“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had a real positive influence in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living – if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on, showing you the way . A mentor” – Denzel Washington
Roughly 4 months into my graduate job, my manager asked me if I had a mentor to which I replied no. He then gave me the name of a guy that he thought would be a great fit for me and suggested I put in some time with him, which I did (to be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much because I’d be given a mentor during my placement year and we didn’t gel at all. I’m a big believer that these relationships should be formed organically). Adrian was a VP, rather young and had completed the Analyst to VP path in 5 years which I really respected and admired. We immediately hit it off. From the get go, I was able to be completely myself with him, we laughed, joked, it was very organic. We spoke about my role, the things I liked, didn’t like and then he asked me what I wanted from him as a mentor. Realistically, I’ve never had a mentor before so in all honesty I didn’t know what I wanted or what I could expect from him, so I simply said that I wanted to someone that I could vent to, someone that I could trust.
I was given a mentor at a time when I really didn’t enjoy my job. I worked within a great team, but the actual work itself just did not stimulate me. I didn’t tell my new mentor this straight away since it was our first meeting and I didn’t want to “burden” him, but I planned to in our next one.
However I didn’t organise any further meetings.
I became more and more depressed in my job.
Two months ago, I handed in my resignation.
After 3 / 4 months of thinking about it and speaking with my family, I handed in my resignation to my manager, who was a little surprised (he thought I would stay in the hope of getting promoted first) but at the same time he could see I wasn’t happy. After this conversation, I thought I should tell my mentor and it went like this:
Mentor: *leaps from chair* you handed in your resignation? Why didn’t you come to me first??!!
Me: *looks down at the table* I don’t know…..
Mentor: Fammmmm, don’t you rate me?? Don’t you rate me? (yes, he does speak like this lol)
Me: *fidgets with clothing* yes, I do…..
Mentor: So you’ve resigned….what do you want me to do now? Why are you telling me?
Me: I don’t know..
When I left our meeting, I kept asking myself, why didn’t I tell him? We have mentors because they can provide us advice, guidance, help us think through our decisions etc. and here I was, making a huge decision and I didn’t think once to approach him before resigning to seek his perspective. I think a big reason was that although I was super grateful to have a mentor, especially one that I had clicked with, I’ve always navigated through everything by myself and I thought it was another situation that I could handle alone (I was wrong by the way). Also, in all honesty, I didn’t really understand what the purpose of a mentor was. Finally, I assumed (and wrongly so) my mentor, someone who was outside my immediate work team would not be able to have any influence over my current situation at the time.
Why you need a mentor (based on my personal experience)
- They have big networks: Something that we don’t have yet at the beginning of our careers that a mentor does, is a huge network. Years of working in different roles / companies, means they have amassed a great deal of valuable contacts. My mentor asked me if I had thought about moving to another team internally, to a role that suited my interests more. The truth was no, I didn’t really know anyone outside of the Operations division and I felt weird asking my manager about mobility. Here came my mentor to the rescue!! He said “tell me what your ideal role would be? It can be anywhere in the firm and in any of our global offices.” I explained that I was interested in technology, advising different teams in the firm on how to get the most from it etc. Well, an hour after our chat, I saw 5 emails come in, where I was Cc’d and he was introducing me to people in the firm in the areas that I was interested in, asking if it was ok for me to put in time with them. All the people I met were super helpful in providing me with great insight into their business area. Although ultimately I continued with my decision to resign, as a result of my mentor sharing his network with me, I was exposed to opportunities I didn’t even know existed.
- They can assist with your thought process: Because I didn’t enjoy my job, the only option in my mind was to leave. But my mentor was the one who bought up internal mobility as another option. Since I was out of a job / unemployed like so many other graduates, he helped me brainstorm a plan of action in regards to what I would do until I found a role, – the type of role I was looking for, where I believed I would thrive the most. He helped me weigh up the pros and cons of moving to another firm. All of these things that I had never really considered were brought to my attention because of the mentoring and the *informal assessments* I was doing in my professional life.
- Their Influence: As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t consider that someone outside of my team like my mentor could have such an influence, but I was clearly wrong. Following our meeting, he went and spoke to my manager and asked him to have a real chat with me. He emphasised to my manager that my decision was not rash and something that had been building up for ages. When my manager came to me, finally… I really opened up. I explained explicitly what led to me wanting to resign, specific situations, things I felt could have been handled better, everything he took on board; listened and ultimately understood. If my mentor hadn’t stepped in, that conversation wouldn’t have happened.
- Their experience: When I discussed everything with my mentor, funnily enough, he had experienced the same feelings a few years beforehand too, and totally related my circumstances/situation/predicament.
Being able to speak to someone who was once in your shoes is great because:
- Since they’ve been through it, they can help you navigate your situation
- It makes you realise that you’re not crazy/the only person who has felt what you have. When you look from the outside in, remove yourself from the situation and re-evaluate, you realise that all your actions, fears and feelings are reasonable within context.
What stops us from opening up sometimes [in the work place / life in general] is the feeling that we are alone in how we feel and therefore not wanting to bother anyone. Bruuhhhh, even if your mentor can’t relate, there is ALWAYS someone who can.
What you should be looking for in a mentor?
- Great mentors want to spread and share their wisdom and expertise, not keep it all to themselves. They want to see you succeed and one day go on to exceed their achievements and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes they once did.
- Being a good listener is a really important quality you should seek in a mentor. Sometimes, when senior people engage in conversation with younger, inexperienced folk like us, they will speak over us or interrupt before we event finish out sentence. A great mentor will listen to you fully before giving their opinion, and they will even ask you follow up questions to help decipher your thought process to encourage you to think more broadly.
- A mentor who is lowkey bait (aka has a big network) is great because if this person takes you under their wing, they will be more than happy to introduce you to people in their network who can help you. Networks take years to develop, so if someone is willing to share theirs with you months into your career, this is something to take advantage of and truly appreciate.
- You should look for a mentor that is honest. You want someone who won’t sugar coat things or just tell you the things that you want to hear, but also tell you the things you don’t want to hear but need to. Your mentor shouldn’t just be honest about things with regards to your career but also in relation to themselves. You want your mentor to be open and truthful about their own shortcomings in their career, things they wish they done differently, what they still need to work on.
- A mentor that challenges you to think outside of the box (in your personal and professional life) and leave your comfort zone is a mentor you should be looking for. Your mentor should be questioning the how and why of what you’re doing and encourage you to take well thought out risks.
- Everyone can talk the talk, but can your mentor walk the walk? He or she should be a person of their word. Do they deliver the things they say they will? Do they practise what they preach?
How to best utilise your mentor
Establish the expectations: From the beginning, expectations should be discussed. What is your goal and how can your mentor help you achieve that? What are the specifics you need from them? Make sure you make that clear but also ask your mentor something similar. Maybe keep a track of your ideas, questions, plans and all the rest that goes with. Mentoring is a two-way journey ( #issamentorship) …how can you help them, what do you they expect from you? How often will you meet? What methods will you use to track progress? Overtime, expectations may change, so keep referring back to them in your catch ups. <<<<<<< keep a journal or notes !!
Make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial: A mentorship is not soley about you as the junior taking and expecting loads from this more senior person. So to speak neither parties are more superior or inferior than the other aside from the labels given in the workplace, mutual respect will not go a’miss. No healthy and successful relationship functions in that way. Your mentor will offer you advice; introduce you to their network etc., so you need to equally provide something in return. As they say: what do you bring to the table?! Maybe your mentor is working on a project that requires them to pull and present specific data and you’re a genius when it comes to excel and data extraction. Maybe they mentor someone else but it doesn’t seem like their advice is connecting, and he / she may feel that you being of a similar age and junior level could have more impact speaking to them.
I used to think the whole “mentors are important for your career” thing was soooo cliché until I found myself in a situation that I couldn’t navigate without having a mentor. Don’t wait until you’re in a tough situation to find a mentor. Also, as your career and goals changes, your mentorship may come to an end, and that’s ok, but be sure to find more mentors to address the next phase of your personal and professional development. Let these relationships form naturally. Finally and most importantly, as you grow and learn over the next few years, try and put on the mentoring hat for the next generation, because you were once in their shoes and there is no one that knows how they feel like you do.
Remember… “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”