Career Success: Sometimes You Need Help

Maybe a few “star performers” have made it through their careers without needing help from someone, sometime, but I think most of us have needed help to manage and advance our careers sooner or later. A few of us might even have needed that help more than once, and there’s no shame in that.

If you’ve ever felt the need for wise career advice in a situation where you couldn’t see your way clearly, you might have looked for a mentor–someone who’d already “been there, done that” and had overcome obstacles standing in his/her way. If you were really fortunate, you might have had the experience in which a great mentor voluntarily reached out to guide your career progress.

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How to Work with a Mentor Successfully

Whether you were the one who reached out or on the receiving end from a volunteer mentor, you want to keep in mind certain points about working with a mentor on your career success. Following these can make a difference in how well your mentor relationship works out and what benefit it produces, if any.

One of the many online resources available on working with a mentor is an article titled “How a Mentor Can Help Your Career,” by Dawn Rosenberg McKay on About.com. McKay presents 5 tips to put into practice:

  • Choose a mentor whose goals are similar to your own.
  • Find someone who is in the same career as you.
  • Make sure your mentor has an adequate amount of time to give to this relationship.
  • Take the initial step in establishing contact with a potential mentor….
  • You must find the time to participate in the relationship with your mentor.

I have a few comments related to these tips.

  1. Picking a mentor who can devote enough time to guiding you and also making sure you personally can (and will) devote the time to ensure a positive, productive mentor-protoge relationship is critical. This is not something you can skimp on. Both of you need to be able to invest time and energy in the relationship.
  2. It’s not absolutely essential that your mentor be in the same career field, because he/she can still provide broad insights that can help you advance your career. However, same-career situations can make the advice and guidance more directly relevant and on target, so it’s a good consideration.
  3. You should take the initiative in finding a mentor, but if a potential mentor makes the first move, treat the overture with respect and appreciation. It probably doesn’t happen often, so you should consider yourself lucky.

Can You be a Mentor for Someone Else’s Career Success?

Giving as well as receiving is a potentially valuable aspect of mentoring. Even if you’re not yet at the pinnacle of your own career, you can still act as a mentor to others who aren’t as far along as you are. When you see someone struggling with something that’s up your alley, reach out to them. Show genuine interest and caring. Most of the time, your willingness to help will be greatly appreciated. On the rare occasions when it’s not, just chalk it up to experience and move on.

In all likelihood, you’ll discover that mentoring others strengthens your own career development and success. Among other things, it will enhance your leadership abilities, since a good leader cares about the success of his/her team and makes an effort to foster their professional growth.

As poet John Donne said long ago:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

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