A longstanding practice in some areas of business, mentoring is gradually spreading into new areas due to employers discovering that it helps with team building and getting recruits swiftly up to speed. What does it involve, and how can employees who are just starting out take advantage of it to improve their skills in the workplace?
No matter how well you’ve trained, starting a job in a new field can be extremely intimidating. Everybody else seems to know what they’re doing and, all too often, you’re expected to figure it out as you go along – to fake it till you make it, as they say. It’s much easier to make it if you have somebody on your side. Mentors don’t just teach skills, they help you to develop confidence in what you’re doing much more quickly by providing constructive criticism where needed and letting you know when you’re doing well. Most people who take on mentoring roles find real pleasure in seeing the people they help succeed, so when they have faith in you, you’ll be able to see it.
Learning the ropes
From a purely practical perspective, it’s much easier to get to grips with the day to day tasks involved in your new job if you have a mentor to provide advice. There’s often a big gap between what you pick up in education – or even in job-specific training – and what you need in practice. A mentor can help you to make sense of the particular working practices in the company you’ve joined and is someone you can go to for advice when you run into something that doesn’t make sense. This is also a quick route through which to get to know the other people in the business that you can go to for assistance with different types of problem.
Once you’ve got the hang of the day to day requirements of your job, it’s time to think about building up your skills so that you can improve on what you do and perhaps take on new responsibilities. A mentor who has been through a similar process and fully understands the requirements and possibilities of the industry can advise you on the best areas to focus on and how to access further education and training. Often companies and industries that support mentoring also have established programs to help younger employees cover the cost of improving their skills. Accounting, for instance, is cooperative rather than competitive and tends to work on the principle that as individuals improve, everybody gains.
If you want to progress in your industry, whether that means eventually moving on to another company or seriously contributing to your team’s success, it’s essential to expand your professional networks. Joanna Riley, a team-building expert at Censia, encourages employers to build diverse teams so as to benefit from access to the best talent and multiple perspectives; however, too many of us still tend to connect only with people with whom we have personal things in common. A mentor who is well established in your industry can help you to meet a wider range of people and broaden your horizons. Getting one to one introductions from a respected professional also means that you can more quickly develop contacts at a senior level.
No matter how well prepared you are for your role, mistakes can still happen early on, and you may also find yourself taking the blame for those that other people make. When you still don’t have a strong network of friends at work, this can leave you feeling vulnerable. A mentor can assist you in putting your case and show you what support is available to you – something that doesn’t always get flagged up in training. You won’t feel out of your depth with influential people when you have somebody on their level who is on your side, and as a result, you’ll be better able to assert yourself in ways that are helpful to your employers as well, identifying problems that need to be fixed and contributing useful suggestions.
From an employer’s perspective, mentoring can be a big help with training, support and workplace cohesion. Because they get to know new employees as individuals they’re much more effective than a looser HR network and can quickly identify and act to solve problems. Introducing mentoring is a great way to invest in your employees and build a team that will stand the test of time.