Mentoring is a bit like dieting. Ultimately, you might know that it’s good for you but it’s a whole different story kick starting it and putting what you need to do into practice. To seek out a mentor and to listen to and act upon their valuable advice is a great way to potentially fast-track your career, while showing a commitment to self-improvement. But when do you need a mentor, what are the benefits of mentorships and where can you find one?

In this article, Lizzie McMahon, Account Manager at davies tanner and Fast Forward 15 mentee, gives her top tips on how to make the most out of mentorship.

Who would benefit from mentoring?

Everyone, whether an intern who is new to the industry and is seeking guidance and reassurance in their day-to-day role, to a manager looking to better develop others and progress their career, could benefit from good mentoring. This is also true for those at the top, as 70% of new, small businesses where the entrepreneurs receive mentoring survive for five years or more, according to FSB, which is double the rate compared with those that don’t.

What are the benefits?

According to research carried out by Sage, 97% of mentees say that mentors are valuable and 55% believe mentoring can help them succeed in achieving their goals. As well as the clear benefits of having an individual who has your interests at heart, who dedicates time to aiding your progression and passes down valuable knowledge, mentoring can have some very concrete financial benefits too.

In fact, MentorMe claims that 67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity as a result of business mentoring for senior team members and a recent survey by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, found that 94% of SMEs using external support are more ambitious and have higher relative turnovers.

How can I find the right mentor?

There are various ways to get a mentor but to do this you’ll need to be proactive and might need to be resilient to rejection. Finding the right mentor for you will depend on what you are looking to achieve from the relationship. For example, are you looking to enhance your business acumen and knowledge, or are your targets more sector specific – such as wanting to improve your marketing skills – or, perhaps you’re inspired by those who achieve incredible feats outside work and want to understand how you can maintain a work-life-charity balance? By homing in on a focus, you can then determine how and where to start the process of searching for the right mentor.

I applied for a competitive mentorship programme, Fast Forward 15. It’s a not-for-profit annual scheme that matches fifteen mentees with events industry experts for a year of one-on-one tailored advice and goal-setting. Have a quick search online for free mentoring programmes in your sector – you may be surprised at what is available.

If you don’t want to participate in a pre-existing mentoring programme, LinkedIn can be a great option. If you have used the platform as it is intended, by now you should have a fantastic array of industry experts (not just recruiters) available at your fingertips. Carefully word a post explaining why you would like a mentor and what you hope to achieve. It’s important to avoid coming across as self-entitled so get someone you trust to give your post a proofread where possible.

Another way to find a mentor is by looking at your current industry contacts. Can your line manager at work help? Does your CEO have any close industry contacts who would be happy to help? When using this approach, it is important to be prepared and open-minded – know what your first targets would be and what questions you’d want to ask your mentor so that you come across as invested and are taking the opportunity seriously.

It is important to consider how mentoring would work if it is outside a structured programme. This shouldn’t be left for your future mentor to scope out. Instead, consider a reasonable time frame for the partnership, what goals you would like to achieve, whether you can travel to your mentor for sessions and whether you’re prepared to put in the time outside of working hours if needed.

How do I make the most of mentoring?

It’s important to remember that mentoring is a two-way process, with the mentor often giving up a lot of time– especially if they are external to your place of work. Here are some top tips on how to make the most of your sessions:

  • Be honest – Tell you mentor everything that is relevant. Don’t filter how you’re feeling, or what you are doing at work for self-preservation as, ultimately, the only person you are cheating is yourself. By giving a truly honest account, you’ll enable your mentor to provide realistic advice that you can implement in the workplace. It may not be the advice you want to hear, but it may well be the advice that you need.
  • Set goals – Targets or goals need to be agreed with your mentor. These should be measurable and achievable but present you with a challenge. It’s best to then work backwards from these goals to set achievable steps with specific deadlines. For example, if the mentoring will take place over a year, set quarterly targets to help you to reach your ultimate year goal.
  • Ask questions – Use your sessions to ask lots of questions in order to get the most out of your mentoring time. If you’re not the best at thinking on your feet, keep a notepad close by at work and jot down any queries that arise to ask at your next session – it may be that you’d like to run through how you handled a situation and get your mentor’s take on it, or it could be a question where you need more insight into industry particulars.
  • Listen – It’s important to turn up to your sessions focussed and to listen to your mentor’s advice with an open mind. Quite often it is the advice that you don’t necessarily agree with immediately that will provide the biggest lesson, as it will encourage you to act in a different way to that which you are used to. Do engage with their suggestions and challenge those you are unsure of. It may be that you’ve misunderstood what is being suggested or there’s a clear explanation as to why they are advising a certain approach, which you were unaware of.
  • Do your homework – During the session make a note of any actions you need to take before your next meeting and ensure that you complete them. Mentoring isn’t just sitting and listening to advice, some steps can be tough and by keeping on top of all your assigned tasks, you will find it easier to edge towards your end goal.
  • Remember your mentor is human – This may seem like a strange one, but it’s important to realise how intertwined working lives and private lives can be. Your mentor has often gone through similar things to you, such as moving to a new house, becoming a parent, or perhaps taking a sidestep in your career and so they can often provide advice on personal challenges too.

How can I ‘give back’ to my mentor?

While many mentors find the process of mentoring rewarding, perhaps you can offer something in return. You’d be surprised at what insights you may have that would benefit your mentor. There is a rising trend for ‘reverse mentoring’, where younger employees offer guidance and share thoughts and insights with senior professionals. Due to fast-moving developments in technology, social change and career expectations, some older workers may lack a deep understanding of the needs of younger generations and struggle to keep up with the way they are using technology. Reverse mentoring looks to solve this gap by coaching senior executives on what the workplace should be like, what drives younger talent, and how to best use technology. Perhaps this would be valuable for your mentor?

Mentoring can be life-changing. It’s one of those opportunities that can alter your whole outlook on your career, workplace and life stage. I can honestly say it has been one of the best things I have ever done. It has helped me to recognise when life and work is in a healthy position and appreciate when things are going well. I have always been competitive and ambitious, but mentoring has helped me to harness this into a positive drive towards achieving my goals, rather than an all-consuming focus. Mentoring is now fully ingrained in how I work and think and has inspired me to do the same for others by becoming a mentor in the future. It is certainly something I intend to pick up again at different stages of my life. There is always room for improvement, no matter who you are or where you are in your career.