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Mentors – the who’s, why’s and how’s

Monday July 7th, 2008 by fathersez

The statement “Find a mentor” is almost a standard in any career guidance document. And I also told my daughters this when they started their jobs.  But exactly who would or should be our mentor?  Why should we find a mentor? And how do we go about seeking them? I hope my girls as well as others may find this post useful.  

Who are Mentors? 

The term “Mentor” originated from a character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

A mentor is a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. Mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks. And not for personal gain.

Why should we seek a Mentor?

Properly selected mentors provide specific practical information regarding our profession: entry requirements, opportunities for advancement and employment outlook. They can share their understanding of personal characteristics for success in the field, important issues facing the profession, personal rewards and sources of frustration.

Most importantly, mentors can relate a personal account of their own career path. Mentors provide a good reliable sounding board, second opinion, and sometimes just emotional support.They’ve “been there, done that”. Learn from others’ mistakes and successes. They don’t have to have experience in your particular industry. Their role is to share with you lessons from their experience in the hopes that you can learn them a bit more quickly and easily.Your mentor is likely to have an extensive network, and can offer you access to far more senior decision-makers than you currently have. And they will be far more willing to open that network up to you than some casual acquaintance from a networking meeting.

We can see the usefulness of having a mentor when we start of in any endeavor. Be it a new career, a new business, or even a new hobby or interest. They help shorten our learning curve and stop us from making so many mistakes that we otherwise would have made.

How should we seek out our Mentor?

Now that we have established the usefulness of having a Mentor, how do we go about finding them? Basically we have to search in out network of contacts and identify the person or persons who would best fit the bill.

That is to find someone who is:

-         Experienced in the field of our interest,

-         trusted,

-         wise,

-         Admired and respected.

The networks that we search should be extended to include Government programs and also industry associations. Like my goat rearing venture for instance. My wife and I have listed at least 5 people as mentors, including a Government official in the Department of Veterinary Services.

And of course, we cannot just assume that he or she would have time for us. About.com suggests some steps we can and should take to “court” the mentor of our choice.

My elder girl, Along, is now working in an organization that deals with children learning methods. As the organization is small in terms of staffing, I believe there will be a lot more closeness and solidarity amongst the staff. Hence the more experienced ones will be natural mentors for the lesser experienced ones.

Along can also seek out mentors in the University where (I hope) she wants to do her Masters. Another could be her former tutor in Wales, someone she has always spoken about with respect and admiration.

Azah, on the other hand, has just started work in a Big 4. She will have to check out her seniors and see who would best fit her ideas for a mentor. For a start she has a friend who works in another Big 4 firm and is a year Azah’s senior.

I have written about the more costly mistakes I have made in the past, including that of not managing my career. Though I did not mention it then, the mistake includes that of not having mentors.

A master and his student? 

Image Credit: Google

I hope my children look seriously into identifying their mentors and building a relationship of mutual cooperation with them, not unlike a master-apprentice relationship of old.    

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One Comment for “Mentors – the who’s, why’s and how’s”

On July 8, 2008
At 2:53 am

[…] Go to the author’s original blog: Mentors – the who’s, why’s and how’s […]

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