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How to Find Mentors to Support your Career

May 6, 2024
How to Find Mentors to Support your Career

Continuous career development is difficult to master, especially once you’re at a mid to senior level and your priorities naturally shift. Managing a team, upskilling them, and providing 1:1 support all contribute to career development; however, this nurtures only parts of who you are professionally. 

Your technical skills, passion projects, and long-term goals can often be clouded by the here and now of what’s needed from you. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to feeling stagnant and uninspired in your role, which can cause a knock-on effect on everything else.

The question is, how do you allocate time to develop your career beyond traditional settings such as internal or external training days? 

Mentorship!

Mentorship offers influence, guidance, and direction, and can typically “fill your cup” differently than traditional training schemes or technical upskilling. In essence, mentorship enables you to engage with someone at a peer level (or higher) and have them as a source of advice, a sounding board for your goals, and an encouraging voice when you require it the most.

Don’t get ‘mentor’ confused with ‘manager’, though. Although a manager can provide mentorship, a mentor cannot provide management, even if it’s an internal mentor within your organisation. Your manager is there to guide and drive you, however, that is usually the job for multiple people within an organisation. 

A mentor is considered a separate relationship which has the time and space to be more enriching because that person is mentoring a smaller portion of people. Equally, the skills you want from a mentor will differ from a manager, so it’s important to differentiate the two and adjust your expectations.

“A mentor’s accumulated wisdom and expertise must be passed on to the next generation. Good mentors make this process conscious, discussing challenges and satisfactions of mentorship with mentees.” - HBR

How can you find a mentor?

Mentors look different for all of us, and it requires self-reflection to understand what you want from one. There are two options for sourcing a mentor:

  1. Find someone internally who is in the organisation you already work for
  2. Have an external mentor who is outside of the organisation you work for

Both have their pros and cons. On the one hand, an internal mentor is great because they understand the inner workings (and politics) of your organisation. However, their views and opinions may have elements of bias based on their own internal relations. Equally, external mentors can be excellent because they can provide objective opinions and solutions; however, the cons are that they are largely going off information from one source: you. It can be argued that a lack of understanding or involvement in your working environment may hinder them from being able to give you authentic mentorship. 

However, it all depends on what you want to get out of your mentor.

Is it advice and insightful conversation to guide you on your career journey?

Is it straight-up solutions?

Is it a third party who provides the support that your manager may not be able to give you?

It’s up to you to decide.

When is it time to let go of your mentor?

We believe the answer to this is quite simple: when you no longer feel that you’re getting anything new from the relationship with them. Mentors, like jobs, like everything in life - are temporary. 

Having the same mentor for 10+ years is rare, and in these unique cases, mentor and mentee have both grown and changed together. However, it’s time to move on and find a new mentor when you know that it’s run its course, and you’re no longer gaining anything from it. 

And finally, don’t expect your mentorship for free

In some cases (and most cases for juniors with internal mentors) you won’t have to pay for mentorship. Most organisations have internal infrastructure set up that allows for everybody to have a mentor, meaning that everybody can benefit in some way. However, the more senior you become and the more specific your needs are, you need to be willing to ‘dig deep’ and invest in your future. 

Mentorship doesn’t need to be something that you pay for on a weekly basis, either. It can be bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly - again depending on what your needs are…!

Establish a cadence for communication. Most mentors want to keep up with major developments in their mentees’ work, but dislike unscheduled phone calls or a flood of emails for minor issues.” - HBR

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