The Importance of a Career Mentor

Posted: February 22, 2021

What do you think about when you hear the term “mentor?” Common responses typically involve the words “trust”, “support”, “guidance”, and “expertise”. As a new professional entering the workforce, it’s important to understand what a career mentor is, why you need one, how to find one, and your role as the mentee.

Mentorship can be a big part of your overall career success, and it’s important not to confuse a supervisor with a mentor. Your supervisor will give you tasks and evaluate you on your performance. A career mentor is someone who does not evaluate your work but instead guides you, offers advice, serves as a champion for your success, and can objectively help you to accomplish your career goals.

Why do you need a career mentor? There are going to be things thrown at you on the job that you need help with, and those conversations might not feel appropriate with a supervisor. For example, you may have concerns with your work or a coworker. A career mentor can help guide you through tough situations and provide an unbiased opinion. They can also help you improve your essential skills such as networking, communication, problem-solving and conflict-management. They can often act as a career coach for your professional growth and development by offering up ideas around strategy and even career progression and promotion.  You should never feel embarrassed to bounce ideas off your mentor: an ideal career mentor will be willing to invest their support and time in you and your professional development, and most importantly, have a strong desire to help you succeed.

How do you find a career mentor? Ideally, this will happen organically. They should be someone within the same career profession – or at least closely aligned – as you; someone who can relate to what you are going through and understands the potential trials and tribulations of your job. A career mentor will typically be someone with more experience and expertise; however, they don’t necessarily have to be someone who is much older or in a senior-level role.  They just need to be someone you can look up to for advice throughout your career journey.  This is why it is important when you start a new job to meet people throughout the organization and attend any available professional development events. This is a great way to meet others in the field. 

What is your role as a mentee? Be eager. Be inquisitive. Be respectful of your mentor’s time.  This is a two-way relationship, so you need to find ways to give back to your mentor as well; be careful not to make this one-sided with all the benefits coming to you. Be an active listener and show attentiveness. Offer advice when it is asked of you. Schedule check-ins. This will help sustain the relationship. Be enjoyable to help and thankful for any insight that you receive.

You have a full career ahead of you, and it’s important to find people along the way who will champion you, support you, and just “be there” for you. Finding a career mentor is an instrumental part of a successful professional journey.

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg