Mentors play an important role in all stages of your career. In this section you'll learn how to find a mentor, how to start the conversation and key ways they can help.
A mentor is someone who can provide great advice and support to help you get to where you want to be, either because they are where you want to be now, so for example, they do the job you'd love to do, or have been in that job or situation previously.
Mentors can be a great way to learn and develop your skills as they can use their own experiences to give you advice unique to your own situation. A mentor is helpful no matter what stage of your life or career you're at. Learning first-hand from their successes and challenges will give you real life examples to follow and might just help make those big decisions a little clearer.
How to choose a mentor
If you decide to give mentoring a try here are three things to think about when choosing the right person.
Trust is key
Your mentoring meetings should be a safe place where you can be honest about the challenges you're facing. You'll need to know you can trust your mentor so that you can be open about the things that concern you, while knowing that your conversations are confidential. This is number one for a reason: consider it the foundation of a good mentoring relationship.
Make it someone you admire
A mentor should be someone whose advice and talent you respect. Even if they aren't a direct role model, they should be someone who inspires you to be better and demonstrates the kind of skills and behaviours you look up to.
That doesn't necessarily mean they have to be very senior, or even at a level more senior than you. If you believe their advice and reflections would be valuable to you, or that they can help you improve your skills, then they may make a good mentor.
Commitment is essential to a good mentoring relationship, but that doesn't mean you're stuck with the first person you approach. Try meeting with a few people to find out if you get on well, especially if you don't know them that well yet. How you get on will be as important as the experience they bring in making the relationship work, so give yourself options, and don't be afraid to be honest if it isn't working. You will have lots of different mentors throughout your career as your needs and their needs change.
How do I start the conversation?
We've put together some example questions that you can bring to your mentoring session to get the conversation flowing. Mentoring conversations work both ways, you learn from each other, so we've provided some questions for you to ask them, and them to ask you:
You to your mentor
As someone who has only recently started out on their career, can you tell me how you knew what your goals should be, and what did you do to achieve them?
I'm currently working on a big project/managing lots of different pieces of work. Everyone works in different ways, so how do you organise and plan your time when you're under pressure?
Your mentor to you
What you have overcome shapes how you approach a situation. What sort of challenges have you faced in work or life, and how did you overcome them?
No matter where you are in your career, you'll have already made some great accomplishments. What are some of your personal achievements on your journey to achieving your aspirations?
As you progress, what matters to you most will change, and you'll be looking to focus on different things. A mentor can guide you through that process to explore what works best for you and help you focus on achieving your goals.
Our top tips on how mentoring can help
- Think ahead: by understanding the kinds of skills and qualities that potential employers are looking for you can speak to your mentor about how they developed their skills in that area.
- Ask the people around you: by talking to your mentors, colleagues, friends, family, teachers and tutors, potential employers and careers advisers for support and advice you'll get a well-rounded group of opinions and ideas.
- Weigh up the pros and cons: a mentor can help test your thinking and will help give you the confidence that you've thought everything through and made the right decision.
- Talk about your mistakes: making mistakes is an important part of the learning process, make sure you talk about them with your mentor. A mentor can help you think about how you can do things differently next time, reflect on what you've learnt but also reassure you it's not the end of the world.
- Finish the job: sticking to your commitments is important if you want people to know they can rely on you. Talking about organising your time with your mentor is a good way to keep on top of everything while making sure you don't lose focus on your goals.
- Get feedback: learning and reflecting on your experiences is key to developing and growing in life and in your career. Asking for feedback from your mentor can be a great source of advice and confidence.