13 September 2012 | Victoria Nicholson
How can a mentor help your career? And how should you go about finding one? Victoria Nicholson tells her story.
The first time I realised I already had a mentor was during my first year as a demand planner, where I experienced a real hunger for connection with a job and I was further inspired by the people around me.
I had been working with the European demand manager who, despite not being my direct boss and being located in another country, took me under his wing. He became a great role model for how I would think about mentoring people in the future, by sharing his knowledge, questioning my assumptions and challenging me to go beyond my comfort zone. I soon realised that although no formal agreement was in place, we had taken on the roles of a mentor and mentee.
Another mentor during my studies was my CIPS lecturer, who helped me with my career planning. This is often something you can seek from a mentor using their experience of going through the same process during their career.
When I mapped out my career aspirations I decided I wanted to be a European demand manager or business lead within five years. This could mean demands on my time and possibly relocating. That was when I created my five-year plan which was two years ago and I am on track to reach my goal. A key learning point I gained from this particular mentor was an understanding that you must always have plans in life – and without a good plan little is achieved.
A mentor, continued professional development and hard work are a key combination to sustained success in your career. But before engaging with a mentor as a good mentee you should be clear about what you want to achieve and how you think your mentor could help you with these goals. Mentors are not always people with a similar character or a friend, but rather a person we recognise as having qualities we would like to learn from – and they can be from inside or outside of your business.
Identify your ambitions
Before engaging with a mentor:
- Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on yourself, including areas such as experience, skills, education and flexibility.
- Think about roles and sectors you would like to work in.
- Map out your five-year plan and what you think the steps are to get there.
- Identify a mentor and arrange a meeting with them. Share with them the work you have done on yourself and set out what you want to achieve by them being your mentor.
- Be honest. They need to understand your character and what drives you.
- Be clear about how what would like from them.
For a mentor, it is about giving back, and helping the mentee reach their true potential. It is not about power but influence, encouragement and guidance.
A mentor should be a thought-provoker and a critic. They should be willing to share their experience, but make you do the work. They should help you review what future career decisions could mean to you personally and what commitment you would likely need to make.
A long-term influence
Your mentor may be allocated through a formal programme at work and last only for the duration of the time you are in the business, but many mentoring relationships have longevity that extend over many roles and companies.
I recently overheard a senior member of our management team, who I respect as a visionary leader, referring to a discussion he had with his mentor and the guidance his mentor had provided on that subject. It reminded me that behind every great leader is a great teacher.
Now more than three months into a new role, I understand what drives my ambition and I make decisions and choices in life based on this. For me it is about being inspired, inspiring others and working with great leaders. During my interviews for my current role, I met the managing director and marketing director and thought about how I felt they would lead the company. I decided I would feel inspired by working with them – which is a great reason for joining a company.
3 Key points
1. Know yourself - Analyse your skills, strengths and interests
2. Make a plan - Ask yourself where you want to be in five years’ time
3. Identify a mentor - Be honest about yourself and what you want to achieve
☛ Victoria Nicholson is a demand manager at Omega Pharma