Career Report
October, 2010 — Issue 128


Find a Mentor Who is a Listener, Too

Traditionally, a mentor has been a senior employee who helps a person build skills and make connections. And while that still holds true for the most part, the boundaries of mentoring have changed somewhat into a much more collaborative arrangement, where mentees are active learners who help direct the process with mentors who do a fair amount of listening. In a Q&A feature article from The New York Times, careers columnist Eileen Zimmerman offered the following insight and perspective on how workers can have an effective and successful mentoring relationship:

Q. You have heard that it’s important for your career development to have a mentor. What exactly is mentoring and how can it help you?

The most common model is still the senior employee individually mentoring the junior employee. But other possibilities include reverse mentoring, where a junior person mentors someone senior for a specific reason, and mentoring within groups or among peers.

In addition to helping to build skills and make connections, mentors can provide training and open the door to on-the-job experiences,” said Lorraine Stomski, a senior vice president at Aon Consulting in New York, who specializes in leadership education and coaching. “They also help you navigate political land mines, identify influential people at the company and provide useful information about where the business is going,” she said.

Mentors can provide training and open the door to on-the-job experiences, too. They can also help workers navigate political land mines, identify influential people at their company and provide useful information about where a business is going.

Q. What makes a good mentor and how do you look for one?

First, identify what to achieve through the relationship. “Once you know that, ask yourself, “Who is really good at this and who do you admire in this area?” said Holly Tompson, a senior research analyst and executive coach at 14cp, the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a human capital research firm in St. Petersburg, Fla. “If you don’t already know, talk to your former supervisors –or others at the company you know well – and ask who they would recommend.”

Indeed, people can have trouble finding an effective mentor, said Tompson, who pointed out that not everyone with experience or power in an organization is good for the job. People who are very egotistical, love to hear themselves talk or seem to have no spare time are probably not good choices,” added Stephen Xavier, an executive coach and president of Cornerstone Executive Development Group in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“Good mentors,” he said, “set goals with their protégés, ask questions, do a lot of listening and create informal situations that allow them to introduce their protégé to other high-visibility people in the company.”

Q. What are your responsibilities as a protégé, and what can you expect of your mentor?

Set parameters at the start. Include when, where and how often you will meet, and whether you will take notes. You should also define your goals—for example, developing a skill, learning about different aspects of a business or gaining exposure to new job experiences, according to Lois J. Zachery, president of Leadership Development Services in Phoenix and author of “The Mentees Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.”

Then prepare for the sessions. Set up an agenda and be ready to ask questions and describe your work since the last session, said Debra Benton, an executive coach in Fort Collins, Colo., and author of “C.E.O. Material: How to Be a Leader in Any Organization.” “Don’t be so in awe of your mentor that you don’t push back or question his thinking,” she added. “You need to consider his advice, but ultimately you have to decide what you want to do.”

Expect your mentor to guide you by asking questions that help you come to your own conclusions, rather than lecturing. Your mentor should also be fairly candid with you about the organization and its politics, Stomski added.

Q. Could you be involved in something that seems like mentoring, but has another purpose?

People often confuse coaching with mentoring. Coaching, which provides specific feedback, can be used within mentoring, Stomski said. “But mentoring is more holistic than coaching, in that it develops the whole individual – through guidance, coaching and development opportunities.

Q. Why would people agree to spend time and energy mentoring? What’s in it for them?

For one thing, it’s good professional karma to help others, although there are other, more concrete benefits. Mentoring someone younger offers valuable insight into a generation of up-and-coming professionals, Tompson said. It also allows the protégé to share her own expertise – maybe teaching her mentor about a new software program or discussing concepts she recently studied in business school.

Senior people are interested in their legacy, Tompson said. “These are people who have spent decades in a particular industry and are now in a position to help shape what the future will look like, both within their organization and in the industry,” she added. “That can be a very rewarding experience.”


News from BLK

The next webinar in the Berman Larson Kane FREE Job Seeker Webinar Series, Finding the Unadvertised Job Using Social and Professional Networking, is scheduled for Wednesday, October 20th at 12 noon, EST. Click here to join the many thousands of job seekers who have already benefited from this program.

Berman Larson Kane continues to host the MIS Network meetings on Tuesday evenings. This is a wonderful organization that has help so many talented professionals in transition over the past 20 plus years. It is our pleasure to contribute in any small way to those who seek employment assistance.

Bob Larson, CPC participated in the NAPS conference in St. Louis, MO. He reports that the consensus among the 250 recruiters in attendance was that business hiring is continuing to improve. Some of the hot areas for recruiting needs reported were energy, medical and green technology.