Securing a job in the field that you have studied or have an interest in can sometimes be challenging. You need a mix of education, experience and then be lucky enough to fit the ideal situation where there is a vacancy in terms of location, hours and even personality compatibility.
Once you’re in the job, the next challenge is to not only fulfil the requirements set out for you, but to look at ways you can further your career path within the organisation. This is where a mentor-protégé relationship could work for you.
The definition of a mentor is: “an experienced and trusted adviser.” A mentor is someone who is more experienced and knowledgeable than you, that can help develop your experience and teach you more about your career path.
The definition of a protégé is: “a person who is guided, protected and trained by a more experienced and influential person.” Being a protégé means you could have your career furthered by someone of prominence in your chosen field.
The mentor-protégé relationship can also be formed before a job is secured. If you’re still studying and want some insight and a head start into your chosen career path, seeking out a mentor at this stage can be an immensely helpful starting point.
If you think a mentor could be beneficial to you and your career opportunities, there are a few questions you should ask yourself first.
Mentor-protégé relationships can vary in many ways. You might find it more helpful to meet up one-on-one on a regular basis with your mentor to discuss topics in detail. Or you might want to be able to send a quick question over email for some advice. Do you want the relationship to be a friendly casual one, where you can discuss your goals over a drink, or would you like to keep it strictly professional?
Deciding on this first may also influence who you approach to be your mentor. If you currently work with this person and they are in a very senior position, you may struggle to have one-on-one time outside of the office. The same might apply if your mentor is a working mother who needs to leave the office at a set time.
If you have a particular person in mind, just make sure you are also flexible to their schedule and discuss both of your expectations on time and communication upfront. This will allow both of you to make the most of the time spent on your mentor-protégé relationship.
Have a think about what you want to learn from your mentor. What is it about them that inspires you? Sometimes the best advice comes from sharing experiences and stories and drawing from that experience to use in your own situation. A mentor isn’t there to make day-to-day decisions for you or rescue you from tricky situations all the time. Share your experiences and make them feel empowered, and let them know what you’ve learnt from their failures and successes.
Having a set of short-term and long-term goals could be a good way to help you develop specific skills or experiences that you and your mentor have identified as areas to develop your career. These can be tracked so you can both see your progression over time. It also helps to manage expectations about what the mentor-protégé relationship is bringing to the table. Your communication can be clearly centred around these goals, making your time spent with each other efficient and effective.
You also have to give back to your mentor as their protégé to get the best out of the relationship. Predominantly the protégé does benefit the most from the relationship, but consider how you can help your mentor.
Being clear in your communication, keeping to your agreed relationship terms and expectations and being thankful for their time are the basics. On top of that, ensure you are showing the wider professional community that you’re always learning and growing and wanting to further your knowledge. This reflects back well on your mentor.
You could also bring new experiences, ways of working or technological advances in your field to your mentor that they may have not have had exposure to before. This allows you as their protégé to educate your mentor on ways you or your team may be innovating and provide them with fresh ideas.
Most successful business people today didn’t get there alone. They reaped the benefits of having a mentor to help guide them through the beginning of their careers.
Oprah Winfrey, arguably one of the most famous and successful women of our time, had a mentor in author and poet, Maya Angelou. Winfrey has said of the mentorship, “She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. Mentors are important and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship”.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, following the passing of his mentor, posted on his own Facebook page, “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world”. Of course he was talking about the late great Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc.
There is no reason in waiting to find a mentor no matter what stage of your study or career. A mentor-protégé relationship could help you on your way to achieving your career goals, and give you that competitive edge over your colleagues. The benefits of having a mentor are vast, and maybe one day, you will enjoy the experience of having a protégé of your own.