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10 Steps to Finding a Career Development Mentor

Mentoring keyQuick--what comes to mind when you hear the word “mentor”? Did you envision a well-connected senior leader who is older, wiser and much more experienced than you are? While it’s true that most mentors once fit that description, the current thinking around mentors and mentorship has expanded. Today, we recognize that age, experience or a person’s profession doesn’t necessarily mean they will be an effective mentor. The main requirement is that a mentor is someone you highly respect, who can offer feedback, and is interested in helping you develop professionally and holistically.

Professional development experts have been reassessing other aspects of mentorship as well, including the notion of time. In the past, mentoring relationships were often expected to happen over the course of years, or even without any clear end date. Today, however, professional development experts advocate for mentoring relationships that are for a specific timeframe--ideally, six to 12 months.  

Additionally, in previous years, mentoring frequently occurred in planned “sessions” that focused on specific topics. These days, a less formal structure is often more effective. Mentoring relationships may be short- or long-term, formal or informal. The important thing is to identify the mentor that best fits your personal and professional development goals.

Here are 10 steps that will help you take charge, find a mentor and develop your career:

  1. Identify your goals. What do you want to achieve? Are you looking to advance in your current career? Are you thinking about moving into a new area or industry?
  2. Decide how your mentor could help you most. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you can find the information you need in a book or online, you shouldn’t be asking your mentor. Mentors are best at assisting with things such as helping you gain new perspectives and offering insights; directing you towards resources that can be most helpful to you; and helping you establish new contacts.
  3. Think of the people you admire most. Who do you admire most for their openness, honesty, character and leadership, versus their job title? These individuals are potential mentors. Try to come up with three candidates in case your first choice is unavailable.
  4. Consider someone other than your boss. Your roles are already clearly defined, and your boss must be focused on immediate business goals, which makes it challenging to offer recommendations on your personal career development.
  5. If you can’t find a mentor right away, consider other resources. Consider connecting with an executive search firm, even if you are not looking for a new position. Find out what they look for in candidates, particularly for the roles you aspire to.
  6. Remember, the mentor also benefits. Approach your potential mentor with confidence. Most people want to help and inspire others, and in mentoring you, they are leaving a legacy.
  7. Approach it as fun! Decide for yourself, and let your mentor know, that the goal is not to engage in heavy or challenging conversations, but instead to enjoy the process while learning new skills and gaining fresh insights.
  8. Decide how often you’d like to meet and for how long. If geographically possible, I suggest the first meeting be in-person. After that, one-hour monthly phone calls or Skype sessions can work well. You may also want to see if your mentor is open to brief phone calls or emails from time to time, if you have a specific question and don’t feel you can wait until your next session.
  9. Own the mentoring process. Let your mentor know you will be responsible for scheduling the meetings and will come prepared—such as writing down specific questions in advance of a mentoring session and creating an agenda you send in advance.
  10. Stay focused on career development. Finally, be very clear that you are looking for feedback and professional insights that can help you develop in your career.

 For More Information

If you want to learn more about mentoring, see the AICPA’s Mentoring Overview and Share. Learn. Grow. Mentor. guide. Or, contact me at dsalter@aicpa.org or 1-919-402-4097.

Donna W. Salter, Senior Manager - Young Member Initiatives, American Institute of CPAs.

Key to mentoring courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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