Getting ahead in your career isn’t just about understanding your business and mastering your daily tasks. You also need to learn your office’s informal networks, the personality clashes and synergies among your co-workers. How do you learn these things if they’re not in the orientation and new hire paperwork you received your first day? Through mentors, of course. To make the mentoring as painless as possible for office new hires, Tough Guide to Work recently offered three common mentoring pitfalls and how to avoid them.
- Searching for ‘the one’ Obi Wan. Gandalf. Dumbledore. Watching movies and reading fiction gives us the deep impression that we should be seeking some prodigious figure in our professional lives. Instead we end up having coffee with an exhausted executive who as it turns out has a couple of good ideas and a bunch of neuroses. We expect one person to embody everything we want to become, advise on all areas of our work and life and then it turns out instead we’ve been paired with a human being instead. How unfair. Instead of seeking one perfect mentor, I strongly advocate getting a “Board of Advisors”. Seek out a selection of mentors who can offer guidance on a specific topic. Want great advice on work-life balance, career goals, navigating politics, professional growth, building a network, influencing senior management? It’s unlikely that you will find one genius that gives you everything.
- Needing to make it official: Senior executives I have spoken to say that they fear the junior employee who asks them to be their mentor. They worry that they don’t have the time, that it will involve having to go for long dinners in trendy places with loud music. They’d prefer to be playing tennis, or spending time with their friends and family. Some of the best mentoring I have had has been in the backs of taxis, during small talk at the end of work meetings and at friend’s weddings at drinks before the long dinner. The other person probably doesn’t see it as mentoring, just a friendly conversation with a younger person. The key here is to remember to ask for informal advice. Try this: “In your experience, what mistakes do you see people like me make?” or how about “What career advice would you have for someone like me?”.
- Confusing mentors and sponsors. Mentors offer “psychosocial” support for personal and professional development, plus career help that includes advice and coaching. On the other hand, sponsors actively advocate for your advancement. They give protégés exposure to other executives, they make sure their people are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments.