At a glance
For anyone in the early stages of their career, the prospect of having a mentor is immensely appealing, but taking the first step on a mentorship journey can be challenging.
In hybrid workplaces, where it can now take longer for new employees to learn all processes, a mentor can provide valuable insights into how an organisation works, says Dr Stacey Ashley, leadership expert.
A mentor can act as both an independent sounding board and a cheerleader who will celebrate your progress.
“Your agenda is their agenda,” says Ashley. “They’re not there from a self-interested perspective.”
Look ahead at your career goals
The first step in finding a mentor is to map out career goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Deciding where you see your career heading in the next few years is key, says Kate Richardson, career coach.
According to Richardson, a mentor can give advice on the path to get there, including the skills to develop, the relationships to cultivate and the opportunities that exist.
Look for a good fit
It’s a good idea to select a mentor based on your career goals and gaps.
“Do they have relevant knowledge or experience that is going to be useful or valuable to me?” says Ashley. “Have they done what I’m trying to do?”
Richardson agrees. Think about the type of person who can help you achieve your goals, she says.
“If you want to become a manager of a large team, then talking to people who are in that kind of role about how they made that progression can be incredibly valuable.”
Mentor and mentee also need to be a good fit. Ask, “Do we get on? Will we work well together?”, says Ashley.
Find a mentor
Some organisations and professional bodies run formal mentoring programs that match you with a mentor.
You can also look within your organisation – but outside your direct line of management – for a suitable candidate.
Another option is looking to your broader network, either via word-of-mouth or LinkedIn, which Richardson describes as “a powerful platform”.
“Not only does it allow you to see who you might be connected with at the first-degree level, but you can see at the second- and third-degree level too,” she says.
“You can find out if you know ‘someone who knows someone’ who may be in the kind of role or industry you’re aspiring to and connect with them.”
CPA Australia Mentoring Program
How to approach a mentor
Don’t go in cold, warns Richardson.
“I had someone ask me to mentor them 15 minutes after meeting me,” she says.
“I said ‘No’ because I didn’t really know the person, and I wasn’t expecting them to make that request. It was like receiving a proposal on the first date.”
Take time to research a potential mentor’s own career path before asking the question. It needs to be obvious why you want them to mentor you and not someone else, says Richardson.
“Sometimes people fall into the trap of writing an essay about who they are and what they’re looking for,” she adds.
Keep the message short. Ask, “I see that you’ve done XYZ. I’m interested to learn more about your career and how you achieved ABC. Would you have 20 minutes to talk?”.
Set mentoring expectations
Be clear about each other’s expectations from the start.
Many people are open to being a mentor, but it can fail if the boundaries and expectations aren’t specified ahead of time, says Ashley.
For instance, it’s wise to come to an agreement on how often you will talk and how – phone, email, chat, video call or in-person.
Talking about goals at the outset is essential, so that the mentor can help you stay on track.
Give and take
Mentees should ask themselves what they bring to the arrangement, says Richardson.
“These kinds of relationships work best when there’s some kind of reciprocal benefit for both people involved,” says Richardson.
However, being young or inexperienced doesn’t mean a mentee has nothing to offer a mentor in a more senior position.
“They think, ‘I’ve got nothing of value to bring to this relationship’, and that’s definitely not true,” Richardson adds.
Close the loop
When a mentee acts on a mentor’s guidance, it’s a good idea for mentees to let their mentor know, says Richardson.
“People love to be asked for advice, and they like to know when you follow it.”