Mentors Are Good for Your Career

Women’s History Month – Stay With It
March 15, 2015

No doubt, mentors are good for your career.  Research consistently shows that people with mentors report higher compensation, more frequent promotions, higher job satisfaction, stronger commitment to their careers and organizations, and are less likely to want to leave their jobs than those without mentors (“Career Benefits Associated With Mentoring for Protégés:  A Meta-Analysis,” Tammy D. Allen, et. al., Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 89, No. 1, 2004, pp. 127-136.).  However, traditional notions of mentoring are breaking down as Millennials enter the workforce.  No longer can you count on a single person to advise you about your career.  Organizations today are incredibly complex, and there are multiple pathways to successful careers that don’t mean simply scaling up the corporate ladder.

Attitudes toward mentoring are changing.  Millennials often shun their managers and leaders in favor of seeking career encouragement and advice from their spouses, partners, and parents.  In 2012, Bentley University did a study of 1,000 college-educated Millennials and found that only two percent of respondents indicated that a mentor at work gave them the most encouragement about their careers.   Besides, Milliennials value meaningful work, collaboration, teamwork, and freedom of choice and don’t necessarily want to emulate the career paths of today’s leaders, who may have sacrificed a lot along the way to get where they are (“The Misery of Mentoring Millennials,” Marina Khidekel, Bloomberg Businessweek, March 18-24, 2013, pp. 67-69 and “The New Millennial Values,” T. Scott Gross, Forbes, July 5, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/prospernow/2012/07/05/the-new-millennial-values).

Mentoring for this generation centers on a “collaborative relationship between two or more individuals that supports the career and/or personal development throughout one’s career” (“Five Key Steps for Effective Mentoring Relationships,” Audrey J. Murrell, The Katz Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 1, Q1 2007, http://nl.walterkaitz.org/FiveStepsInMentoring_Murrell.pdf).  With that, college grads need to understand the “Rules of Engagement” of this collaborative relationship:

Rule #1: Explain Why You’re Seeking Mentorship:  I’m often surprised when young professionals approach me for possible mentorship and can’t tell me why they are seeking me out, who pointed them in my direction, and how I can help.  They must know and be clear about what they want to accomplish with their mentors and determine ahead of time how exactly they can help.  According to University of Pittsburgh’s Audrey Murrell, depending on their experience, background, expertise, and vantage point, mentors can serve a number of functions at once.  It’s important to select a range of mentors who can fulfill a combination of these mentoring roles over the course of a career.  (For the specific roles, refer to http://nl.walterkaitz.org/FiveStepsInMentoring_Murrell.pdf.)

How does one find potential mentors?  Large organizations will often have formal and informal mentoring programs, where younger employees are matched with experienced ones to accelerate their successful integration into the company’s culture and business processes.  If the college grad hasn’t yet landed a job yet or his or her organization doesn’t have a mentoring program, the best place to start the mentor search is within one’s own network.

Rule #2:  Get to Know Each Other:  I encourage college grads to share their pivotal life experiences, find out about each other’s families, and ask about their mentors’ career paths and other people they’ve mentored as a way to break the ice.  This is also a good time to ask about staying in touch, the length and frequency of meetings, and expectations for response times to messages.  For the duration of the relationship, both parties will need to openly and freely communicate with one another about sensitive and confidential topics.  That will be easier if they make a connection right away, have compatible personalities and communications styles, and can trust one another to be honest, open, and direct.

Rule #3:  Get SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Bound):  In order to achieve their career goals, college grads need to work with their mentors on the objectives for the mentoring relationship.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road:   What exactly are the mentors signing up for and committing to deliver?  Both the young professional and the mentors need to be clear about all expectations.

Rule #4:  Understand the Roles and Responsibilities:  When it comes to managing mentoring relationships, protégés are in the driver’s seat.  They own the meeting, including scheduling a mutually convenient time and place, creating agenda topics and using time wisely, providing a progress report on objectives and action plans, showing up on time, and having a quick response on follow-up actions.  The mentor should not have to (and probably won’t) chase him/her down.  In that rare instance when one is not prepared or an emergency occurs, he/she is better off being honest about what’s happening and provide sufficient notice about the need to reschedule at a later date.  At the same time, it’s the mentor’s responsibility to thoroughly perform his or her mentoring function, measure results, and hold the protégé accountable.

Rule #5:  Make It a Two-Way Street:  It’s easy to see how protégés value their mentors’ assistance, but we must always remember that mentorship is a dynamic and reciprocal relationship where both parties benefit.  Young professionals often have a hard time finding ways to give back because they don’t think they have enough knowledge or experience.  I advise them that they can teach their mentors something they know – their expertise, first-hand experience with today’s trends affecting young people, books and periodicals they’re reading, music they’re listening to, blogs they follow, places where they socialize, and web sites they visit – to give their mentors a better understanding of the buzz in popular culture.  As result of this exposure and interaction and active nurturing of the relationship, young professionals will act as a catalyst for their mentors to learn new, innovative, and creative ways of being better managers and leaders.

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