Peer Mentor Network

Friday, April 14, 2006

Professional Boot Camp - Identifying Mentors

No matter what profession you are in, you can benefit from having a mentor. Aristotle mentores Alexander the Great. Mel Gibson mentored Heath Ledger. Eddy Merckx mentored Lance Armstrong. Having the right mentors can make a huge difference in your career and in your life, so I wanted one of the first posts to be about finding one. We'll cover different types of mentors, and the purpose each serves.

There are three main types of mentors one may have:

  • Career mentors
  • Company mentors
  • Skill mentors
Each mentor plays a unique role in your development. Although you may have one mentor who fits the bill for more than one of these categories, you definitely want to have multiple mentors in order to get a broad perspective. Before you find a mentor, it helps to have a rough sketch of your career development plan. More on this to come, but briefly, development plans involve identifying where you want to be many years down the road and what you need to do to get there. Don't worry about having all the details figured out yet, but you can't walk into your mentor's office with no vision.

Career mentors hold the job that you want to have eventually. Know the path this mentor followed - how they got to where they are now and where they are going. Ideally, you will follow a similar path, and learn from their experience. Career mentors should exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Willing to help you define and continually revise your development plan
  • Gives you advice to help you execute your development plan
  • Helps you identify essential skill sets required to be effective at that job
  • Trustworthy, reliable
  • Pushes you to go outside your comfort zone
  • Be willing to spend the time with you
Company mentors are typically high up in the organization. However, don't choose someone who isn't able to devote a reasonable amount of time with you. This person should help you get assignments of greater responsibility faster than you would be able to get on your own. Company mentors show the following characteristics.:

  • Highly respected
  • Well connected
  • Charisma
  • Successful track record
  • Extensive organizational knowledge
  • Dependable
  • Has a genuine interest in your personal development
  • Helps you find progressively more challenging assignments in which you can learn, contribute, and expand your professional network
Skill mentors don't need to be within your company. They will help you learn specific skills that you need to reach your development goals and should show the following characteristics:

  • Considered experts of a certain skill set you are trying to learn
  • Competent teachers - no matter how brilliant they are, you can't learn if they can't teach
  • Be willing to invest time in you - some skills take years to master
  • Enthusiasm for helping you develop specific skills
  • Understand how much you need to know - are you looking to become a subject matter expert or do you just need the basics?
  • Understand your goals - tell them why you are trying to learn the skills and how that fits into you development plan, you may be able to pull more pertinent information from them if they know what your purposes are
Unlike your company mentor, it is not important that your skill mentor be high up in the management chain. Typically, they won't be, unless the skill you are developing is management or leadership. Survey some of your co-workers. Ask them to give you five names of people who are great at the skill you're trying to learn.

I would suggest making an inventory of all the candidates that come to mind under each of the three mentor categories. Update the list frequently. We can do a piece later on how to approach these people about establishing a mentoring relationship, how often to meet, and some of the things to talk about during a mentoring session. In the meantime, check your company's HR sources for materials on the subject and let us know if you find anything interesting.


  • Three mentors! That’s quite an entourage of personal development volunteers. Is it realistic for someone in their early to mid-twenties and fresh into their careers to demand (or expect) that kind of investment by so many others?

    Aside from ‘peer mentors’ - who together can benefit from each other at the same level of personal growth - how does one go about asking for this kind of attention?

    By Anonymous big league, at Friday, April 21, 2006  

  • Great questions big league. Yes, people in their mid-twenties who are just starting their careers should both expect and demand the investment. No question about it. The learning curve is steepest at this point in one's career and we should make every effort to move up that curve as quickly as possible. However, don't expect your management to hand you all the keys. Take initiative and be your own advocate.

    Remember, your mentors don't have to be three different people. My company mentor is also my career mentor. My current skill mentor is also my career mentor. Their functions often overlap and that should be expected. As far as time commitment goes, monthly meetings should be more than enough. Don't assume that's too much to ask.

    Let me quote myself to answer your last question about how mentors and mentees can share the same benefits. This is from a comment I left in response to charon's post titled "Do Mentorship Styles have to be Industry Specific?"

    "Keep in mind; this is theoretically a symbiotic relationship. The names “mentor” and “mentee” often imply that the elder is teaching and the student is absorbing which should not be the case. These roles don’t exclusively belong to one of the participants, but rather, they are shared."

    Obviously, you have more to learn from your mentor than your mentor has to learn from you, but keep in mind that your mentor probably had a mentor when they were in your shoes too.

    By Blogger hops, at Saturday, April 22, 2006  

  • hops, thank you for your comment, “Don’t expect your management to hand you all the keys. Take initiative and be your own advocate.”

    One would hope that someone new to the career scene may not hold expectations that keys to success are simply handed over. Unfortunately, so many of us aren’t programmed that way and it’s – hopefully - forums like this that encourage us to “take initiative and be your own advocate.”

    In college we were handed syllabuses so we’d know what to expect, grades to measure our performance and even roadmaps for what classes to take (thank you pre-requisites). To me that qualifies as handholding. So, back to the comment above, it’s important that new professionals know what to expect of others and themselves in their new work environment.

    However, I’ve noticed that many mature organizations are still handholding. Take, for example, the established mentor programs that arrange mentor/mentee pairings. Is it safe to say that a lot of you fall into that category? And I don’t mean that as a knock, but what happened to taking the initiative? I work for a small, relatively flat organization that does not host such a program. We’re an adolescent technology services company with employees that average 50+ hour work weeks. When I know my boss and other executives put in 60 hours a week, how do I ask for more of his time when I know he doesn’t have that time to give?

    I do agree that company mentors are critical to professional growth; I’m curious what the group thinks about soliciting mentors within your company if you don’t have an existing (handholding) program. Do you propose a companywide initiative? Do you just look out for yourself? If mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial, shouldn’t everyone get on the bus?

    By Anonymous big league, at Tuesday, April 25, 2006  

  • A typical dictionary definition of hypnosis states that it is: a state that resembles sleep but that is induced by suggestion. However, anyone who has tried hypnosis (and any self respecting hypnotist) will tell you that this is a very simplistic view of the subject!
    A much better description comes from the Free Online Dictionary which states that hypnosis is: an artificially induced state of consciousness, characterised by heightened suggestibility and receptivity to direction. So what does this mean and how can it be used to your advantage?
    Well, the subject of hypnosis has been discussed and pondered since the late 1700s. Many explanations and theories have come and gone though science, however, has yet to supply a valid and well-established definition of how it actually happens. It's fairly unlikely that the scientific community will arrive at a definitive explanation for hypnosis in the near future either, as the untapped resources of our 'mostly' uncharted mind still remain something of a mystery.
    However, the general characteristics of hypnosis are well documented. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, deep relaxation and heightened imaginative functioning. It's not really like sleep at all, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling you get when you watch a movie or read a captivating book. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the outside world. Your focus is concentrated intensely on the mental processes you are experiencing - if movies didn't provide such disassociation with everyday life and put a person in a very receptive state then they would not be as popular (nor would TV advertising be as effective!). Have you ever stated that a film wasn't great because you just couldn't 'get into it'???
    This works very simply; while daydream or watching a movie, an imaginary world becomes almost real to you because it fully engages your emotional responses. Such mental pursuits will on most occasions cause real emotional responses such as fear, sadness or happiness (have you ever cried at a sad movie, felt excited by a future event not yet taken place or shivered at the thought of your worst fear?).
    It is widely accepted that these states are all forms of self-hypnosis. If you take this view you can easily see that you go into and out of mild hypnotic states on a daily basis - when driving home from work, washing the dishes, or even listening to a boring conversation. Although these situations produce a mental state that is very receptive to suggestion the most powerful time for self-change occurs in the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
    In this mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed and they release all worries and doubts that normally occupy their mind. A similar experience occurs while you are daydreaming or watching the TV. You become so involved in the onscreen antics that worries and everyday cares fade away, until all you're focused on is the TV. In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is why when a hypnotist tells you do something under trance; you'll probably embrace the idea completely. However, your sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience and should either of these be threatened you immediately wake!
    A hypnotist can not get you to do anything you don't want to do.
    So while in such a state, when we are highly suggestible and open to new beliefs, a skillful hypnotist, whether in person or via a recording, can alter life-long behaviours and even give us new ones! personal development

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, June 10, 2006  

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