Put Yourself to Work (Mentorship Opportunities)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

At times, getting ahead in the business world can be far more difficult than most would imagine.  Building this type of career requires one-part education, one-part determination, and three-parts experience (at a minimum; no wonder you feel so tired!).  But the age old “how do you get experience if you don’t have experience?” question often represents a problematic conundrum that can threaten to stop many a young business upstart in their tracks.  If only there was someone to ask; someone who could help to find doors to walk through when all you see are brick walls.  The good news is that help is available, and perhaps, only a coffee date, phone call, or text message away.  Welcome to the world of mentorship.

Mentorship is just one of the many ways to take action in building your own personal value in the business marketplace.  Thus far in this series, we have considered the benefits of in-house seminars, training, and networking, professional development opportunities, as well as work experience and assignments.  Here’s how to take an active role in making mentorship work for you.

Mentorship opportunities

Given the high experience component that is integral to building a successful business career, it’s no wonder that the concept of mentorship has fared so well in the corporate world.  Staff members who are just starting their careers or are looking to move into a new area can benefit from finding a mentor who has “been there” and “done that”.

Mentors can provide a better understanding of the requirements to move forward in a particular job or functional area and make suggestions as to how the development process could occur.  They can also be a good support when the going gets tough (and it will), as well as someone who can provide assistance to help you get back on track when needed.  Since they have been in business for a while, they can also have a great network of contacts to share, where appropriate.

Put Yourself to Work

  • The best mentorship relationships are those that are not forced or imposed upon the parties, but rather, develop naturally.
  • Places to find mentors could include people who already know you (think relatives, your parents’ friends, and neighbours who have known you for a long time and have experience in an area that is of interest to you), business or professional associations, or a more senior person in your department.
  • Take the time to get specific about where a mentor could help you the most; career planning, dealing with problematic situations, and networking assistance are all options. A bit of pre-planning can help you to get the most out a mentoring relationship.
  • Identify a convenient approach for accessing your mentor. Meeting up for a meal, coffee, or Sunday jog are all options; find what works for you so that you can develop a relationship.  Although emails and text messages can provide helpful information in a pinch, it’s a good idea to go beyond the media and spend some time face-to-face.
  • Go into the relationship with an open mind. Although you don’t have to agree with everything your mentor tells you, do take the time to give the message some thought.  Feedback should always be professional and respectful, but remember that a mentor might tell you things that others won’t (and this constructive criticism is intended to be given in the spirit of helping).  Step back and consider the source before deciding whether or not the feedback is of use.
  • Unless otherwise agreed, mentorship relationships should always respect confidentiality, in terms of the information shared and the arrangement, in general. When seeking guidance, no one wants to feel like their privacy has been violated.
  • If you are unsure or uncomfortable with the advice you are getting or if you just don’t feel that relationship “click”, consider finding another mentor. It’s not uncommon for a mentor to provide guidance in a particular area, and once the issue passes, you may need to tap into a different kind of expertise.
  • A more “passive” approach to mentorship can be achieved by working hard and getting noticed by senior staff members, both in your current department and in those you might work in temporarily. Learn from their example and knowledge and use it to build your own skills.
  • Plan to give back. Learn from the relationship so that you can take on the role of mentor to a more junior person (perhaps, a student that is just starting out) or at some point in the future.

One of the exciting things about mentorship is that it’s a two way street; mentors can also learn from those they mentor.  Tapping into the expertise of someone whose experience is beyond that of your own can help you to gain skills and insights that you don’t have (or wouldn’t have) at your current level of development.  This benefit can, in fact, create the opportunity to make real progress, at a rate much quicker than that of your peer group.  That’s worth the time and effort.

Jenifer Bartman
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