Tuesday 12 August 2014 8:12 pm

How you can get the most out of a business mentor

Penny de Valk is managing director of Penna Talent Management.

When it comes to wanting mentoring in the workplace, you’re not alone. Our recent research has found that one in five employees are not currently mentoring or being mentored, but would like to be. Mentoring provides great development opportunities for both mentor and mentee, so why did nearly 30 per cent of mentees surveyed say the relationship had failed because of lost momentum? And how can you avoid being part of this statistic? 


Mentors can help mentees overcome career blocks and support progression. Some mentees want to learn about how to navigate office politics, particularly if mentors work in the same company as you and can offer advice. And others want to learn skills from different disciplines such as marketing or project management. Be clear about what you want to achieve first, and then align this with a suitable mentor. 


According to the mentees we asked, expertise (65 per cent), strong rapport (62 per cent) and being challenging (59 per cent) are the most desirable traits for mentors to possess. While it’s good to be challenged, you don’t want a mentor that you just don’t get on with. Having chemistry with a mentor is crucial, as you’ll need to work through your aspirations together – you need someone you trust and respect. Make sure they have the skills you need to learn from them, and start by having a conversation about what you both want out of the relationship. 


Your mentor is likely to be more senior than you, so don’t waste their time. Try to keep meetings reasonably structured, with an agreed plan of dates and times for your meetings. Mentoring programmes can fizzle out if there isn’t structure, so mentees need to take responsibility for the relationship, and keep meetings regular and concise. Don’t waffle and chat during meetings – you are here to learn from a more experienced professional. Agree a “no fault” walk-away option too. If it’s not working out after six months, there is no blame. 


Your mentor has worked hard on their networks and to get to where they are today, so don’t expect to have immediate access to their contacts. Instead, gain their trust throughout the mentoring relationship, and show you are taking their feedback seriously by telling them how you’ve applied it. Mentors will be more willing to introduce you to their network if they see you are a safe pair of hands. It’s your opportunity to show them how good you are. 


Mentoring gives mentees a real opportunity to learn and progress in their career. If you’ve had a good mentor, or would like to give back to the profession, then consider taking up mentoring yourself. It’s great for CV purposes and also gives you a sense of fulfilment that you’re helping the next generation of leaders. 
Penny de Valk is managing director of Penna Talent Management.

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