Mentoring works!

I have had experience of both mentoring and being mentored, and I would heartily recommend both, whatever stage you are at in your career. But what is mentoring or being mentored all about?

  • Last year I was introduced to a senior HR Director and we had a few meetings over coffee before work to talk about career planning. These meetings turned into a  big wake-up call for me to think more about my future, and my attempts to formulate a 5-year career plan turned into 5-year life planning, much to my and my husband’s bewilderment.
  • From the other end of the mentoring relationship I was introduced to someone wanting to break into the HR profession. This has resulted in lots of discussions in cafes and pubs and emails to discuss getting her foot in the door, CV writing, interview preparation etc. These discussions have ended up in my mentee recently securing a job offer at a HR consultancy and even though I can in no way take credit for her achievement, I somehow feel proud that I was able to help in some way.

If you think you don’t have enough experience or seniority to mentor another, think again. Volunteer and it will both bring benefits to your mentee, and boost your own confidence in your professional abilities. And you get a great feeling when you can help someone develop. Mentoring is not so much about offering opinions,  as sharing your experience and the inside track on a certain career path. So you don’t need to be an expert by any means. To someone outside your field of work, any insight you can offer could potentially be very useful.

As a mentor you will be committing to helping another navigating the 21st century career ‘rockface‘ – providing a helping hand, a guide, as well as another pair of eyes and ears on their job-hunting strategy or work dilemmas.

How to get a mentor?

Do you want an internal mentor from your own company or someone external to your organisation who can give you a fresh perspective? Are you looking for a promotion or growth within your current organisation, a complete change of industry, or an entry point into a profession? That first job after qualifying or university?

Look for someone whose work you admire or a professional network offering a mentoring scheme. Both of my mentoring experiences mentioned above came my way via introductions from networks and professional bodies of which I am a member. And many professional organisations and networks are happy to accept student members or applications from those trying to get into that profession.

How long should it go on for?

Mentoring is different from coaching, which is much more focused on getting you from a defined place (where you are now) to a goal (where you want to be). Mentoring can be short-term (a brief conversation over a coffee) or long-term (your mentor advises you throughout many stages in your career). Decide what you want to get out of it and see where it can take you. Remember that it should be non-obligatory, and you never know your mentor could put you in touch with others who can help you in different areas of your career. They could even turn out eventually to be someone you’d call a friend.

The best way to leave your job

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At various times in my HR career colleagues have approached me to ask: “What can the company do if I don’t give my full notice when I leave?”. If you’re considering leaving your job, this is completely the wrong question to be asking. To me, this question sounds like: “I’ve decided to get out of here. How can I leave as quickly as possible?”

If you’re thinking about how to resign from your job, firstly you need to be clear with yourself about your reasons for leaving. Having done that you need to deny the urge to blurt these out to your unwitting co-workers. Instead, decide how you are going to communicate those reasons that are most constructive to your current employer: firstly your manager, then your immediate colleagues, and finally to the company at large before your final day.

Handing in your notice is undoubtedly an awkward and painful experience. But it doesn’t have to feel like you are finally giving up the charade of loving to work somewhere you don’t. You don’t need to let the mask drop that much, but be honest about your reasons for moving on: you don’t see yourself working there for X more years, you need to progress financially, you don’t see any development where you are, you want greater flexibility.

If your employer offers you an exit interview, take the opportunity and be honest and constructive in your feedback. It never ceases to amaze me how managers can often not see problems that are right in front of them or managers who are unwilling to really confront the reasons why staff are leaving. Often it is rationalised as ‘they didn’t fit’, ‘they are clearly not one of us’, ‘they didn’t have what it takes’, rather than ‘there is no development opportunity for them here’, ‘I never really found out what they were looking for from this job’, ‘I have no idea what would have made them stay’. My last manager thanked me for my exit interview; she said it was different seeing the issues I’d experienced written down in an interview report. I was astonished she hadn’t been aware of the issues I was facing, but she quite simply had a totally different perspective on the matter.

And this is important: your manager in all likelihood will not have seen your resignation coming. So even if you’ve been feeling at your wits’ end for a long period and you couldn’t be more jubilant to move on, you should treat your last employer with respect. Or at least remember that they will be writing you references in future. Speaking as someone who was once called ‘Judas’ by a previous manager upon handing in my notice and then having to work out the best part of 3 months’ notice, you want to find a way to move on with minimal guilt. And try whatever you can to make the job a better experience for your replacement.

Incidentally, the answer to the first question is: the company can’t really do a lot to you, except feel completely disappointed to see you so eager to leave. It will also leave big questions over your integrity and your colleagues may feel ‘ditched’ by your sudden departure. My colleague who is a lawyer describes the employment relationship as a ‘marriage’. I really wouldn’t go that far, but it is a relationship nevertheless, and you need to find a way to leave well. Negotiate your notice period down if your new employer is adamant they want you to start as soon as possible, but whatever commitment you make to either party, be sure to see that through. And leave for better things with your head held high.