Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
How to get the best from mentoring 30/08/2012
If you want to find a mentor, or even act as a mentee, where do you start? And how can you get the best from the relationship? Maggie Berry advises.
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- Start by researching
- Why should I get involved?
- Develop the mentoring relationship
- Two-way communication
Start by researching
Organisations all over the globe are increasingly recognising the importance of mentoring programmes, which is great news and I believe that everyone should have a mentor at some stage of their career.
Perhaps the obvious first step is to research what mentoring programmes are out there in and around your area, and what a mentoring scheme actually involves. Does your employer run a scheme that you could be part of? More and more businesses which, in the current climate, are facing training and development cuts are implementing internal mentoring schemes to ensure they not only add value to their staff, but that they also retain them.
If your company doesn’t offer such a scheme, there are many organisations that will not only offer you advice on what a mentoring initiative is like but will also match you to a mentor or mentee.
Try and find one that specialises in your sector – MentorSET, for example, concentrates on the science, engineering and technology fields – to ensure you get the most relevant advice and expertise. Some people find that using an external provider to find a mentoring scheme, and therefore partnering with someone not connected to your own business, is actually more beneficial. Perhaps this stems from the belief that there is an added benefit of learning from someone who is not part of your own business and who you can perhaps be more honest with.
Why should I get involved?
Once you have the basics covered it’s important to understand what mentoring schemes entail and why you should get involved. Perhaps the obvious benefit is that when embarking on a mentor/mentee relationship you can be more or less assured that both parties will put in as much effort as each other. Both individuals will be part of the programme to further their individual career so should take the initiative seriously. The mentor, for example, who will be at a more senior level, may be focussing on building up and improving their management expertise. The mentee, on the other hand, will be concentrating on learning, gaining confidence and building on their skill set.
In contrast, traditional training courses are generally short term and do not leave the individual with a long lasting opportunity to share ideas and set relevant goals.
Another huge plus to mentoring schemes is the financial benefit. There are no costs involved - unlike most traditional training courses. And in today’s economy where learning and development budgets are tight, individuals who are not given the chance to take part in company funded training schemes, can take advantage of mentoring without worrying about financing their career progression. This is a huge advantage and allows professionals to hone their skills at a time where competition for positions is rife.
Develop the mentoring relationship
Once you have a mentor or mentee, you need to make sure the relationship works from the outset. And don’t be afraid to say so if you don’t think you have been paired with someone who you can work alongside for the foreseeable future. Mentoring programmes should be based on trust so ensure you get it right at the beginning and don’t waste time further down the road.
The next step is to agree what each of you wants to get out of the relationship – if you are the mentee, establish what you are looking for in a mentor and what areas you want them to help/coach you with. Do you, for example, want specific help on public speaking or networking skills?
Establish some goals and set up a way of assessing these over the course of six months or a year. Another must is establishing lines of communication. For example, how often will you meet? Or will your relationship purely be done via email and calls? Ensure you are both clear and if you choose the latter think carefully about whether you think you can gain the most from the relationship without face-to-face contact.
Finally, ensure you not only show appreciation of your mentor/mentee’s time but that you also convey your gratitude. While both parties will be taking part to meet their own goals, it is important that you don’t take up too much time – after all both parties will be taking part in the scheme alongside their full time employment – and that you provide feedback and thanks forthe effort being put in.
The benefits of mentoring schemes should not be underestimated – they are a fantastic way for both senior level professionals and junior to mid-level workers to really expand on their skills. However it's imperative to remember that the relationship you embark on – whether as a mentee or mentor – is a two way arrangement and if approached correctly can be a lasting one for months, if not years, to come. Good luck.
Maggie Berry, managing director, Women In Technology
Maggie runs Women in Technology, a leading networking forum for women working in the technology profession in the UK.