I had a mentor once who taught me all I knew about the job search up to a point where I was ready to fly free. My mentor, Ellen, was extremely knowledgeable about the job search. She set the foundation of my career.
Ellen was also one of the best speakers I knew. I used to say she could talk like an angel, so fluid and effortless. Yet, she never over acted like some speakers do; she was a natural. Ellen was also meant for the role of a mentor.
I learned from Ellen that a mentor can be a valuable person in your career. Without a mentor, you go it alone; you don’t benefit from their sage wisdom and career support. So, what are the aspects of a great mentor?
1. Provide advice and support
The Oxfords Learner’s Dictionary describes a mentor as simply “an experienced person who advises and helps somebody with less experience over a period of time.”
It’s a given that your mentor will have knowledgeable of your occupation and how you should perform to positively impact the organization. You can trust that what they advise will only help you succeed in your job.
Whether you ask for advice or support, your mentor will give it when needed. They might see you failing in an important aspect of a project or assignment and let you know how to approach it in a better way.
2. Allow you to fail
A mentor will also let you experiment and allow you to make mistakes from which you will learn. Failing is part of the learning process. If you’re afraid of failing, you’re not going to advance in your career. You should seek out a mentor who understands the learning process.
Your mentor should give you that leeway and not step in before you make that small error. Sure, your mentor can see it coming a mile away, but they will allow you to make that mistake and call it a learning moment. A great mentor will then explain how not to repeat that mistake.
3. Go to bat for you
I remember a time when I had totally forgotten about a workshop I had to deliver. It slipped my mind. I went to lunch and didn’t check the multiple text messages sent by Ellen, which told me I had a workshop. What did Ellen do? She did my workshop even thought she had a ton of other work to do.
Naturally I was called to the carpet for spacing my workshop, but Ellen was there to tell our boss that all ended well and that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake. Because if I did, Ellen would kill me. Needless to say, I didn’t repeat the mistake again.
4. Give you credit
A mentor will never take credit for what you’ve accomplished; rather they will share your successes with the organization. At staff or department-head meetings, your mentor will purposely and clearly announce your accomplishment.
The opposite of this would be taking credit for what you’ve accomplished. Someone who does this is not a mentor. Similarly, a mentor will not describe your successes using the pronoun “we.” They will say, “Joe wrote the all the content for our Product X page.” You will do the same for your mentor.
5. Point out their own weaknesses
A mentor will not be afraid to point out their weaknesses. By telling you what they did wrong can also be a learning lesson for you. If your mentor blames others for their mistake, they are not mentoring you; it is telling you that blaming others for your mistakes is acceptable.
Ellen would not blame others from her mistakes; rather, she would talk about them openly and end by telling me not to commit her mistake. I appreciated this because it gave me the freedom to talk about my errors.
6. Will ask for your advice
Your mentor should recognize your strengths and emulate them to better perform their job. When I created the first LinkedIn program at the career center, Ellen would ask me to share my knowledge. I was glad to provide it because I saw it as an honor to be asked.
You should not keep your “secrets” from your mentor in fear of losing job security. Your mentor doesn’t hold back advice and information. Neither should you. Your mentor is secure in their position and, as such, freely offers advice when you ask for it.
7. Their door is always open
I mean this literally. You might need a place to vent or talk about personal issues. A good mentor will give you that space. Just make sure you don’t take advantage of your mentor and constantly use them as a shoulder to cry on.
Your mentor is not your therapist, so don’t treat them as such. One of the things I miss about Ellen is the ability of talking shop with her. We would bounce ideas off each other. And, yes, we would vent every once in awhile. We tried to keep these venting moments to a limit.
8. Keep things real
Of course there will be moments when you’ll need to talk about difficulties happening in your workday. This is an important time where your mentor can provide advice as well as tell you to “suck it up.”
When my attitude became unnecessarily negative, Ellen would tell me to snap out of it. Your mentor will do you the favor of keeping it real. They will not let you complain when there’s nothing to complain about.
Your mentor can be a part of your professional and personal growth. Don’t underestimate the importance of a great mentor. Does your mentor have to be your boss? No, they don’t. Can your mentor be someone younger than you? Of course they can. You can learn from anyone who has the right qualities.
There came a time when I had learned all I could from Ellen. I started revamping the workshops which she had developed. She approved of my changes, realizing I was learning at a faster rate. I will forever be grateful to Ellen.