Mentoring relationships can be a great career management strategy as in today’s job market an individual has to take responsibility for one’s career path. For the most part, gone are the days of the “Corporate Ladder” where each step of one’s career was neatly laid out. Today, individuals need to blaze their own path depending upon desired skill development, desired job function, industry, etc. With an average of seven careers during one’s work lifetime, it is a wise idea to organize a set of mentors who can offer guidance along the way.
How does one initiate a mentoring relationship:
- Look to existing relationships: Possible mentors should be cultivated from your current relationship base; who do you know well, but you would not consider a ‘friend’? who do you trust and respect? who will provide honest and direct feedback?
I recommend avoiding choosing friends as mentors as you need individuals who will and can take an objective viewpoint and offer honest feedback – friends are not a good choice as there are too many pre-existing factors at play.
- Levels & Expertise: Choose mentors who are at different career levels and have different areas of expertise as this will allow you to tap different individuals for advice as well as provide you with a varied sounding board for your general career questions.
Having a mentor who is close to you in career-level can help you navigate career issues such as dealing with a difficult boss whereas a senior mentor can provide a C-Suite viewpoint on career issues. Mentors who hail from various industries can also provide unique insights as well as contacts to help you jump fields if you should choose.
- Formalize the Relationship: The best mentoring relationships are ones where expectations and roles have been discussed and agreed upon. Set a brief meeting with your proposed mentor, state why you want this individual to serve as a mentor, how often you will meet (ex: once a quarter), what your role will be (ex: one week prior to the meeting, I will provide an agenda of discussion items), what the mentor’s role will be (ex: meet 4 times a year, offer advice/guidance), and a date to evaluate the relationship (ex: after 4 meetings, evaluate if this mentoring relationship should continue as is, amend, or end).
Formalizing the relationship and having a serious talk with the possible mentor may seem a bit stiff, but setting expectations early on can avoid possible misunderstandings later on.
- Evaluate/Add/Delete: You are not the same person you were 10 years ago, and just as you change, your list of mentors will change as well. Take time to evaluate each mentoring relationship – is it still a productive relationship for you and your mentor? Have your needs outgrown/moved on from the mentor’s expertise? It is okay to add or end mentoring relationships through the years, just end it professionally by having a frank conversation. A piece of advice is to stay in contact with former mentors, just eliminate the regularly scheduled meetings in favor of an occasional coffee meeting and check-in correspondence