Career Development

What Is a Mentor and How Can It Improve Your Career?

October 15, 2021

Mentorship can be an important asset to a new professional or university student. A mentor can provide you with professional guidance, personal advice and other methods for advancing your career. In this article, we explain what a mentor is, describe why mentorship is important, list the skills you need to be a mentor, detail different kinds of mentors, review how to be a good mentee and provide tips about the qualities you can seek in an effective mentor.

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What is a mentor?

Mentors are people who advise or coach their mentees. You can develop a relationship with a mentor to gain knowledge and learn from their experiences. Depending on your career and the nature of your mentorship, your mentor may offer invaluable support and guidance. A mentor may choose to advise mentees on numerous areas including skills development, relationship building and career advice.

Related: How To Find a Mentor: A Step-by-Step Guide With Tips

Why is mentorship important?

These are some reasons mentorship is important:

  • Advice: During a mentorship, you can receive customised and knowledgeable advice on how to develop your skills or advance your career path. They may share stories about their own mistakes to help you avoid making them as well.
  • Interviews: A mentor may help you practice interviewing for scholarships, new positions or academic placements. Your mentor has likely attended and conducted interviews before, so they may help you prepare more thoroughly than family or friends.
  • Familiarity: In some fields, you can advance your position by developing relationships with established professionals. Your relationship with your mentor can help you network and become more familiar with the industry.
  • References: By developing a relationship with a mentor, you may secure a qualified reference for your application materials or academic applications. For educational institutions, a reference from alumni can be very helpful.

Read more: How To Ask Someone to Be Your Referee: Email Examples

What skills do you need to be a mentor?

These are some important skills you may need to be an effective mentor:

Listening abilities

An important skill for great mentors is the ability to listen to their mentee. To provide the best advice and guidance, an effective mentor listens to their mentee to fully understand their position and situation. Conversation is an important method for building a professional relationship, and through conversation and listening, a mentor can get to know their mentee and offer the best direction.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Organisation

To be an effective mentor, you provide guidance and direction through advice, but also by structuring your meetings with your mentee. This means understanding what you plan to address and designating enough time for each conversation. Organising an effective mentorship means including opportunities for your mentee to make other professional acquaintances or attend development or networking opportunities.

Communication

Mentors share knowledge and experiences with mentees in order to provide them with the information they can use to develop and advance. They schedule meetings with mentees and connect with them on a personal level, which necessitates excellent communication abilities.

Effective communication is vital for this process, as it allows mentors to articulate previous experiences and explain how they apply to mentees. Developing strong communication skills can help mentees improve their negotiation, articulation and collaboration skills.

Patience

If you are in a mentorship position, it likely means you have experience within your industry and in life. Mentees, however, may not have the same experience or understanding. When communicating information to them, it may take several attempts to communicate effectively, and sometimes they may choose not to follow advice. Patience is an important quality for mentors because it allows them to understand their mentee's outlook and position and accept that they may choose to act outside of the mentor's guidance.

Types of mentors

While there are a wide variety of mentorship models, a general understanding of three types of mentorship can help you consider what kind is best for you:

Peer mentorship

Peer mentors are professional colleagues who advise you. For example, a peer mentor may share your role when you start at a new company and can help teach you about the job. Over time, peer mentors might help inform you about job openings or offer guidance about the company culture. Peer mentors tend to check in frequently and often interact in both formal meetings or in social settings like lunch or happy hour.

Professional or career mentors

Career mentors tend to be in a higher position than their mentees and serve as career advocates and guides. Career mentors can help their mentees understand where their current role can progress. While career mentors are sometimes their mentee's managers, they may also work in a different department of the company. Career mentors check in with their mentees on a less frequent basis than peer mentors.

Life mentors

Life mentors are usually at senior stages of a career and can be within or outside of your current company. Life mentors can offer advice during difficult career decisions, such as helping mentees decide to leave a job or change careers to find a new position. They could also be a valuable source of confidential and unbiased information.

How to be a good mentee

Each mentorship relationship varies depending on the individuals involved, their goals and their expectations. There are several ways, however, you can get the most out of your mentorship:

  • Be engaged and show interest. One of the best ways to be a good mentee is to show genuine interest in your mentor. Ask them about their career and how they got to where they are. You don't need to take every suggestion they offer, but be sure to carefully consider what they say.
  • Be active in the relationship. Choosing to follow your mentor's advice shows that you value the relationship. It also shows that you take your career goals and professional development seriously, which may make them more interested in guiding you.
  • Practice taking advice and applying it. Be open to observations from your mentor, including both positive feedback and constructive criticism. Getting honest feedback from a more advanced professional is extremely beneficial and can help you focus your time on areas you can improve. It can also help you identify strengths of which you might not have been aware.
  • Be respectful of your mentor's time. Do not reach out to them more frequently than necessary and bring specific questions and topics of conversation to your meetings. For example, you might ask how to prepare for a promotion opportunity or how to improve a specific skill. Above all, make sure to express respect for your mentor and gratitude for their time and investment.
  • Write a thank-you letter when the mentorship ends. Your mentorship may end if you relocate or accept a new position. It's best practice to contact your mentor and thank them for their time with a thank-you letter.

Read more: How To Write a Thank-You Letter (With Tips and Examples)

What qualities can I look for in a mentor?

While your needs from a mentor may change throughout your career, there are several constant qualities that you can look for:

  • Compatibility: While it can certainly take time to get to know someone, you might look for a mentor that you genuinely connect with. Make sure to search for people who not only have the professional experience to advise you but who also share your core values.
  • Diverse perspectives: Mentors can play an important role by offering a new perspective. Be open to working with a mentor who has a different background than your own. These mentors can help you see your career from a new perspective.
  • Trust: Feeling comfortable with your mentor and trusting them with confidential or personal information is an important part of the mentorship relationship. Although this level of connection may take time to build, look for someone with which you can establish mutual respect.
  • Expertise: Your mentor doesn't need to be the most senior in the field in order to guide you. Look for someone who has the specific experience and skills needed to help you build your career. A title or number of years in the industry is less relevant than wisdom and knowledge.

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