How to Develop Awesome Mentors Early in Your Career

Posted by Josh MacKenzie

How to Develop Awesome Mentors Early in Your Career

Graduate Edge Book

An excerpt from: “The Graduate Edge” by Josh Mackenzie.

As you move in to your graduate role, you will have the opportunity to develop mentors early in your career. Mentors will help you fast track your learning, challenge your thinking and are extremely valuable when you need to make a difficult decision or manage an unfamiliar situation. Mentors help you be your best.

Mentors are different to your manager and different to a coach. Managers and coaches help answer or find answers to your questions, as well as help you do your job.

A mentor is someone you turn to for longer-term advice and to see the bigger picture … or maybe the same picture from a different angle! They have less of a vested interest in you thank your direct manager and might therefore be more objective. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They have your longer-term best interests in mind. For these reasons they are highly valuable to help you transition into a professional career and develop your career long term.

What else can mentors do for you?

They can help you:

  • Develop a growth strategy for your career and job skills 
  • See opportunities that you can’t see 
  • Make career decisions as opportunities inevitably arise 
  • Recognise when you are off course and help you get back on track 
  • Suggest alternatives and solutions to challenges at work 
  • Remain positive when you are finding that hard to do 
  • Stay focussed on your long-term goals 
  • Stay accountable to your promises, goals and plan 
  • Connect you with other people and opportunities 
  • Celebrate major successes in your career

You may or may not be allocated a mentor in your graduate program. I personally believe mentors are most valuable to you when you initiate the mentoring relationship yourself. So if you are allocated a mentor in your graduate program – you make the first move and you drive the relationship. If you have not been allocated a mentor, I suggest waiting three or four months to settle into the organisation and find your feet, and then start thinking about who might be a good mentor for you.

In my graduate program in one of the Big 4 professional services firms, I was allocated a mentor. My mentor and I got on really well and had coffee or lunch every 10-12 weeks. We had great discussions throughout the first year. I realised, however, they were not the right person for me because where I wanted to go in my career had changed. We talked about this together and decided that I needed to find someone else. It wasn’t her, it was me. It was time we went our separate ways. I know, it sounds like a couple breaking up, but really, it’s no big deal if you treat it professionally and are honest with each other.

As mentors volunteer their time, it’s really important that you don’t waste your time or your mentor’s time if you are both not getting what you want from the relationship.

As you are looking for a mentor, look for someone who is:

  • Very experienced in your field, line of work or where you want to be in your career long term 
  • In a senior role that is not in your reporting line at work 
  • Not necessarily from your organisation – they could be external – sometimes this is better 
  • Confidential in their discussions with you so that what gets discussed stays between you 
  • Happy to play an advisory role rather than a coaching role as your manager might do 
  • Willing to share their skills, knowledge, experience and expertise with you 
  • Willing to commit to their mentoring relationship with you 
  • Concerned about and values ongoing learning and growth in your field 
  • Prepared to provide guidance and constructive feedback to you when you ask for it 
  • Respected by colleagues and employees in the industry 

There are a few ways to help you find a good mentor. First, though, remember that your goal is not to find the perfect mentor who will be with you forever, and to find them in the first 90 days, or even in your first year in your career. Your career will be long and prosperous. If you continually keep your edge sharp throughout your career, you will cross paths with many people who would make great mentors for you.

In the short term, though, let’s say your first year, here are some ways to find a mentor:

  • Talk to your manager about people they might know inside or outside of the organisation, and who they might be able to help you get in touch with. 
  • Think about who you meet inside your organisation through your induction program, work functions, or otherwise who are not above you in your reporting line. If you have someone in mind it is worth discussing this with your manager or HR department to get their perspective before you get in touch. 
  • Discuss with family and friends the sort of mentor you are looking for, because they might know people you don’t know who they could help you get in touch with. 

Think through the senior people you have worked under before your graduate program – particularly if you were involved in any work experience programs, summer vacation roles or co-op programs as part of your studies or degree. Who might you be able to reconnect with in a mentoring capacity?

While there is no hard and fast way to make a mentoring relationship work, there are some things you should consider doing to give the relationship a chance to really be of some value to you both:

  • Find someone who meets the criteria set out above and ask them to be your mentor. Explain what you hope to gain and what you are committed to contributing to the relationship in terms of time, preparation and application of what gets discussed. They will want to know you are serious if they are going to take periodic time out of their busy schedule to spend with you. 
  • If they accept, go and see them and discuss how you would both like the relationship to work. How often should you get together? In what format (meeting, lunch, coffee, etc)? What sorts of things are they happy to discuss and what sorts of things might they not want to discuss with you? 
  • What do they want from the relationship and why are they agreeing to it? Find out what they want so you can give it to them! 
  • Honour your commitments. Have respect for someone who is older than you, more experienced than you, and who probably gets asked to be a mentor fairly regularly too. Don’t mess them around and they will likely stick to their end of the deal as well. 

Finally, the idea of a mentoring relationship might seem like it is one-sided. This could not be further from the truth. Good mentoring relationships work both ways.

Many senior, experienced people actually like to mentor because they know that someone helped them early in their career too. Let’s call it ‘paying it forward’. The good mentors also know that through their service to you they become better mentors and better leaders overall, which helps them in their careers.

What’s more, mentors will learn from you, too. Let’s not forget that you are young and talented and you bring a different perspective that helps them learn new things. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and opinions with your mentor/s. Overall, mentors often get a good feeling from helping others become successful. They will agree to mentor you because they see potential in you – otherwise why would they bother? You never know, you might become the very person they want to hire one day in the future. There is a lot of value in mentoring for both parties!

The above is an extract from “The Graduate Edge” by Josh Mackenzie. Check back regularly for further tips and suggestions on sharpening your edge, or purchase your own copy of the book itself from our online store.


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