Mentorship is guidance provided by an experienced person (mentor) to one with less experience (mentee). We have all been mentored in one way or another: by our parents, teachers, or superiors at work. In this article, we will focus on mentorship in the workplace, and give you tips on how to make it work for you.
Companies in countries like the US and the UK actively promote mentorship. The company I was working for in the US had a mentorship program where an employee could register either as a mentor or a mentee, and the company would match those with complementary goals. While seeking out a mentor or a mentee in your career path is not a popular concept in Nepal, there are some initiatives like the TGG campaign, and EduMala that are helping potential mentees in certain specific areas. However, to get started, all you need is a mentor, so there is nothing stopping you from approaching someone yourself.
Having a mentor gives you an edge, as you will have a guide with experience and knowledge in your chosen field. For example, if you want to start your own business, a mentor who’s already been down that path could provide you with tips on where to focus and what pitfalls to avoid. Or say, you are a software engineer who wants to become a systems architect – you could find a systems architect and get tips on how they did it. Or if you want to change careers, from banking to, say psychology? You could have a mentor who is in the psychological field or someone who has experience with career change. A mentor can help you with not only with technical skills, but also guide you along by sharing their lessons learned, responding to your incessant questions, acting as a sounding board at critical points, helping you reconsider your perspectives and pointing to various resources like books, videos, groups to join etc.
Finding a mentor boils down to figuring out where you want to get to, and finding the person who can help you get there. As the business news daily points out, no matter how independent you are, you will get to your destination faster with a little help from a mentor. And as Rekha Mehr puts it on the great business blog, not finding a mentor early on in her journey is her biggest regret.
Now that you are convinced of the benefits of having a mentor, how do you find one?
You could look around you. Your direct supervisor could be your mentor, but this has both advantages and disadvantages. While they know you well and can provide specific and detailed feedback that will help your career, they are also your boss, and they might be unable to get out of that role and guide you impartially. You will also need to careful as there may be certain things you don’t want your boss to know such as aspects of your workplace you don’t like. Your coworkers or peers could also act as a mentor. While you will definitely feel more comfortable with them, you could also be in competition with them, and they might not have enough experience and knowledge to guide you either.
If you are looking within your organization, it makes sense to have a mentor who is not a part of your team. This will help overcome the limitations we discussed above. It is also a good idea to find a mentor who is outside your organization, as you can discuss issues more comfortably and they can listen to the issues you are facing and provide unbiased feedback.
Before approaching someone to be your mentor, you need to do your homework and be ready to be a mentee. Some of the points you need to consider are well explained in Sheryl Sandberg’s book – Lean In. In general you need to:
Prove that you’re worth it: You have to prove that you are hard working and it will be worth your mentor’s time to invest in you. When somebody agrees to mentor you, they are willing to go out of their everyday schedule to find time to guide you. They will most likely be doing it voluntarily. However, if they do not see the potential in you, they will lose interest. So, make yourself worth their time. Work hard, stay updated in your field, take initiative. You can even help your mentor with their projects, leading to a win-win for the both of you.
Do not waste your mentor’s time: Don’t discuss general issues you can easily find answers to yourself, or treat your meetings as counseling sessions where you pour out your grievances. Instead, have a focused agenda of items you want to discuss. If the mentor feels that you are following her guidance and sees the impact she’s having on your career, she’s more likely to continue investing on you.
Take feedback to your advantage: Be open to feedback and criticism. Make your mentor feel comfortable in giving you honest feedback that will help you grow. Do not get defensive. In order to succeed, you should work on your weaknesses too. As they say: Work on your weaknesses until they become your strengths and work on your strengths until they are second nature.
Be ready to mentor too: If you have certain expertise and/or experience, be ready to invest in someone. You may think you are not yet seasoned enough, but there might be people who could use your help. You may just have a couple of years of experience but for an intern or a fresh graduate, you have a lot of wisdom to share. Mentoring will also give you an opportunity to expand beyond your regular responsibilities and provide you with the satisfaction of seeing someone grow.
Now that you are ready to mentor or be mentored, go ahead, take that step. Find the right person to guide, or be guided by, and approach them. It will be the single most important step you will take in your career and personal growth.
Cover Photograph: Jozef Vaclavik
Author: Anjana Shrestha
Anjana Shrestha is a certified project manager (PMP) with almost a decade of experience managing projects, mainly in Information Technology. She is currently working as a Program Manager at OLE Nepal, where she likes to be a Mentor and Advisor to her team members, helping them on their career path.