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The Value of a Mentor
by Katherine Hansen, Ph.D.
Looking for a boost in your job search or working life? Find yourself a mentor – or let one find you. A mentor is that one person who can guide you, help you, take you under his or her wing, and nurture your career quest. A Yoda to your Luke Skywalker. A Glinda the Good Witch to your Dorothy Gale. What separates a mentor from the average network contact is long-term commitment and a deep-seated investment in your future.
Where a typical network contact might be associated with quick introductions, exchanges of business cards, and phone calls, your relationship with a mentor likely involves long lunches and time spent in the mentor's office. A mentor is often in a position you'd like to be in and has the clout and connections to guide you to a similar position. He or she is someone you probably have unusually good chemistry with who will share stories with you of his or her own climb to success. An effective mentor isn't afraid to criticize constructively.
Finding a Mentor
Check first to see whether you current employer, your college alma mater, or other organization with which you're associated already has a formal mentoring program in place. In these structured arrangements, participants are sometimes given personality assessments so that "mentees" can be matched with compatible mentors. Other organizations have found that when mentors and mentees are very different, greater opportunities for discovery emerge.
To find a mentor on your own, identify someone you admire and respect. You can chose someone from your own place of employment or outside it – or both; some people have more than one mentor. "Serial mentors," those with whom you have a short-term relationship, one after the other, work well for some people. In an article on the CareerJournal.com Website, authors Beverly Kaye and Devon Scheef describe short-term mentoring relationships that comprise "mentworking," a process combining mentoring and networking and enabling participants to give and receive in relationships in which everyone is both learner and teacher. "You'll ... be sharing your knowledge and abilities with others," the authors write, "serving as a mentor to many. In other words, each 'mentworker' receives and gives brain power to others, creating multiple short-term learning teams."
Decide what you need in a mentor – what skills you'd like to develop with your mentor's assistance. Consider your goals in choosing a mentor. Think about what characteristics you're looking for in a mentor. You may want to do a bit of sleuthing to find out what the prospective mentor is like. What is his or her communication style? Ask the would-be mentor's co-workers and subordinates for their insights.
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