By Anne Evenson
Find a champion who will help you set a course for success.
“We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
Whoopi Goldberg, American actor, comedian, author and television personality
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is someone who takes an interest in helping another person by supporting their education and development. The mentor is a source of wisdom, instruction, and guidance, who gives counsel and advice while also having empathy and understanding for their mentee.
Many successful adults acknowledge that having a career champion helped them flourish in their prospective fields. Having access to their mentor’s industry-specific knowledge and professional connections gave them the competitive advantage they needed to propel their career forward.
Why You Need a Mentor
It’s important to remember that a manager, supervisor or coach is not necessarily a mentor, and that’s a good thing. You are not accountable to a mentor for daily task completion or other activities that might affect your performance at work, so you can work with a mentor on skill development and goal setting that might be out of scope for your current position.
Mentors offer feedback to help you develop short-term goals and long-term objectives while encouraging you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. A mentor will invite you to step outside of your comfort zone regularly because they understand that to grow, you must learn new things, have new experiences, and be challenged.
In addition to offering invaluable professional advice about how to advance your career, a mentor can also produce more tangible benefits. They can provide you with a professional reference, review your resume, conduct mock interviews, and offer networking opportunities that might have been otherwise unavailable.
Essential Qualities of a Good Mentor
Enthusiasm – One essential trait you should look for in a potential mentor is enthusiasm. Great mentors are passionate about helping others. They aren’t doing it to inflate their ego, or for material gain, but because they have a sincere and vested interest in your success.
Expertise – Your mentor should be a subject-matter expert in the same field in which you hope to excel. In some cases, a mentor can be an expert in a different area than the one you’re trying to break into and still provide excellent guidance; however, it’s best to stick with an expert in your field. Your mentor should also have the respect of your peers as well as their own.
Humility – A good mentor will realize that while they may be a subject matter expert, they can’t know everything. Anyone humble enough to admit when they don’t know something, but will strive to find the answer, is the right candidate for a mentor. Good mentors will be eager to share their expertise with you and accept that you may have ideas and information that they do not.
Focus – A worthy mentor should also be a skilled and active listener. They should participate in the conversation while asking you to clarify ideas or provide more information. They shouldn’t be preoccupied while you are talking with them. When someone permits interruptions by phones, emails, or people during your meeting, they are not actively listening to you. A good mentor will be completely focused on you and engaged in the conversation, asking questions, considering your responses, and allowing you time to gather your thoughts.
Emotional Intelligence – It’s crucial that your mentor has plenty of emotional intelligence and shows respect for others. Mentors should be aware of other people’s feelings, as well as their own. They should always conduct conversations with empathy and tact and never let their emotions run away with them. Mentors should avoid sharing their opinions about other people and should not behave in a judgmental or condescending manner towards anyone.
A good mentor can dramatically change the trajectory of your career and your life, so it’s worthwhile to be patient when searching for just the right person. Be open to building relationships with different kinds of people and learning everything you can from them. Not only will you discover your best self, you’ll have gained a friend and a champion for life!
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
Learning and professional growth go hand in hand. For regular career insights and information on continuing education programs offered by UT’s Center for Professional Education, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, It’s Your Career.