industries.
A good mentor will help you understand how to gel with different types of people, how tone changes with seniority, how to employ the power of persuasion, and suggest helpful books or courses for further education.
A big LinkedIn number doesn’t mean anything; quality over quantity. An experienced mentor will be able to advise you how to engage with new connections, whether that be at work, through LinkedIn, or via industry events.
Acquisition is one thing, retention is another, so make sure your professional networker educates you on nurturing your business relationships. It’s not enough to simply have someone as a connection on LinkedIn, you have to grow such a relationship to benefit you both in the long term.
It’s often said it’s not what you know but who you know that opens doors in the business world. Whilst this is true, knowing the right people usually comes from good networking and communication skills, not pure happenstance.
Where do I find a mentor?
When hunting for a good mentor be proactive, they won’t come to you. Attend events, whether that be company, industry or conference, all are a great place to naturally start conversations that can lead to the next big chapter in your success story.
Look all around you, family, friends even your own workplace is a great place to look, just make sure you can rely on them. Consider that whoever this person is, you are entrusting them with personal and confidential information.
Social media is also a good place to look, but don’t get taken advantage of. Business gurus abound, but don’t pay for information you can get for free, connect with qualified experts for quality information.
The big picture
Many people make the mistake of just expecting opportunities to fall in their lap because they know someone, or just because they have experience, or just because they are passionate, but careers don’t progress on a ‘just because’ basis.
The right mentor will be able to analyse what skills, energy or experience you may be lacking, and set you up on a path towards success.
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