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Career Development: The Value of a Mentor

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I had an interesting exchange with a friend on Facebook over the following quote she posted in her status: “Free advice is over-priced.”

She posted this without any explanation. As I read it a few times, I felt myself go through a series of emotions. My first thought – ‘wow, that’s cynical’. My second thought was ‘that’s sad – she doesn’t see the value in other people’s advice’. My third thought was ‘I am insulted by that statement.’

As we bantered back and forth, she corrected the quote to say “Free advice is OFTEN over-priced.” That made me be a little more accepting of the statement and I shifted from insulted back to sad. Let me tell you why.

Mentors. That’s why. I am a Mentor and I have Mentors. From what others wrote on her wall, not everyone has had the benefit or the experience of being or having a Mentor.

I have done both. First, some background, as a Mentor. For many years I have participated in the Mentoring Programs at Intel, and there are many! Some are group specific, some are discipline specific and others are ad hoc. Many Intel Employees put themselves out there for others to contact. Some don’t volunteer and are contacted anyway and are happy to help. Usually my Mentees fall into one of these categories: new hires, new managers, finance professionals and women. Our conversations center around Career Development and how they can either set up their careers, learn new things for their new role, or change the seat they are in to better fit their passion and skillsets. We spend an hour every few weeks talking about ways for them to plan or participate in activities for them to ensure they are on the right track and setting and achieving their goals. I enjoy this activity and look forward to it. I do it for FREE. I spend a lot of time listening, especially where there is a deep or complicated issue and then pose questions or give suggestions on things to try so they find their way or get back on track. The best relationships come when the Mentee is open to ideas, follows thru and comes back with feedback and /or additional questions. If the Mentee isn’t willing to try or the Mentor isn’t listening to hear the real problem, it doesn’t work. The Mentor may be disappointed that the Mentee doesn’t try any of the suggestions or the Mentee may become unhappy because they aren’t being heard. The relationship will fizzle and die.

Finding the right Mentor is a lot like dating. You may have to meet with many different people until you find the right one. The Mentor should challenge you, ask questions, open your eyes to new paths forward or force you to deal with issues you have been avoiding. The relationship needs to be built on trust and mutual respect. If your first Mentor isn’t giving you what you need, it’s time to end the relationship and put your effort and time where you’ll get the most help.

As a Mentee, I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to talk to someone about some career choices I needed to make. In my monthly review of my development plan, I realized it was time for new challenges and for me to work more strategically to achieve my goals and have a positive effect on the organization I work in. I had found several opportunities to pursue but was unsure of the path I wanted to take. I called one of my Mentors. I chose her because she was a peer and would be able to provide me with more questions I needed to ask myself and would help me evaluate the options.  And WOW!  Her help was exactly what I needed.  Over three short meetings and several e-mails, she helped me sort through and eliminate some options quickly based on my criteria and her knowledge of the group I was targeting. She asked me some key questions that had me working to understand what my real goal was in making a change at this time.

My advice this month – get involved in Mentoring!

1- Get a Mentor! It might not happen overnight, you may have to ask several people before you find someone you connect with and who will help you. It’s more than okay to have more than one Mentor. You may need one for your field of study, another for job-hunting, another for interviewing and still another for resume writing. It’s rare that you will find someone who fits all of your developmental needs. Keep in mind, some mentoring relationships may be quick and some may be multi-year. Ending a mentoring relationship that no longer is helping you should be like a ‘no fault’ divorce. You thank the person and tell them what you learned and then tell them you’re ready to move on or move in a different direction.

2 - Sign up to be a Mentor. You have something to share with others. Regardless of what you think you don’t know – your questioning and different experience will help someone else evaluate options and plan for the future. You have something to give to others. When you give of your time, your energy, your advice and expertise you will grow and develop and give back to others what you got from your mentors. The best expression for this in English is: ‘Pay it Forward!’

Do you have a mentor who has helped you?  Do you mentor someone?  Are you thinking about starting a mentoring relationship?  Tell me about it below – I would love to read and learn from your experiences!