How to Get the Most Out of Mentors
By Jessica Tarpley Stover, CPA
Over the years, I’ve learned the value of the mentor-mentee relationship, as I’ve had numerous people impart wisdom as my career has progressed. Having been in your shoes, mentors often offer up invaluable feedback and offer impartial guidance that can help you grow personally and professionally. When I learned that I did not have to figure everything out on my own, I was amazed to learn that there were plenty of people willing to share the lessons they learned the hard way, and they wanted nothing in return. Here are some tips to get more out of the mentee-mentor relationship.
The first step to a successful mentor relationship is identifying what you hope to achieve from the relationship as the mentee. Mentoring is a time commitment for both parties, and to be successful you need to know what you want to accomplish from the relationship and how to steer things in that direction. Step back and make a list of the most important outcome and goals for the relationship. The mentor may have the experience, but they are there to help you and need your input to be helpful. Many times, mentees just wing it, which can result in wasted time for both parties. Having a mentor for the sake of having a mentor is counterproductive for everyone involved. Know what you want from the relationship and make sure to convey that to your mentor.
The next step is finding the right mentor or mentors. There are endless professionals out there who are willing to spend time with you, but sometimes it requires creativity and looking outside your comfort zone or office walls to produce a meaningful relationship. If your career aspirations are just to progress within your current company, then the easy choice may be the best choice. If you are unsure what you want to do long-term, it might be a better idea to seek support from other resources and business professionals. They might provide better guidance for your long-term career goals, not just your current job. One of my more successful mentor relationships was with a career advisor provided by my firm. He was not a CPA and was not in my focus group within the firm; he was merely someone with a professional accounting background who the firm contracted to work with its staff. He was able to offer advice from the outside looking in and imparted wisdom that was honest and impartial. I know he had my best interests at heart, and I was able to make some bigger career decisions based on his advice. Always be open and honest. You only get out of the relationship what you put in it.
Put together a schedule/agenda and stick to it. As I said before, successful mentoring is time consuming; it takes commitment from both sides. If you don’t make time for it and schedule it, it can get pushed to the wayside. Don’t fear following up with your mentor; they expect you to! They are often busy and feel that you will contact them if the relationship is important to you. I know in the past I’ve made the mistake of not wanting to bother my mentor because I knew how busy they were, and I missed out as a result. By providing an agenda and following up, your mentor can come to meetings prepared and knowing that you are engaged. This ensures you get the most of out the relationship.