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Career Advice

An Effective Mentor: A Powerful Career Development Tool

Brenda Wells | November 12, 2018

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A great mentor can be a powerful tool and an invaluable resource for building a successful career. Your mentor can help you prepare for and work through challenges and opportunities that you will face. This article provides advice for finding and working with mentors.

At its core, mentoring is a learning and development partnership between a person with a great deal of experience and a person who wants to learn. Having trusted sources for help with questions, challenges, opportunities, and dilemmas can be one of the biggest keys to your success.

An effective mentor is invaluable as you build your career and will help you in many different ways.

  • Your mentor can act as a role model and provide insight on how they progressed in their career.
  • Your mentor can advocate for you by offering sponsorship and providing exposure and visibility within your company and within the insurance community.
  • Your mentor can help you find opportunities and resources to acquire additional skills, continuing education, certifications, and training opportunities that are valued in your field.
  • Your mentor can coach you as you learn new skills, practice new behaviors, and deal with situations at work.

So how do you find a mentor? How do you ask a potential mentor for guidance? How do you get that person to want to help you?

First, you should look for a mentor whose goals are similar to your own. In addition, it is advantageous if your mentor's training is the same as yours. Someone in the same career field is in a better position to advise you.

Find your mentors among the people you know who are doing what you want to do and in the way you want to do it. Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.

Generally, it is best to find your mentor among the people with whom you already have a relationship. These people know how you think, how you act, how you communicate, and how you contribute. Most importantly, they will believe that you will value and use their input and feedback.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't make an effort to reach out to someone new to be your mentor. Forcing a mentoring relationship may be difficult. But don't overlook the opportunity to build relationships with new people who can become mentors as you progress through your career and who will find it a mutually rewarding and beneficial experience to support you. Arrange an introduction and give them an opportunity to get to know you a bit. Perhaps you can ask to contact them to get their input on your career. Once you establish a relationship and give that person an opportunity to get to know you, then you can ask them to mentor you.

As you think about finding a mentor, establishing clear goals will help you discover what you want to achieve out of the relationship. It's a critical step in defining your work with your mentor.

Focus on what you want to accomplish. This will help you and your mentor establish your objectives. Once you set your goals, be certain that they align with reality by considering the following questions.

  • Is the goal feasible?
  • Do you have the time and resources available to meet the goal?
  • Are you fully committed to achieving the goal?
  • Are you being realistic about what is required to meet the goal?

This is a great opportunity to involve your mentor and draw on their experience and insights to help you gauge the feasibility of your goal.

Next you must define what success would look like. What specific items would indicate success to you? Work with your mentor to set benchmarks that will tell you how you're doing.

Setting a realistic timeline is the next step. You may already have a deadline in mind, but you should work with your mentor to make sure your timeline is realistic. Consider the following questions.

  • When are you prepared to start this project?
  • How much time can you commit to your goal each day, week, and month?

Based on these answers, work with your mentor to determine a date to meet the targets you've established. Make sure the timeline is long enough for the goal to be realistic but short enough for you to stay motivated.

Now that the goals and timelines are in place, work with your mentor to define the actionable steps that will help you reach the goal. Work together to determine your overall strategy. Your mentor's advice will be invaluable in setting the steps; your mentor may have ideas you haven't considered.

Once you and your mentor have agreed on the overall strategy, track your progress frequently with your mentor using the benchmarks you established together. Regular check-ins with your mentor will help you stay on track and provide the opportunity to celebrate your successes.

As you enter into mentoring relationships, it is important to remember that ultimately successful mentor/mentee relationships should be fulfilling and beneficial for all involved. So you should always bring something to your mentor's life. Here are some tips to have a successful relationship.

  • Keep communications open. Let your mentor know your goals, and work together to set realistic expectations for the relationship.
  • Define expectations. Work with your mentor to set realistic goals and decide how to measure achievement.
  • Maintain contact. Be respectful of your mentor's time, but don't hesitate to ask questions to obtain the advice, resources, and guidance you need.
  • Be honest and open. Let your mentor know if you don't understand something, have a differing opinion, or need more help.
  • Actively participate. Listen to your mentor, ask for resources, and observe what they do.
  • Stay positive! Remember that your mentor is offering feedback and not criticizing.

Remember that great mentors believe in you and care enough about you to share knowledge and experience. A mentor doesn't necessarily have the answer to everything, but a mentor can share wisdom and experiences as well as connect you to others who can help.

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