How Can a Mentor Help Your Career?

See Why You Need an Experienced Advisor

Young woman getting advice from mentor in office setting
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A mentor is an experienced colleague who can can provide invaluable guidance to you as you begin your career and advance in it. He or she may work for the same organization, but doesn't have to. Choosing a mentor who is also a coworker may be beneficial, however, since he or she will have insight that someone who works for another entity will not.

When you are just starting out, there's a lot you don't know. Don't be offended. It's not you. It's just your lack of experience. You will probably make a lot of mistakes and miss out on many opportunities. Finding a mentor will allow you to limit how often this happens. He or she can guide you through tricky situations and can help you grow your career.

What Can Your Mentor Do for You?

  • When you encounter a situation at work that you aren't sure how to deal with—for example a workplace bully or a boss that doesn't seem to like you—a mentor can advise you on what to do about it. Whatever you are going through, there's a good chance he or she has either been through the same thing or knows someone who has.
  • Because he or she is on a higher rung on the career ladder, your mentor has access to opportunities you do not yet have. His or her status can open up some of these opportunities to you. For example, he or she can score coveted invitations to industry events and introduce you to influential people in your field.
  • Your mentor may learn about job opportunities before you and can alert to them. They may be within your organization or in another.
  • Since your mentor knows what additional skills and optional certifications are valued in your field, he or she can point you in the right direction when it comes to investing in your continued education and training.
  • If you have to decide whether to accept a job offer, he or she can look it over to see if you are getting a fair deal.
  • When it comes time to ask your boss for a raise, your mentor can give you tips about how to negotiate a higher salary.

    How to Find a Mentor

    Now that you've learned what a mentor can do for you, you probably want to find one as soon as possible. If you are lucky enough to work for a company that has a formal mentoring program, you might be matched with one when you start your job. Some employers that have such programs only make arrangements for those who ask. The human resources department should be able to get you set up.

    If the organization you work for doesn't have a formal program, then you will have to look for a mentor on your own. Consult your network to see if anyone is willing to take on this role or knows someone who is. Remember this person does not have to work for the same employer. Check with any professional organizations you are a member of—if you don't belong to one, you should consider joining—to find out if it has a mentoring program. Many do.

    Tips for Having a Successful Relationship

    • Choose a mentor whose goals are similar to your own. He or she should be further along on the career path you would like to take.
    • It is advantageous if your mentor's training is the same as yours. Someone in the same career field is in a better position to advise you.
    • Talk to your prospective mentor to make sure he or she can give an adequate amount of time to this relationship. If you can't meet on a regular basis or he or she doesn't have the desire or ability to answer your questions or help with issues as they arise, then you should do both of you a favor, and look elsewhere.
    • Don't wait for your colleague to make the first move. Since you are the one who will reap most of the benefits from the relationship, make the first move with someone you think will be a good advisor.
    • Accommodate your mentor's busy schedule. For example, if he or she wants to meet with you before or after work, don't make excuses about being too busy or tired.