Thinking of getting a mentor to help with your next career move? 5 things to think through.

When thinking of transitioning in your career it can really help to have a mentor, especially if transitioning in the same company. But whilst a mentor can help it’s important to get the right person and for you to be clear on what you need from them.

Without clarity of purpose in what should emerge from the relationship you run the risk of simply having a series of well-intentioned chats rather that productive, purposeful conversations – wasting your time and theirs.

To make sure your mentoring relationship is useful there 5 things to consider.

1 – Be clear what you want from a mentor.

A mentor is described as a ‘wise advisor’.  This means someone who has some capabilities (knowledge, skills or behaviours) in a specific area that you would benefit from learning in order to progress. Whilst no doubt you could learn them on your own over time it can be far quicker to learn from someone else before making mistakes of our own that might impact on your progress and reputation.

So, the right mentor needs to have something you don’t in some specific area.  Take time to think through what it is you need to learn so your energy is focussed and when you approach a potential mentor you can both quickly figure out whether they are well placed to help.

2 – Choose the right mentor.

The biggest predictor of great outcomes from coaching and mentoring relationships is the quality of the relationships, the level of rapport and trust.  This isn’t always going to be easy to assess up front but there are a few things to think about.  The trust equation is a good start point

(credibility+reliability+authenticity)/self-orientation.

Do your research.  You want a mentor who has track record and reputation, but beyond that for me the most important part is their level of self-orientation.

A great mentor will looking to have your best interests at heart, will want to mentor to help others rather than for themselves – a low level of self-orientation.  It is these sorts of people with whom you are more likely to build trust and who are willing to share their own experiences and stories to help your development rather than from the joy of being able to talk about themselves.

Be able to give advice and guidance whilst leaving you free to make your own decisions without fear of judgement or criticism from them if your choices don’t always pan out.

3 – Orienting yourself for the move.

Over 50% of high-potential moves are perceived to end in failure.  I believe this is the case because many people only start to think about the actual transition once they are in the new role – adopting more of a sink or swim approach.  The evidence suggests this doesn’t work.  To stand the best chance of success you need to start to think about the role before you start it – the orientation phase.

In order to set yourself up for success engage with your mentor before the next opportunity for progression arises.  Take time to explore with your mentor what the next role really looks like and really think through whether it is this the sort of role you actually want.  There are things you will have to let go of when you transition and many failures happen because individuals attach a sense of meaning or importance to aspects of their existing role – being a technical expert, being hands on and seeing an immediate short-term result, etc.   Loss of these things can lead to a loss of identity or self-confidence.

Also, what skills, knowledge and behaviours will you need to be successful – take time to try and develop the capabilities before you really need them.  The old adage of making a first impression – if you have already started to develop the capabilities before you actually need them you’ve got more chase of using the right approaches at the right time in any new roles and more chance of creating a positive first impression.

4 – Onboarding in the role

During the onboarding phase use your mentor as a sounding board for ideas and to identify short-term wins that will enhance your credibility and reputation.  Your mentor, as a trusted advisor, can help you work through the potential positive and negative implications of choices before you make them.  Hopefully they can also share their own experiences of when they got things right and wrong to help you understand the potential implications of your own thoughts.

Rushing into action without having a sounding board can run the risk of creating negative first impressions and potentially alienate your new colleagues or team, rather than starting to create a foundation for a high performance.

5 – Embedding in the role.

At this stage your mentor should be starting to help you think about the long term aims for the role – helping you keep a balance between managing the day to day stuff, which is essential, but also keeping an eye on the challenges coming over the horizon. This about helping you create or validate the teams purpose and vision for the future – balancing manging the day to day whilst transforming your part of the business to make an even bigger impact.

It might also be a time when you recognise that you have learnt what you needed to from this mentor in a particular area.  Acknowledge and celebrate what you have achieved together and think about what the relationship needs to be going forwards for you to continue to develop. This might mean changing the purpose of the relationship – focussing on a new area for mentoring, or changing the relationship to one of peers.

It might also involve you starting to think about a new mentor who can help you prepare for whatever comes next.