Finding a mentor can supercharge your career. Here are 5 big benefits

From exposure to fresh challenges and onto opportunities to link up with like-minded experts, here's how you can use mentoring to boost your knowledge and skills.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Middle aged male recruiter listening to young female job applicant.
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Up-and-coming professionals can take several routes to the top, but they're always likely to face a challenging journey.

Mentoring is here to help you reach your desired destination. Harvard Business Review suggests a transformational mentorship creates powerful benefits for the mentee and the mentor, helping both to express their ideas and to grow professionally.

So, how can mentoring help you get the expertise and knowledge you require? Five business leaders give us their tips for making the most of mentorships.

1. Gain exposure to fresh business challenges

Danny Gonzalez, chief digital and innovation officer (CDIO) at London North Eastern Railway, says one of the big pluses of mentoring is that it brings awareness of business concerns that might otherwise have remained hidden.

"I think a mentor can really help you understand the most effective way to deliver what you need to deliver or grow as an individual or set you on the right path to things that you should be thinking about," he says. 

"When I think back to myself as a much younger employee coming up through the ranks, there were things that just weren't on my radar at all that were very helpful pointers that I should have been thinking about."

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As professionals climb the ranks, he says tactical use of one-to-one coaching can also pay dividends, especially when it comes to taking a fresh view on new challenges: "I think it can be very helpful when you've got a coach who is almost completely independent to what you're trying to get coached on because then you can get a really objective session."

2. Hear about the challenges involved in senior roles

Lily Haake, practice head for CIO and executive technology leadership at recruiter Harvey Nash, says working with a mentor is a great way to enhance your career, especially when used alongside other areas of professional development, such as qualifications, coaching, and 360-degree feedback. 

"Many of our executive-level clients and candidates can reference several people who they have considered as mentors over the years, with many even suggesting that they owe much of their career success to that person," she says.  

Haake says mentoring is often informal and is a great opportunity to learn from someone with specific skills or experiences that are relevant to the mentee. She says mentoring can also be a good complement to business coaching, which is more goal-oriented and should be delivered by a person with professional qualifications. 

"Often the mentor-mentee relationship has grown organically, though some have been assigned a mentor by their business or sought one out through a professional organisation. In the technology leadership space, we've often established mentoring relationships between a CIO and a direct report to a CIO, so that the mentee can understand the challenges of leading technology at board level."

3. Check that you're seeing the bigger picture

Simon Liste, chief information technology officer at the Pension Protection Fund, might have reached the top of his profession but he continues to lean on mentors – and he advises others to do the same. 

"I don't think you can ever know everything. I've got my personal coach and mentor, who is someone that I've known for years and is very successful in business. I've had a very dedicated technologist as a coach and mentor, too," he says.

Liste says the value of mentoring comes from the depth of knowledge you gain. It also provides a balance for professionals who can check their views with outside experts.

"It's like counselling. They're not there to fix the problem, but they are there to listen and help you to see what you can potentially do better and to understand where there's other opportunities to grow. It's a chance to speak with someone that's completely independent from where you work," he says. 

"I like the opportunity to talk with my mentor – he's a very successful businessperson. It helps me to see the bigger picture from a business perspective. He makes me reflect on what I'm doing strategically, operationally, and tactically. Mentoring just enlightens you and adds multiple layers."

4. Learn by becoming part of a local ecosystem 

Prabhath Karanth, director of security compliance and assurance at travel management company TripActions, says being part of local mentoring networks can pay big dividends. He says security professionals on the west coast of the US benefit from being in an ecosystem.

"I have a lot of peers in the Valley who mentor each other. It's not a junior/senior relationship, we mentor each other," he says.

"When you get this 360-degree perspective, life becomes much easier. We're all humans and sometimes we end up in situations where we don't know what to do. If you have five people that you can call, why wouldn't you?"

Karanth received strong mentorship earlier in his career at Adobe. Having reaped the benefits himself, he now makes sure he mentors others – and he says his professional peers take a similar approach.

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"I feel it's super-critical for security professionals specifically because there are so many dimensions to this kind of profession. It's not something that you can just work in a job and learn. Security is hard. It's not an easy profession to be in. It's always moving. But, when you have this ecosystem around you, it makes it a little bit easier."

5. Create a long-lasting passion for development

Brandon Hootman, director of digital data at Caterpillar, is another business leader who is passionate about mentorships. His enthusiasm derives from the experiences he's had – and he says its important managers remember these benefits as they begin to lead others.

"I feel beyond blessed with the opportunities I've had at Caterpillar and that I've seen from our dealer business all the way back to manufacturing, supply chain and engineering. I'm very passionate about employee development and giving people the right mixture of experiences." 

Hootman puts this into practice in his own data department. He makes sure professionals under his wing are given exposure to a plethora of activities and skills.

"Personally, those types of opportunities have been very rewarding for me. So, I'm always looking to find a way to ensure that our data engineers or data product owners get those opportunities. That's not only to get the technical experience to build their careers, but to get great business experience as well."

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