The benefits of finding a good career mentor

10 min read | Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance UK&I | Article | | Career development

Older woman instructing younger woman in office space

Ambitious in your career? Then you can benefit from a good career mentor. Here’s how you can find one.

Your career mentor is someone who can help you achieve your professional goals. They’ll help you grow and learn, giving you objective advice and support along the way. If you’re ambitious about your career a mentor can help you succeed. So, why don’t you have one yet?

Perhaps the reason is down to one of the following myths: 

1. Mentoring is reserved for the most senior and well-connected professionals within a business. 
2. You have to be working somewhere with an official mentoring scheme in place. 
3. This mentor has to be somebody senior to you who works at your company, and 
4. You have to commit to structured, consistent meetings of a certain duration with your career mentor – time which neither of you may have. 

With all of these assumed provisos in place, it’s no wonder you haven’t found anyone yet!


Career mentors at a glance

The truth is, to find a career mentor, all you need is a vision of where you think you want to be in your career. You also need the drive to get there, and the confidence to seek counsel from whomever you deem inspirational and credible enough to help you.

Once you’ve identified the right person, you’ll need to approach them for help. Be humble and be yourself. Remember that they’ll be giving up their time, so treat any time and advice with respect.

With that in mind, how can you find a career mentor?

Step 1: Identify your needs

It is important that you start the process of finding a mentor by assessing your vision for your career. Ideally, where would you be in one year, three year and five years’ time? What obstacles are standing in your way? The answers will help you focus on what to look for in a career mentor.

Don’t narrow yourself just to the skills you are yet to learn, or the feedback you were given during your last performance appraisal. Think bigger picture. Do you have a tricky relationship with a colleague or client, and is this hindering your progress? Is fear or a lack of confidence holding you back?

Remember, your chosen career mentor will be someone you trust; they will keep everything you say confidential. Don’t limit your thinking at this stage.

To give you an example, quite a few years ago I was at a turning point in my career. I knew that I wanted to reach that next level, but there was something that was going to stand in my way – I dreaded giving presentations, and it showed. 

I knew that if I wanted to achieve my career goals, something would have to change. I would need to find a credible mentor to help me build my confidence and master public speaking – which brings me onto my next step.

Step 2: Who do you know?

Once you have identified what it is you need help with, it’s time to find the right person to help you. 

  • Who in your life has overcome the obstacles that you are now facing? 
  • Are they where you aspire to be now? 
  • Who do you know who is just really good at the skill you want to develop? Or perhaps the job role you would like to do in the future? 

Don’t narrow your search too much. What’s to say this mentor has to be somebody who is part of an official mentoring scheme, more senior than you, or even somebody you work with?

When searching for your career mentor, consider former and current colleagues. You might also think of friends and family, as well as your other social and professional circles. 

To continue the story of my own search for a mentor – upon realising what I had to do next, I thought about who I knew that could help me. In this instance it was a senior colleague who I decided to approach. 

This person consistently gave some of the most engaging presentations I had ever seen. I knew they were, without a shadow of a doubt, the right person to be my mentor. The next step was speaking up and asking them for help.

Step 3: Be yourself

The way you approach your potential career mentor will depend on the nature of your relationship. If they are a contact from your professional network, I would suggest sending them a message first explaining how they have inspired you, what specifically you think they could help you with. Politely ask if they could spare some time to sit down and chat. Let them know the best number to call you on, and that you hope they would like to talk further.

If this person is at your current organisation, I would also recommend that you run this by your line manager beforehand. They may be more familiar with your potential mentor, or have experience in mentoring themselves. The point is that your mentor needs to be outside of your direct line manager, wherever possible.

Whoever your mentor may be, the key is to be humble and human. In my situation I simply approached the person and said, “I would like your help please. I want to be able to deliver presentations as strongly as you can, if you could spare an hour or so and give me some initial guidance – that would be hugely appreciated.” 

At the time neither of us knew how much or little time this was going to take. As it turned out, it was not a huge ask in terms of time commitment – and it really helped me. Many years on, we still meet on an ad hoc basis when I need their help and they are available. But establishing and maintaining this mentor–mentee relationship took work, which brings me onto my fourth and final step.

Step 4: Nurture the relationship

Remember, your career mentor is going out of their way to help you. Showing gratitude and respect is key to both establishing and maintaining this relationship. 

Before your first meeting, and every meeting after, be punctual and well prepared. Note down the specific challenges you are facing, what it is you want to learn from them from this session, and how you think they could help you.

You should also share the progress you have made from previous sessions, with examples. For instance, every time you meet your mentor maybe buy them coffee as a small token of your gratitude. I always thank my mentor profusely for their time, and relay any positive feedback from my presentations. Specifically, I would mention how their previous advice helped me achieve results. 

To this day my unofficial mentor is great at giving me two-minute feedback after any presentation if they happen to be part of the audience. One good element, and one to improve. 


What you need to remember about career mentors

You don’t have to tick a certain box before being eligible for a career mentor. You simply need to have a vision for your career, and a methodical, tactful, yet authentic approach to seeking out this guiding voice. 

Personally speaking, finding a career mentor was one of the best decisions I ever made. I believe it’s something every driven professional should pursue on their path to career success. And remember, bear all of this in mind the next time someone asks you for help too!

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About this author

Karen Young

Karen is a director and recruiting expert at Hays Accountancy & Finance. She provides strategic leadership to a team of 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across 100 UK offices. 

With 20 years of finance recruitment experience, Karen has a track record of recruiting top finance talent for businesses across a range of industry sectors. She is also a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.

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