From the moment we enter this world, we rely on others for guidance. Our parents look after us, teach us how to make decisions, and face challenges. In school, we look to our teachers to help us learn and define our futures. What happens when we leave those formal settings and set out for work in the real world?
We’re so accustomed to having a constant source of feedback, that it can be a shock to step into a professional setting where we’re on our own. Even though we may have graduated to the next step on our career path, we still need guidance.
For the first time in your life, you feel like you’re on your own.
Being new to a career is tough. If you feel like you can hardly keep your head above water, you aren’t alone. One study suggests that one third of new employees quit their jobs within the first six months. Even teachers, the very mentors we crave, have terrible retention rates–somewhere between 17 and 46 percent of them quit within the first five years.
This common thread of job dissatisfaction that runs across many fields is due to a lack of coaching and feedback. For many of us, taking a job is the first time that we don’t have someone guiding us. Suddenly there’s nobody to give us feedback, and the feedback that we do receive is mostly to tell us when we’ve done something incorrectly.
Why you should find a mentor to help your career progress.
Their expertise is invaluable.
Your mentor will have an understanding of the work that you do. They may be a few steps ahead of you on the corporate ladder, or they have worked the job longer. They are usually keenly aware of the internal workings of your place of employment.
A first year teacher would benefit from partnering with a veteran teacher. The veteran teacher knows how to maximize class time, but they also know the community and the nuances of the school’s culture.
Mentors can offer you guidance about the skills and knowledge you need to be successful.
Many of the struggles that arise for rookies come from differences in education and a lack of understanding about their organization. Mentors can offer guidance about development opportunities that you can take to shore up any weaknesses.
A new educator arrives at their first teaching job with a teaching degree, but they may be teaching in an environment that is different from the places where they learned and student-taught. A mentor might suggest that they take a multi-cultural education class or offer information about customs that are unique to that school’s community.
They can provide constructive feedback.
Your mentor will tell you when you’ve made a mistake, but they’ll also help you come up with strategies for improvement. Nobody likes to fail, but when we are taking risks and trying to move along in our career path, we are bound to make a few blunders. As long as we learn from our mistakes, they can be a valuable part of the learning process.
Perhaps you just gave your first presentation at work. Your leaders were not impressed with your talk. Your mentor noticed that you were fidgeting, using filler words, and mumbling throughout the talk. They may offer advice on how to exude confidence, and they may agree to go over your next presentation with you so that you don’t make the same mistakes twice.
They can see the big picture.
Since your mentor has been around for a while, they’ll have a broader perspective about the state of your organization or field. They’ve survived the upswings and downturns, and most of them are happy to keep others from making the same mistakes they made.
You’ve noticed that things are tense around the office. Your coworkers seem grumpy, and the stress is beginning to wear on you. Your mentor is the person who tells you what nobody else wants to talk about: a group of senior employees is going through a serious contract renegotiation. People are worried about keeping their jobs. Armed with this knowledge, you may be able to view your colleagues with compassion instead of disdain.
Instead of drowning in insecurities and uncertainties, look to others for guidance. Finding that one person who believes in your abilities can be the difference between moving along on your career path or starting over.
What’s in it for the mentor?
Finding a mentor can seem like a daunting task, but you are probably surrounded by potential coaches. Since mentoring involves time and energy on the part of mentors, they are only going to want to invest these valuable assets in mentees who show promise. A mentor may agree to work with you if they see that you are a driven and capable worker.
We’re all new to our jobs at some point, and the veterans among us know how that feels. Perhaps they feel a desire to give back to others after someone helped them.
Guiding rookie employees is an excellent way for mentor to advance in their own career. When their guidance contributes to your success, they are able to demonstrate their capacity as a leader. They can also delegate some tasks to you to free them up to work on bigger projects. To the experienced mentor, the tasks they are asking you to do are a real time-sink, but for the new employee, that type of work may be the training that you need to continue on your career path.
Where you can look for guidance
Good guidance can come from almost anyone in your organization or field. A formal mentoring relationship that develops organically over time is ideal, but there are also informal ways that you can find additional help.
1. Speak up and voice your thoughts. The first step to finding a mentor is to show that you are engaged in the success of the organization. Giving voice to your ideas and concerns demonstrates that you take your work seriously.
2. Show your intentions by asking for feedback. Seeking constructive criticism will help you grow. Experienced colleagues will take notice of your desire for self-improvement when you ask for feedback. It is also much easier to mentor someone who clearly wants to improve.
3. Take Initiative. Going above and beyond in your assigned duties is another way to show potential mentors your motivation. No matter how minor your task is, execute it with a high level of care. Possible mentors will see a person who is capable of taking on bigger challenges. They’ll also be more likely to connect you with opportunities to advance your career.
3. Take your peers as your mentors. Coworkers doing the same job that you do may have a different approach. You could benefit from troubleshooting with them and emulating practices that make them effective. Even if you don’t adopt their methods, learning how to approach work in different ways can help you progress.
4. Observe people in higher-level positions. Whether or not you have a formal mentoring relationship with someone at a later stage in your career path, you can still pay attention to the way they work. The manner in which they organize their time, speak, dress, and interact with others can offer you clues about what you need to do to reach their level.
5. Take advantage of networking opportunities. When you go to conferences and professional development events, don’t be afraid to talk to people. You might find your mentor, or at the very least, gain some insights into the industry.
6. Don’t underestimate the power of attending office social functions. You might strike up a conversation that helps you find someone to give you guidance.
Look for guidance to take control of your situation.
Richard Bransons and Elon Musks of the world didn’t become the successful people they are today without help. Even visionaries have moments when they aren’t sure what they are doing, and they have all been new to their jobs at some point. Finding a mentor (or several) can help you move from a position of uncertainty to a position of strength and confidence.