I’m asked this question often in my work as a Business Psychologist and Human Resource Consultant. One of my answers is “find a mentor”. Working with a mentor can have tremendous benefits, and it’s one of the most valuable things you can do to enrich your career. Ideal mentors are experienced professionals who are familiar with your industry, organization, and working environment. Unlike books or other generic instructional materials or programs, good mentors possess first-hand knowledge of the organizational culture you’re working within. They’ve “been down that road before”, so to speak, and know what’s likely to work and not work in your company. In addition, they have usually built a strong network of connections over the course of their career and can help you build and leverage relationships. Also, unlike an immediate manager, it can be easier to be open with a mentor and “vent” concerns or talk-through ideas (i.e., with less concern about being judged or perceived negatively).
Nevertheless, while working with a mentor is usually an overwhelmingly positive experience, there are some pitfalls to avoid and a few things that can be done to optimize the experience:
- First, it is crucial to pick a mentor you feel comfortable with. This advice might appear obvious, but I often see people picking mentors based on the mentors’ title or status in an organization, rather than based on how comfortable they feel interacting with that person.
- Second, set a consistent meeting time (e.g., 3pm on the last Friday of every month), and protect that time on your calendar from rescheduling. Too often, I see mentoring relationships fail from the beginning because meeting time never occurs with any regularity.
- Third, have a standing agenda of topics to be discussed during mentoring meetings. Something as simple as an agenda with three bullet points (e.g., “discuss how to think strategically, how to expand my network, and how to be more influential during meetings”) can be enough to structure mentor meetings, make them efficient, and ensure you and your mentor are making the best use of your time together.