A scarcity of mentors is the key reason that City Hive are launching our cross-company mentoring scheme, which is for our industry. You get the benefit of objective external experience, from someone who has walked in your shoes.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone with more experience than you who is invested in giving you feedback to support your career progression and working relationships. It’s sometimes conflated or confused with sponsorship. That confusion is understandable because a sponsor can provide mentoring at stages, and a mentor could progress to become a sponsor too. To quickly state the difference: mentors will want to see you to change or improve your approach or skillset to help you progress, while a sponsor is already convinced you are ripe for success. Sponsors will look for opportunities for you to demonstrate your skills and strengths, often investing personal capital in your progress.
Done well, a good mentor provides insight, support and new ideas. They can help get you unstuck by suggesting strategies, ways that you can change how you communicate or even what you ask for. They can use their experience to help you see when things are not right, and sometimes where your own expectations are unreasonable or unworkable in the circumstances you are in.
How can I get one?
Unfortunately, you can’t just pick up a mentor like a new pair of shoes. For every person that has benefited from a mentor, we know several that lament that they have never had one. Maybe you don’t know where to look or lack the confidence to ask more senior people - they are busy, and how important are you? But it can also be because they were hoping someone would notice or take an interest in their progression.
Some companies offer internal schemes, which can be helpful for insight on norms within your organisation. However, some people worry that the openness you need for a really successful mentoring relationship isn’t possible within your own firm, where your own manager is a few steps away.
External schemes can pair you up with very senior and experienced folks at organisations outside of your industry, which brings a fresh perspective on interpersonal issues but may lack understanding of your industry and its foibles – it can feel like a risky strategy to tell your mentor why their advice won’t work.
Lots of people end up accidentally mentoring each other – perhaps you have a go-to colleague or friend who has great advice and knows you well. This support is invaluable, but needs to be checked to remain objective. Friends can be quick to agree with us and won’t always see how we behave at work.
You can proactively look for good role models in your organisation or network. Often, hard grafters don't recognise that they are providing a great example or have excellent advice to share about their experiences. You can start this off gently by asking a few questions about their work, and gauge whether they have the interest to take the conversation further, perhaps over a coffee.
If you’re lucky, you may find you fall into a mentoring relationship with someone who has taken an interest in your career and success. This is fantastic where the chemistry is right and can lead to career-long mentor partnerships. But it’s also rare - and so we're launching our own scheme to support the progression of women in the industry - watch the video below.
What will I do with one?
A mentor is a true opportunity to address barriers to your progression and maximise your skills. Use them wisely!
Be honest. Most mentoring takes place as a conversation held over a period of around a year, which can be extended if both parties want to. You need to be comfortable to be open with them so they have a good understanding of your situation.
Be prepared. You need to be clear on what you are hoping to get from the relationship – mentors are indeed short on time and will expect you to have done some thinking on objectives, to reflect on your skills and weaknesses and to be prepared for the conversation. You should be able to provide key information for your mentor to work with and you should put the hours in to research, think and deliver if they ask you to.
Be open. Mentors aren’t just for career strategies, they have an important role in providing you with objective feedback and support, of reflecting back situations to you to consider how you did, could and should have handled things, and how to progress or do better next time. You need to be ready to get feedback, even if its uncomfortable.
Be realistic. A mentor cannot and shouldn’t solve your problems. Their input can be invaluable in giving confidence or strategies but the hard work is down to you. It’s worth remembering that you could have a number of mentors over your career that focus on different aspects of your development and progression.
Be respectful. Offer alternatives for meeting that are convenient to your mentor. Turn up when you say you will, and be responsive to communication without imposing on their time. Remember that this industry is forged on good relationships. Embrace the opportunity to learn about someone’s experiences!
Applications will open for the City Hive Cross-Company Mentoring Scheme in late March 2019. Anyone can apply.