Mentor Me: 5 Ways to Make this Free Training Pay Off

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 17, 2012

These days when job security is not necessarily a given, many workers are taking advantage of mentoring, a valuable -- and free -- training tool. And no wonder: According to Randi Bussin, a career coach in Belmont, Mass., "it's a no-brainer for lifetime career development."

Wherever you are in your career, a mentor can be an invaluable guide. Here are some tips for finding one and making the relationship work.

1. Take the initiative

It's usually easiest to find a mentor in a formal corporate program, but not all companies offer one. The same workplace stresses that make people wish for mentoring also make it hard for companies to offer it. Not to worry: Some of the most successful mentoring is the result of individual initiative.

1. Take the initiative

If you don't have access to formal mentoring, or you want something different from what's offered, don't hesitate to seek a mentor on your own. Look for someone you admire in your company, a professional association, your college alumni group, or even your religious community.

2. Set concrete goals

Determine what you want from a mentoring relationship, and let your mentor know what it is. Do you want just conversation or skills and support for advancement? Without clearly communicating goals, you set your mentor up for failure.

2. Set concrete goals

How often should you meet? That's up to the two of you. If your mentor is a colleague, you may see him or her almost daily at work. You may not need to set up "meetings" at all. But for outside mentors, a monthly face-to-face session, supplemented by phone and e-mail contact, would be a good place to start.

3. Insider or outsider?

Your own boss may be able to help you concretely and quickly. On the other hand, someone outside the chain of command may have a more objective view. Such a mentor may be better able to recognize if it’s time for you to move on to another company.

3. Insider or outsider?

Someone outside your company, or even your field, may have an even broader perspective. But the tradeoff there might be lack of knowledge of your industry or the culture and politics of your company.

4. Be easy to mentor

Cultivate attributes that make it a pleasure to help you out. These include enthusiasm, patience, willingness to take risks, and the ability to accept feedback, including criticism, gracefully.

4. Be easy to mentor

Mentors can take you out of your comfort zone. Be willing to go there. Show that you can learn from mistakes and failures – and that you even welcomesuch learning opportunities.

5. Remember, it’s a two-way street

Even early in your career, you can find specific ways to help your mentor. Often junior colleagues can help someone more senior with technology issues. Maybe your mentor would appreciate help getting iTunes set up, for instance. A somewhat balanced relationship is likely to be more sustainable than one where the giving is one-sided.

5. Remember, it’s a two-way street

Sometimes informal tech support can reach into core professional activities, too. What if you were to help your mentor with the complex spreadsheet needed for a high-level financial analysis of where your company is going? That could be an opportunity for both of you to shine.

Stay tuned for "Mentoring Don'ts"

Use these mentoring tips to take advantage of some great free training. It may be just the boost you need to move up your career ladder -- and get a leg up on your competition!  

Coming soon: We've shown you the "dos" of mentoring, next we'll discuss a few "don'ts.

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