By Mary Blake, Senior Manager, Career Services
When I think of a mentor, I have fond thoughts of my first female boss who, without maybe knowing it, helped shape my work persona and get my career kick-started. She had herself moved up into a position of authority and power that I envied and wanted to be in someday. I would like to think that maybe I reminded her of her younger self: motivated, enthusiastic, untainted by bureaucracy and micromanagement. However it happened, we were drawn to each other for support and encouragement and we shared a similar work ethic.
Not everyone may have had the positive experience that I did with a supervisor at an early professional age, but there is always the chance to look for this type of support in the workplace, or to become the one supporting another. There is no clear instruction manual on how to become the ideal employee or how to perfectly guide your career up a steady path. But one thing there is certainly plenty of in the world of work is opportunity. We all have the opportunity to observe the world around us and to choose the parts of it that make us feel good and inspire us to grow and succeed. And it is other individuals whom we observe, whether supervisors, co-workers, vendors or clients, who can teach us without even knowing it.
Now there are many professional mentor programs for students, entrepreneurs, and recent graduates, but not all employers have structured programs like these. Most of the time, you have to create your own opportunity by reaching out and asking for assistance, or notice when someone new needs help and offer your guidance. These are the unofficial support networks that keep the workplace running smoothly and help generation after generation of new employees blossom into productive, capable, experienced workers.
If you find yourself in a new job, struggling to learn the ropes, you may want to take a look around and find a co-worker who emulates the qualities that you desire to achieve. If you are not sure who this may be, try setting up times to sit and observe several different co-workers perform their jobs, or ask a supervisor or experienced co-worker whom that person admires at work and why. Before long you will start to recognize who seems to be able to do their job with finesse and ease. The next step is to see if those people are willing to help you learn what made them so successful. Offer to take these employees to lunch individually so you can learn about the work culture and history of your company, and about where they think the opportunities for growth lie. Ask them about some of their recent achievements, and ask them for feedback on your work. It is important to be open to suggestions and not think you have all the answers. Most people love to give their advice to someone who makes them feel important!
If you feel that maybe you have topped out in your career or are working towards retirement, then you might be the one to reach out to newer staff to mentor them to achieve the successes that you have already enjoyed. Is there someone you’ve noticed who seems like a younger version of yourself when you needed a helping hand or some advice? Invite the person for coffee and find out his or her thoughts on the company’s training or orientation process. If your company offers an organized mentor program, check into becoming a volunteer. Although some corporately organized mentor programs are very successful, I believe that the best matches are ones we gravitate towards naturally.
Either way, you should take advantage of any opportunity to learn and grow in this age of corporate downsizing. It is an invaluable way to expand your skills and knowledge, and a lifelong friendship may develop along the way!
By Mary Blake, Senior Manager, Career Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
JCS offers a full range of career services. For more information about JCS Career services click here or call 410-466-9200.