“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navidgate a course to their destination.” – John C. Maxwell
Navigating through ones career can be scary, and sometimes daunting! Not because we hate our jobs, but more so because we don’t know how to get to the next level, or unsure of what the next level is, altogether! There are even instances where advancement is all about who you know (corporate politics are real), and you don’t know anyone!
Early on, in my accounting career, I didn’t know too many accountants who looked like me. There weren’t really any in my classes, and I was really just choosing to major in accounting because I enjoyed the class! My mom was a hairstylist, I was a first generation graduate, in my immediate family. There was really nothing anyone in my family could tell me about a career in accounting or corporate politics, and I soon realized I needed a mentor.
I thought choosing a mentor would be easy, initially. I just looked for someone in my same career field and I’d call them with questions. In my second real job, I was assigned a “buddy” who was African-American, and in a senior position in the company! I really trusted her and I thought we vibed, until I decided to leave the company, she told me if I left I’d never make 6 figures. GIRL BYE! She wasn’t the one either!
“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, thats where the real work gets done.” – Junot Diaz
Over time, I learned that the type of mentor I needed, was someone who was doing what I wanted to do, and doing it well! I didn’t limit myself to just accountants, but I looked for mentors who were entrepreneurs, CEO’s, women of color, and the list goes on. In some cases, the mentor/mentee relationship was formal, and in others the relationships were very informal and sporadic. At times I’d come to them with questions, and other times they’d come to me with advice.
I still have mentors to this day, and I seek out advice from professionals that I respect and trust. One of the best things I’ve gained from a mentor is the opportunities that I’ve been presented with, because of the relationship I have with my mentors. I found that if you’re genuinely interested in growing and excelling, your mentor will think of you when opportunities present itself!
So enough about me, here’s five nuggets to consider when seeking out mentorship:
- Consider Your Goals
What is the point of seeking mentorship, if you’re not able to articulate the help you need. If your mentor is giving you their time, be considerate and come prepared.
Two things here: (1) Don’t be afraid to ask, and (2) Ask using the appropriate channel, and at the right time! For example, you may here someone speak at a conference, and after doing so you might feel like you want them to be your mentor. Amazing! Don’t bombard them after their panel and asked the question. Instead, send a short email saying, “Hello, I am Jane Doe. I heard you speaking at Panel X and would love the opportunity to learn more from you. Would you happen to have any capacity to take me on as a mentee?” Simple.
- Be Open-minded
Versatility teaches you a lot! Sure, get a mentor that’s in your industry, but also seek out mentors with different backgrounds! This will allow you to have different insights on the same topic, and add more depth to you as a professional!
- Give & Take
Always come to the table willing to give something: time, care, concern, something! Don’t always go to your mentor expecting to get something!
- If it Doesn’t Apply…Let it Fly
There will be times when your mentor gives advice you may not agree with. This is not your opportunity to outsmart them, or to prove yourself! As I said, if it doesn’t apply, let it fly, and if it continues not to apply, gracefully discontinue the mentoring relationship.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill
Finally, remember to pay it forward, and be the mentor you wish you had!