Could a mentor could be your ticket to a happier work life?
So you are feeling pretty good about where you are at in life, but can still see a little bit of room to bring the X-factor? Stepping things up a notch with the help of a mentor can push you to the next level. We bet there’s a lot of questions spinning around: what exactly IS a mentor? How do you know if you need one? And where on earth do you find them? Are mentors really full of life changing insights and hot tips or nothing more than hot air? And is it really worth fitting another commitment into your already full life?
We humans are a curious breed, sometimes we are full of determination and gusto, and other times, well we just lack in motivation and need a rev up. You know what we’re talking about! That gym visit you've intended to make for weeks. The phone call you keep putting off. The catch-up with a good friend that you never seem to find time for.
Life is busy and we are great at making excuses to get by with the basics (with a huge side of Netflix to fill in the gaps). Having access to a mentor can help us focus on the growth and self-improvement we want to achieve, both professionally and personally, and they can help keep us accountable and excited about it too! It’s like having your own personal cheerleader with the brains and experience to boot!
Mentoring is not a new buzzword or trend. Mentoring has been around for centuries: Socrates mentored Plato and Plato mentored Aristotle. Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs and Jobs mentored by Mike Markkula, some of the great minds of our time. And it’s not just relevant for the workplace. Most top sportspeople rate mentors and coaches as the key to their success.
The starting point is to have a good think about your “why” to determine the reasons for wanting a mentor and what you want to gain from the relationship. Is there a promotion or skill you want to develop? Are you looking to change companies, or careers or industries? Are you starting out on your own and want to avoid flat-lining before you truly begin?
Ok, ok, just give me the sales pitch. How will a mentor help me?
Let’s cut to the chase. Whether you are studying or well into your career, feeling on top of your game or in a sticky spot where you are stumped on what to do next, a mentor can help you determine, clarify and keep on track to achieving your goals. They’re not just for the rookies, the ’pros’ use mentors as well. Ask someone you respect at work if they have one – our bet’s on yes!
- Get perspective and experience
A great mentor is kind of like a best mate or sibling who isn't afraid to challenge you and question your decisions. They will point out where you need to focus more of your time and energy and offer ideas about how to do it, but they’ll also come alongside and encourage you. Best of all - mentors are a few steps ahead of you. Not only have they been down a similar path you’re on, but they are ready to share wisdom and the lessons they have learnt to help make your journey easier.
- They have the hook ups!
No, we don’t mean the Tinder kind, this is work related! When you leave tertiary education and start working, you realise more and more that who you know is more important than what you know. Mentors are great connectors and can introduce you to the right people at the right time.
- Experience is key!
The only qualification your mentor needs to get you on the right track is experience in the field you are interested in. Ideally, they are 5-10 years ahead of you in their career and have had successes and failures along the way – you can learn from the challenges they have experienced and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls they faced.
OK, sign me up
So, you’ve decided that you could really benefit from a mentor, but where on earth do you find one? Although it might take a little bit of perseverance, finding a mentor that you click with who has relevant experience for you to learn from is incredibly important so you’ll get the most out of the experience.
How to find the best match for you:
- Spread the word
Be open about the fact that you’re on the hunt for a mentor who can show you the ropes in a particular skill or field. The more you casually drop it into the convo at the next BBQ, work event or family Sunday lunch, the more leads will pop up for you to explore. It’s all about who you know, remember?
- Embrace a buddy
New workplaces often have a buddy system for those who wish to be mentored in their new role, or as a career progression tool. Don’t shrug this offer away, raise your hand and make the most of these opportunities to learn from those more senior than you at work this input is gold.
- Pay a scout
If you want to minimise the hard work involved in finding a mentor, you may want to outsource the job. There are professionals who are willing to pick up your slack, with organisations dedicated specifically to connecting keen mentors with keen mentees.
- Shoulder tap
Are you pretty clear on where you’d ideally be in 5 years’ time? If you know where your dream career is headed, seek out a person in the specific role you’re after who’s based at another company, and email introduce yourself! Go ahead and ask them if coffee could be on the cards for that first meet up, people are often only too happy to help. If not, they aren't the right person for you so don’t sweat it, just move on and ask the next person!
- LinkedIn: more than just a digital CV
LinkedIn is the place where you can broaden your business circles and find people who would be willing to engage in an ongoing mentoring relationship. Let your fingers do the walking and the talking and utilise the benefits of LinkedIn to connect with others in your industry, those who you went to school and tech with, or former colleagues who have since up-skilled and grown, becoming a master in their field!
- Alumni connections
Many tertiary education providers have alumni groups that can be utilised. The amount of education and experience alumni members have between them is staggering - this is the ideal place to find a mentor who shares your educational background and career path. Make sure to RSVP to those alumni events, connect on social media or email the alumni office directly and ask to be introduced to someone in your field of work.
After you’ve made an effort to network, met with a few people and landed a well-suited mentor, you’re well on your way – congratulations! But if you thought that was a bit of work, the hard yards are yet to begin. To get your new mentoring relationship off on the right foot it’s a good idea to make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of expectations and what you want to get out of it.
- Decide how often you’ll catch up - fortnightly, weekly, or adhoc.
- Lock in how your relationship will work - let your mentor know what you hope to gain from the experience and how they can help you best.
- Start building a connection - get to know each other’s backgrounds and experience to date, it might take a couple of coffee catch ups to really get to know each other and build trust, so be patient and enjoy the process.
- Think together about some short-term and long-term goals. This keeps your time together on track and ensures maximum value is gained from the time and energy invested into the relationship.
We know, there are so many decisions: it’s important to be on the same page so your mentoring relationship is a win-win!
Ready, set, go!
Whether you feel like you’re in a rut and don’t know what to do next, or you’re already acing your goals to date, there’s so much to be gained from connecting with someone a few steps ahead of you and picking their brains. Mentoring is much more than generic pep-talks over coffee, and a great mentor isn’t actually too difficult to track down if you go about it intentionally from the start. Go get it! Your future you will thank you.