I have been lucky enough to have had both formal and informal mentors support me in my career development over the last ten years. Both forms of mentorship have challenged me to move outside my comfort zone and allowed me to stand out from my peers when career opportunities arose.
Introduction to Formal Mentorship
More recently, I have benefitted from a formal mentoring arrangement through a programme at Allianz. This experience has been very different to my informal mentorship, primarily because I didn’t know my mentor before he agreed to work with me. Because of this, I didn’t know what to expect when we were first introduced.
As soon as I met my mentor, I knew I wanted to work with him. He is incredibly intelligent and thoughtful- by which I mean he takes time to consider proposals and problems presented to him rather than rushing to a decision or conclusion, which I was prone to do before I started working with him. A valuable lesson he has taught me (and continues to instil in me) is that the issue you think you are dealing with may not be the issue you need to address at all; it may be simply a symptom of the real issue.
Guidance Through All Aspects of Work
Towards the end of last year I had applied for a new role; I told my mentor I was nervous about the interview. He asked me whether I was nervous for the interview, nervous that I would be unsuccessful at interview, or nervous that I would get the job and was not ready for it? I hadn’t taken the time to examine where my nervousness was coming from before we spoke; I just knew I was nervous.
Unpacking it by trying to get to the actual core of the problem gives you an opportunity to properly address it: Nervous about the interview itself? Practice interview techniques. Nervous about being unsuccessful? Put it into context. You already have a job, so worst case scenario is you don’t get this one. You find out why you didn’t get it and spend the following 12-18 months closing whatever gaps the interviewers saw so you are ready for the next opportunity. Nervous you are not ready for the job? Don’t be; they wouldn’t offer it to you if you weren’t ready.
The Value of a Formal Mentorship
One great benefit of a mentoring relationship is that you get to interact with someone who you don’t necessarily work with during your day-to-day job. Via your conversations with your mentor, you are exposed to challenges and business opportunities that you might not have been aware of otherwise. You are afforded a wider, more balanced view of the organisation as a whole. This can be helpful to avoid the dangers of becoming siloed in one area, providing experience in working collaboratively across departments.
Advice on Getting the Most out of a Mentor/Mentee Relationship
- Don’t be shy about asking for their help, support, and time. If your formal arrangement is driven by the mentee, it will be your responsibility to arrange meetings. My mentor is a senior leader in the organisation, so initially I was worried about being a burden. I knew he was busy and had little to no free time. When taking part in a programme, mentors commit to investing time and energy into their mentees. Even if they have a busy schedule, the slot in their calendar for your conversation will not be a burden on their time.
- Try to find a mentor that will challenge you. Sometimes, I meet my mentor at lunch time, and when I come back, I feel like I need another lunch break because he has been pushing difficult and uncomfortable questions at me for an hour, and driving me to apply critical thinking to myself and the problems I perceive to be ahead of me. It can be exhausting- but I get more out of those meetings than I do from any other lunch breaks!
- Be open. At the start of a mentorship, it can feel a bit funny. I didn’t know how to “open up” to someone I had only just met. The first few sessions I had with my mentor were carried by him. He spoke about what he was doing, things he was working on. I was caught somewhere between wanting to learn from him and not wanting him to be bothered by my “stupid questions”. A couple of weeks in, my mentor suggested we get a coffee and have our session walking around outside and that day a switch was flipped for me. Taking the meetings to a more informal setting allowed me to relax, open up and suddenly, we were chatting! Once that barrier was broken, the content and value of our meetings increased exponentially, week after week. Plus, they were more interesting and engaging for both of us.
Remember, conversations with your mentor are confidential. It sounds clichéd but it is true: you will only get out of your mentorship what you put into it. Self reflect; be as honest as you can about where you are and where you really want to be. Be open to hearing feedback that isn’t always positive; it’s not easy, but it is invaluable. And be greedy- it might be a while before you get another chance to work with someone in a senior position who has committed to spending their time focussing on you and your development, so make the most of it.