Identifying The Best Mentor For you
March 7th 2019
by Dr. Sydney Richardson
Dr. Sydney Richardson currently serves as Dean of College and Career Readiness at Forsyth Technical Community College. After years of facilitating workshops on mentorship, teamwork, and professional development, she launched Rae of Knowledge (RoK), a company that assists businesses and organizations in achieving their goals using relational strategies. Dr. Richardson resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with her spouse and children
For mentoring in the 21st century to work, mentors and mentees must embrace their roles. Mentees, especially, must know what to look for in a guide. Below are some characteristics and types of mentoring to consider when delving into a mentorship.
Five + years of experience in the field
Generally, a mentor should have no less than 5 years of experience in their field. Usually, it takes about 3 years to understand the field, and 5 years to become comfortable with one’s profession. The first year is to learn, second year is to make changes, and the third year is to perfect new ideas; therefore, by the time someone reaches the fifth year, that person already knows the rhythm of their profession, who the key players are, and how to implement change and make progress in one’s career. Also this person, more than likely, has experienced job advancement at least once. So while it’s great to have a mentor who has been in the field for 10 + years (which is becoming rare), 5 years minimum is enough to really help a mentee.
Now, notice that I stated in the field instead of with a company. That’s because the difference between the two is a personal preference. I believe that experience within the field matters more than experience within a particular company (unless there is a drastic difference between your company and others). A mentor with at least 5 years of a marketing background will have much to offer — even if that person has not been with a company for very long — because guess what? Your interest is not in a company, but in navigating and advancing in your area, regardless of one company’s culture.
Proven time to dedicate to a mentee
The mentor that you choose will need to be someone who manages time well, as it can be shocking to people how much time mentoring actually takes. This person will not only need some preparation in the ways of mentoring, but will need to know (up front) how much time they should be prepared to devote to this relationship. This means that you [mentee] should have an idea of the time that you require. Do you require an insignificant amount of time (ex. 3 hours per month)? Or, do you require a larger amount of time? It’s not uncommon for mentees and mentors to communicate up to fifteen hours per month. Understanding what you want and the amount of time you hope to have with your mentor is critical to the success of this relationship.
Positive with the promise of moving forward
This one is a special characteristic to look for in a possible mentor. You may know someone who performs well in her career, but if this person is a constant complainer, or does not work well with others, do you really want that type of influence in your life? Nope. A chosen mentor should be reliable. They should arrive at work on time, have good communication skills, and get along well with various people. Disclaimer: Getting along well with others does not mean this person never says anything negative. It doesn’t mean that this person doesn’t challenge the status quo. It means that they are respectful in their actions. This type of person knows how to use her agency and navigate through situations that brings about respect from her peers and superiors. Being able to do this means that your mentor shows promise of career progression, so you should be able to visualize this person in a higher position, representing the field to others, whether they will actually do it or not.
Respectful and respected
I mentioned that the possible mentor should be respectful, so let me delve into that a bit deeper. This person should know how to handle conflict, have challenging conversations, address issues with a superior, and even collaborate with colleagues in ways that bring about positive results. A person who can do this respectfully is someone who has spent time crafting her ability to work with others (and I don’t use the term work lightly). This is someone who does not shy away from tense situations, but knows how to confront them and achieve a level of resolution. This does not mean that a person never experiences a difficult day. But they should have some helpful ideas on how to handle challenging times.
Also, this type of person should be respected among others. This is a person who has proven to be trustworthy, so that when they speak, colleagues know that they are genuine, fair, and knowledgeable. Finding a mentor with these abilities can truly benefit you professionally.
*Notice that so far, I have not mentioned seniority. A person can have seniority, but not possess any of the characteristics mentioned above.
What type of mentoring do you want?
Now that you have a concept of what to look for in a mentor, decide the type of mentoring relationship that works best for you. Too many times, mentees take whatever format they are handed, but you actually have a choice in making this relationship successful and effective.
Traditional peer-to-peer mentoring follows the model one would envision. It pairs a mentor with years of experience with a mentee, and the mentor guides the mentee through a specific area (career, life, health, personal relationship, etc.). This guidance involves answering questions, meeting face-to-face, assisting with career planning, and being the mentee’s go to person. The mentor serves as a great resource of knowledge and wisdom for the mentee, and the mentee gains professional/personal development along the way. This model can often be one-sided.
Co-mentoring is another option that pairs younger and older women together with the purpose of mentoring one another. It is not uncommon for a company to employ up to five generations at one time, and knowing how to work with various age groups is beneficial. Digital natives can provide guidance on the latest technology, social media, and ways to integrate work into other areas of life. This helps them develop their own leadership, teaching, and mentoring skills. In “The Values of Cross-Generational Mentoring”, Ken Blanchard states: “Cross-generational mentoring relationships can provide career-enhancing wisdom for young people, and protect older people from obsolescence.” As the workplace continues to develop generationally, learning from one another will become more critical to professional success.
Imagine being in a room with your mentor, surrounded by twenty other mentor/mentee pairs, all sharing stories of success, setbacks, and lessons learned. Group mentoring takes the traditional pairing of a mentoring relationship and adds opportunities for small group mentoring sessions with multiple mentors and mentees. While each mentor/mentee pairing has their own dynamic and lessons to learn, having once a month or once a week group sessions with a variety of mentors and mentees allows multiple pieces of advice to be shared and various lessons to be learned. You will likely learn that a fear you have is similar to a fear another mentee is facing. This option is especially great for networking groups, women’s organizations and businesses.
So, as you figure out what you want in a mentoring relationship, don’t forget to consider what you have to offer. Then, start asking other people for suggestions on possible mentors. A mentoring relationship is significant for professional success, so don’t wait until you’ve reached a certain stage in your career to get a mentor. Start now.