Picking the right mentor can help boost career

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 at 1:00am

Some employees move up the corporate ladder faster than others. Sometimes it seems there is an unseen force helping them. There often is - a mentor!

Obviously, most people promoted have abilities recognized by management. But getting recognized by management is often the most difficult part of the promotion process. If your mom or dad doesn't own the company, one of the best ways to become recognized is to have a mentor who supports and guides you through the corporate culture.

The Webster's Encyclopedia of Dictionaries defines mentor as "an experienced and prudent advisor". However, at work they are often much more.

They may be friends or someone who has a personal interest in your success. Ideally, your mentor should facilitate introductions to the right people, endorse your abilities when needed and provide both day-to-day and long-term career guidance.

How do you find a mentor? There are two basic ways.

Sometimes they find you. There are people in management who look to help new employees or employees at lower levels. They tend to approach people they like and offer assistance. If you are receptive, you may have yourself a mentor with little effort.

Surprisingly, many people want to show others that they don't need help thus losing the opportunity. Don't make that mistake. Getting ahead usually takes all the help you can get.

Another way to find a mentor is to talk with managers and ask for advice. Find one who is receptive in taking time to give you assistance. Try and develop a friendly and lasting relationship at work and possibly a social relationship outside.

Often managers have little time to talk at work so participate in outside activities, such as lunch together. If you don' t feel comfortable going alone, have others come along. If after work employees often stop somewhere on the way home and the manager you want to become your mentor joins them, make sure you go and strike up casual conversations that can include work and advice.

If the manager is not readily available, try and find other means to get his or her attention. Ask for advice by using e-mail or memos. If the manager gets a cup of coffee in the morning or takes a break in the afternoon, be there as well.

A word of caution - don't become a pest. Be somewhat discreet. In other words make it casual and friendly so you both enjoy your exchange of ideas and conversation.

Remember that selecting a person to be your mentor is a two-way street. They have to want you and you have to want them in a long-term relationship.

Picking your direct boss to be your mentor is not necessarily your best move. In many instances, selecting a manager up the corporate ladder will prove more beneficial to you in the long run. Your direct boss may not have much latitude to promote employees. In fact, it may not be in his or her best interest to promote you.

Managers at the upper levels should have more power and influence to promote subordinates. You are also less likely to present a threat to him or her.

It is also possible to have more than one mentor. They would typically be at different levels of management and offer different expertise. Options are always nice.

Having the right mentor or mentors during your career can prove very beneficial. Taking the time to find the right one and to nurture the relationship over time may open doors you never thought possible.

Filed under: City Business