Making Mentoring Work for You

Mentoring happens all around us, occasionally in a formal and methodical way but more often in a less structured more of a sporadic, casual manner.  Mentoring is a great, professional and useful way to share a problem or ask for advice.  Whether it be for a promotion at work, managing an individual relationship, or even deciding on the best course of action, it can be a fantastic method to gather different perspectives and make decisions.

Who needs a mentor?

I am certain than everyone needs a mentor at some point in their life, whether it is specific to your career, or your wider life plans.  I have had a few great mentors over the years, however I wish I’d been open to having a mentor when I was at school.  Someone that I respected or looked up to that would listen to my ramblings, help me arrange my thoughts and prioritise my life.  Although thinking back I was surrounded by such people –  but there was just no way 16-year-old me would believe that someone would, or could, offer me useful advice on my life choices.  Ahhh – teenagers, there is absolutely no telling them and definitely no mentoring them!

Every life decision I have made since my teenage years, good or bad, would have benefited from the advice of someone with perspective, someone that has made mistakes and now revels in hindsight.  However, that wouldn’t necessarily be practical, as you genuinely do learn most from your mistakes.  There are times when advice has been offered to me and I have made the decision to ignore it, usually regretting that decision.  Many of these situations luckily only involve ill-conceived purchases and subsequent regret; stupid shoes I can’t walk in; that amazing dress that doesn’t fit me, but might….one day; and that car that was so uncomfortable to drive I would rather walk.

It is always good to talk, but more important to listen

Luckily I work in an industry that is all about talking, understanding why people make the decisions they’ve made, and ultimately what their plans are for the future.  I think the key to being a successful recruitment consultant is asking the right questions, and being genuinely interested in what people have to say.  Occasionally I meet people who are down on their luck, some that have made a bad decision or, not had the opportunity to decide anything in the case of redundancy, relocation or company liquidation.  In the main I offer an ear to listen and point them in the right direction, hopefully finding them a great new job along the way.

I listen to what people are telling me, this helps me build a picture of their history, their present and will give me the clues I need to talk about options for their future.  I often encourage people to write things down, so that they can construct a plan and reflect on it, I have been known to suggest people seek out a mentor to help them prioritise or build their confidence.  Plans change, depending on circumstances or necessity, I give people the opportunity to talk openly about how they feel and what they want to do in their career.  The interesting part is, and what my candidates don’t realise, they are often mentoring me – when you actively listen, and interject with questions, you learn from what people tell you.

Reverse Mentor

I have a few mentees that I catch up with for a coffee every couple of months, they like to gather my thoughts on situations and ask my advice.  I give them my opinions and if required my advice, and we generally have a great professional relationship.  I also like to reverse mentor with them – I see great benefits in being open to ideas and suggestions from someone younger and in some ways, more worldly wise than me.  I have had some of the best advice from people less “experienced” than me.

People are listening to you all the time, sometimes they are just being polite but occasionally people will listen to your story and more importantly learn from it.  We are surrounded by noise, data and information – it’s sometimes hard to focus on details but it is worth trying.  I liken this mentoring by proxy to reading fables to kids, sometimes it just sounds like a good story, but if you take a few moments to contemplate there are hidden messages, warnings and moral undertones.

Whether you want to reach out and ask formally for a mentor or just strike up a conversation with someone you trust and respect, be open to it.  It is all about balance so please be open to reverse mentoring, sometimes we are so preoccupied with those that have gone before us that we forget about those leading from behind.

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