How to boost your career through mentoring

Written by
Changeboard Team

29 Sep 2014

29 Sep 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Filling the gap

In the current financial climate, many organisations have found themselves having to cut back their learning and development budgets. And while it’s understandable that belts have to be tightened somewhere, training is a crucial element of both a company’s and an employee’s success.

It’s for this reason that an increasing number of professionals are filling this gap by finding mentors to guide them in their career progression. But what’s involved? And how can you get the most from mentoring?

The benefits of mentoring

There are several advantages to participating in a mentoring scheme. The first is financial – they are an inexpensive alternative to traditional training. This is due to a second major plus – that these programmes are mutually beneficial for both the mentor and the mentee. While the mentee becomes more self aware through gaining confidence, insights and improving their existing skills, the mentor gets an opportunity to hone their management capabilities and to gain a fresh perspective on their industry. For both parties, it presents a safe space in which to try out new ideas and solutions, and to obtain objective feedback on issues such as styles of communication, or deep-rooted preconceptions.

While many training programmes are short term and sometimes result in knowledge being left on the shelf, mentoring is a long-term process. The mentor can gain a much better understanding of their protégé’s strengths and weaknesses and can therefore be more helpful in setting relevant goals that are achievable over a greater period of time. 

Choosing a mentor or mentee

While some organisations have internal schemes, at Handle Recruitment we strongly advocate finding someone from another organisation within your industry and discipline. This may, at first, feel counterintuitive, given that in some cases similar businesses may also be competitors. However, the mentoring relationship is one that’s built on trust and confidentiality – and there’s sometimes more to be learned from someone outside of your own company.

One way is to approach potential mentors or mentees through industry networking events. This may take time, but long-term relationship building can be very beneficial.

When seeking a mentor, you should look for someone at a more senior level to you. This will ensure that they have a sound understanding of the career issues you face and will therefore be able to guide you through any potential difficulties.

Another way to find an external mentor or mentee is through a specific programme. At Handle Recruitment for example, we recently launched a new entertainment and media HR mentoring programme that match-makes mentees with mentors in their sector. Schemes of this nature often attract professionals from prestigious organisations and can therefore make for excellent networking opportunities. For example 20th Century Fox, TripAdvisor, BBC Worldwide and Sony Pictures Entertainment are among the businesses signed up to the Handle HR Mentoring programme.

There are similar initiatives operating across many industries, so it’s worth a quick Google search to make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious in your area.

In order to get the most out of mentoring, both mentor and mentee should have the right qualities and attitudes to make it work. The former should have a stable career, strong interpersonal and management skills, the ability to be a good role model, and the time and capacity to view the arrangement as a serious commitment. An appropriate mentee will have a receptive and positive attitude, as well as being, non-defensive, conscientious and self-aware and will have the ability to learn quickly. With these qualities, the relationship can grow into one that’s productive, honest and trustful – and one from which both parties can reap great rewards.

Making the most of mentoring

In order to get the most out of the relationship, boundaries need to be set from the very beginning. This is a good opportunity to not only address practical issues, such as how often you will meet, but also to outline your respective expectations of the experience. It’s also important to be clear about which topics or activities are out of bounds. The relationship has to be built on complete trust and frankness in order to avoid any future sense of entitlement, obligation, overdependence or other potential issues.

Next, the mentee’s needs and goals must be outlined in order to prioritise them and then a strategy devised to develop the appropriate areas to be addressed. This is the point at which long-term aims will be decided, so it’s important for both parties to be really honest.

Finally, it’s not enough just to set initial boundaries and hope for the best. The arrangement needs to be regularly assessed and worked on, just like any other ongoing relationship.

However you decide to go about using mentoring to enhance your career, just remember that it’s a two-way arrangement – and that respect for one another’s time and feelings can lead to a successful understanding for years to come.