Everyone can benefit from a mentor from time to time. When you seek out a mentor, it’s important to already have a personal goal that you wish to achieve. So how can you determine that goal if you don’t already have one?
There are a wide range of goals that a mentor can help a mentee achieve. Identify the goal that you desire assistance on achieving. Here is a starter list of areas from which you can identify a goal:
- Skills development. The goal here is for the mentee to learn or improve specific skills that can help her be more effective, more productive, more valuable to the organization and improve career opportunities. The skills can cover a wide range of areas such as effective presentations, negotiations, performance issues, leadership, building relationships, managing time, and planning and executing projects.
- Career growth. The goal here is to focus on personal and professional development that supports a long-term career path. It’s about turning dreams into deliberate career moves. This can include the topic of life balance.
- Problem solving. The workplace is all about problem-solving. Developing skills here can raise a mentee’s stock as he gains a track record for taking on and solving important tactical and strategic problems.
- Ethical and moral guidance. The line between what is ethical or not seems to move from company to company, even organization to organization within a company. Careers can be shattered or at least damaged depending on the ethics that may have been violated. A mentor can help a mentee define and maintain a steady course through the ethical maze.
- Navigating political realities. Politics within an organization or company are real. Understanding how to position yourself in these often complicated and ruthless waters is a skill that can greatly benefit a mentee’s career.
- Networking. Professional connections can greatly benefit future opportunities. A mentor can open doors and help a mentee develop relationships that can make a big difference. Knowing people with the necessary knowledge and skills or people who know the people with these traits can offer payback for years to come.
Here are examples of additional actions you can take to help you zero in on where you might most benefit from a mentor.
- Revisit your last performance evaluation. Are there any areas that were noted that you need to further develop?
- Are there professional skills that you need to learn or improve upon?
- Are you satisfied with the direction your career is trending? If not, what’s the secret sauce that is missing? For example, are you looking for more opportunity and responsibility, more recognition, more control over your day, more challenge, more excitement and more respect?
- Review job descriptions for positions that interest you over the next several years. Then look at your skill set and identify areas to work on to help you qualify for those jobs.
- If you are unsure of your natural abilities, take an aptitude test and solicit input from those who know you, including your boss. Hone in on job descriptions that would draw on your strengths.
Make sure you identify a goal that is meaningful to you and clear to both you and a mentor. Although you can have more than one goal, I caution you not to make the mentorship too complicated and potentially overcommit or raise expectations unreasonably high. Therefore, I recommend you only identify and focus on one goal.
Once you have a better handle on areas where you could use a mentor, you will also be in a better position to select the appropriate mentor.
Choose a goal that is reasonable in the time allotted; not a goal that is too large, too ambitious or frivolous. But don’t choose a tiny goal that is too insignificant to justify consuming a mentor’s time and energy. Here are three examples of goals that could be incrementally attainable over a predesignated period of time:
- Become a respected and sought-after project manager or business analyst
(This goal might come from a person who is a relatively new project manager or business analyst and recognizes she has a lot to learn both about the hard skills of project management or business analysis and the soft skills. She is looking for a mentor who can also serve as a role model.)
- Become adept at playing organizational politics to benefit career growth
(This goal might come from a person who is good at his craft but feels that his lack of political skill is holding him back from reaching his potential.)
- Achieving the elusive work-life balance
(This goal might come from a person who is dedicated to being a high performer but recognizes that her non-work life significantly suffers.)
Many of us have learned and practiced bad habits for years, not realizing that there are better practices out there. A mentor can help you fine tune your skills, and discover your possibilities more quickly and effectively than you can on your own.