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5 Valuable Tips for Building Mentor Relationships

5 Valuable Tips for Building Mentor Relationships
Credit: Bimbim/Shutterstock

Those looking for way to boost their career prospects should consider finding a mentor, new research finds.

A study from the staffing firm Accountemps revealed that 86 percent of executives say having a mentor is important for career development, with just 5 percent saying it isn't important at all.

Despite the value many see, the vast majority of executives don't have a mentor. Just 26 percent of those surveyed have someone they turn to regularly for advice and guidance on their careers.

An experienced mentor can be a catalyst to help professionals at all levels advance their careers, said Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps.

"A mentor can help navigate career challenges, provide encouragement, and share insights from past successes and failures," Driscoll said in a statement. "Frequently, mentors inside the company end up being strong career advocates for those they take under their wings, helping them rise through the organization."

Nearly half of those surveyed said the single greatest benefit of having a mentor is that they are able to learn firsthand from someone in a role they aspire to. Other benefits employees take away from their mentor relationships include learning the unwritten rules of a company or industry, having a neutral sounding board for their ideas, and getting introduced to new contacts. [Mentors Beat Formal Training for Leadership Skills ]

Besides being beneficial for the mentee, mentors can also find value in such relationships, Driscoll said.

"Often, the mentor may learn new skills from the mentee," he said. "Companies can help develop their staff and encourage cross-training by offering formal mentorship programs."

Accountemps offers five tips for fostering mentor relationships:

  • Choose the right one: When searching for a mentor, think about those you want to emulate. Individuals within your own company may be better-suited to explain office politics and the differing personalities in your organization, while external advisors can serve as a sounding board and help teach you about industry trends.
  • Follow up: In order for the relationship to work and grow, you need to make it a priority to stay in regular contact with your mentor. The key is finding a frequency that works for both of you. Contact doesn't always have to be made face to face. Try sending occasional emails to update your mentor on how things are going or to ask a question when you run into a problem.
  • Be prepared: When you do meet with your mentor, the last thing you want to do is waste his or her time. To ensure you cover the ground you want to, consider setting an agenda before the meeting. The more specific you are, the better the outcome.
  • Be appreciative: It's important to let your mentor know you are grateful for the guidance. Mentors want to feel like they are providing value. Be sure to frequently tell your mentor how his or her assistance is helping you.
  • Know when it's time for a change: Mentor relationships don't have to last forever. Schedules, new career paths and major moves could all change the dynamics of the relationship. When you see signs that the mentorship has run its course, it's OK to find someone else. It's important, though, to avoid ending on bad terms or severing ties completely. Your mentor can always serve as a valuable contact.

The study was based on surveys of 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas and more than 1,000 U.S. workers employed in office environments.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.