Whether you are entering the world of work for the first time or hoping to move to a new industry, the advice and guidance of a seasoned professional can prove a major advantage. If you’re looking for a job, here’s why you need a mentor, where to find one and how to get the most out of the relationship.
Practical help and advice
“Many mentors are senior professionals with tremendous levels of experience, industry knowledge and insight. They are in an ideal position to help you explore career options and develop strategies on how to find job opportunities,” says career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced.
During your actual job search, check how much your mentor can support you before you get started.
“Mentors are busy people, so don’t ask your mentor to do anything that you can do yourself – like checking your application for spelling errors,” Winden suggests.
Once your application materials are ready to share, brief your mentor on the job opportunity including the job specification. Winden advises doing this well in advance of the application deadline, to allow enough time for feedback and for making changes.
“Your mentor will be able to spot things that you might find harder to assess: Are you using the right language and keywords for your industry and job level? What is your story? Where have you undersold yourself? Are you giving enough evidence to showcase your accomplishments convincingly?”
Once you get to the interview stage, some mentors will even offer you a mock interview, listen to your presentation or give you salary negotiation tips.
More than just advice
Colin Lloyd, regional director of Personal Career Management, says, “As a mentor to young people, my role is to help an individual get ready to enter the world of work and make the transition from education to employment, which can be really daunting. We meet for 10 one-hour sessions over a two-year period. In practical terms, I have spoken to my mentee about aspects of job search, such as CVs, interview techniques and anything they need help on. But it is more far-reaching than just that. For example, I took my current mentee to a business networking meeting to get a feel for how business works.”
One of the best things a mentor can give you is objective advice about how you are seen by others, according to John Lees, career strategist and author of “How To Get A Job You Love.”
“They can help you reflect on your strengths and offer a reality check, comparing your ambitions with what’s out there in your target sector,” Lees says. “They can also give you an unbiased opinion about your actual and potential market reputation.”
Remember though, that what they say about you is one person’s opinion, and not the absolute truth.
“If you agree with what they say about you – brilliant, let it boost your confidence. If you don’t agree, decide what you want to take on board, and how you can address any shortcomings,” advises Winden.
Expanding your network
A helpful mentor can be a great springboard to a new network, but you need to build a good relationship with him first before asking for access to his little black book, warns Lees. “A mentor will pass you on, but only when they trust you not to misuse good contacts.”
Winden agrees: “A good mentor will make time to help you enhance your career, provided that you do the leg work and use their time wisely. As much as they are there to support you and your career, don’t overstep your mark by asking them for a job, expecting them to put in a good word for you, or using their influence to give you an advantage over other candidates. This is not called mentoring, but nepotism. A mentor with integrity will regard these types of requests as a conflict of interest.”
Where to find a mentor
While you could try a well-written or cold call approach, you’re likely to have more luck if you make contact with a senior professional you admire face-to-face at a conference or networking event. It’s also worth checking with your professional organisation, as many run mentoring programs, and asking your HR department for recommendations if your company doesn’t run a formal program.
Why you should get a mentor now
There’s no reason to wait until you are ready to move on to seek the advice of a mentor. In fact, developing a good relationship with a senior professional now, before you start actively looking for new opportunities, can pay dividends.
As Winden explains: “A good mentor has your professional development at heart, and over time, will get to know you very well. He or she is therefore an ideal person to give you their honest and unbiased opinion on what makes you stand out as a professional and how they see your career develop longer term.”