Why a mentor is your secret weapon to getting ahead

What do Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, fashion designer Marc Jacobs and tech entrepreneur Bill Gates have in common? Apart from being wildly successful they each had a mentor to guide them to the top of their respective fields.

The benefits of having a mentor

Imagine if you had a crystal ball to see into your career future – wouldn’t you use it to sidestep impending pitfalls and leverage every opportunity to reach success? Little do you know, having your very own crystal ball is far from fiction. Your real life career crystal ball could actually be a person you can turn to – your mentor.

“Having a mentor allows you to tap into a resource who has experienced some of the challenges that you’re currently going through and would have a solution to those challenges,” says Andy Davenport, Learning and Development Manager at SEEK Learning. “It’s basically having someone in your life who has blazed the trail before you and can share some wisdom.”

Davenport himself has a mentor and says that being mentored is a lot like having a tour guide for your career. “They’re going to give you that road map for the next 5-10 years and will help you avoid making the mistakes that you’d probably make without them.”

A mentor could be your secret weapon to get ahead

How to find the right mentor

The right mentor doesn’t necessarily mean the most senior person in your company. Look around your industry and organisation and identify people you admire or you think are doing a great job in an area that would like to work in in future.

“You should choose someone who is going to be approachable and a natural mentor to you. Don’t approach somebody who you couldn’t imagine having a conversation with,” says Davenport. “You need to have a professional relationship based on trust and respect. Even if they were successful I would never approach someone who didn’t possess the kinds of traits I’d like in myself.”

Approaching a possible mentor

Reaching out to a possible mentor doesn’t have to be daunting. Davenport suggests either approaching them in person (this method is ideal if you identify a possible mentor at a conference or event) or sending them an email introducing yourself. Keep your message succinct, but also be sure to identify the reasons why you admire them and would appreciate their guidance and advice.

When approaching mentors in the past Davenport says, “I’ve said to that person ‘I really like what you’re doing; I can see how successful you are. Would you be interested in giving me some guidance, if possible, in terms of my next career step because I aspire to be where you’re at in a few years’ time'.” If they’re interested, extend an offer to meet them for coffee or lunch.

It’s possible you may get a few knockbacks but don’t take it to heart – if someone is extremely busy they may not have time to devote to taking on a mentee. Keep persevering until you find the right person.

Get the most out of a mentoring relationship

Davenport says it’s important to have a face-to-face catch up with your mentor every 6-8 weeks to keep the momentum going and get the maximum benefits out of the relationship.

Be sure to have an agenda in mind to make the meeting as productive as possible. “It’s not about the mentor telling you what to do or lecturing you. You as the mentee need to initiate the topics, drive the relationship and drive the discussions,” says Davenport.

Also be prepared to act on the advice your mentor has given you. This means reading any books they may recommend, looking into seminars they suggest you attend and if they give you advice on dealing with people, take that advice and put it into practice. After all if you’re given a road map to success, why not use it?

Did you know having a mentor could help you keep up to date with what is happening in your industry? Find out more about the benefits of staying on top of changing practices in your field.