Working professionals have a wealth of resources at their disposals from the online world like networking platforms and career advice blogs and websites. However, one of the most important and readily-available resource is often overlooked and standing right in front of them: a mentor.
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A workplace mentor can provide unmatched value in professional development and career advancement. A mentor can help answer career questions, provide feedback and advice and be a steady force during a career, but finding the right person is key.
Who to Look for
As a mentoring expert and entrepreneur at LifeMoxie Mentoring Solutions,Ann Tardy says one of the biggest problems she finds with mentoring is how other people perceive it.
“People wait for someone to come down from the sky to tell them how to live their lives and build their careers,” she says. “But they’re missing the point. Mentoring moments, conversations and opportunities are everywhere. We have to break down the myth that it’s not just one person with all the answers.”
Those who are looking for a mentor can look as far as the next cubicle, another department, or even a peer group. At any level, a person can identify a leader based on what he or she has accomplished and what that person can share. A manager can be a mentor on some levels, but experts say it’s also good to have an advocate who isn’t in charge of your paycheck or performance review.
Mentors: Win-Win Situation for Employees, Employers
Studies have shown that an entire organization benefits from mentoring relationships. They’re more effective when it comes to transferring knowledge and changing bad habits than training workshops, as training usually only inspires a 15% change in behavior, on average, according to a report by LifeMoxie.
Mentoring is especially important for those who are starting their very first job, or starting a job in a new industry. Some companies have large human resources departments with resources dedicated to career nurturing, so ask for any help finding the right mentor.
“There may be resources available, but many people are afraid to ask for what they want or need,” says Cary Fortin, a small business mentor and career transition coach.
“I encourage everyone to be as direct and explicit as possible with their direct manager or human resources rep.”
Cast a Wide Net
A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same department or even in the same company. Some experts say it’s best for a person to have a mentor both within their company for work-related advice and also one outside their company for more big-picture guidance.
A mentor doesn’t have to be the same age or a couple of years older. In fact, it’s beneficial to span the generational gap when looking for career advice, as it provides a wider perspective.
“People tend to look for mentors a year or two older than they are,” says Fortin. But having a friend of your parents establishes a paternal relationship, where that person is looking out for you, giving you an objective point-of-view from an older and wiser generation.”
Having a mentor is especially helpful when moving to a new city. Whatever the reason for the transition, a mentor can help make introductions to build a local network. This can help in the job search and is also beneficial for personal connections.