The Road Map to a Symbiotic Mentor-Mentee Relationship

Four tips for developing one of the most beneficial relationships of your career.

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Arnie Fertig
Arnie Fertig
Do you remember the last time you bought something that needed to be assembled at home? Some of us have an innate knack for looking at all the parts that come in the package and figuring out how they all fit together. Others of us are adept at following the instructions, and for many more even, the instructions fail to provide the sought-after clarity of direction. We crave the personal attention that will walk us step-by-step through the construction process.

So too it is with our careers. Some people know at an early age what they want to do with their lives and go about doing it with little direction. The vast majority of us, however, at one point or another wish that our professional career path would come with an easy-to-read-and-follow map that guides us from our first job all the way to retirement.

While that singular map doesn't exist, numerous sources of support and insight are available in the forms of books, articles, counselors and coaches.

Paul Krieg, a business experience manager at Northern Kentucky University, argues that mentoring is key to long-term success. He advises that "mentors can provide you with the 'big picture,' yet put you in control of deciding the best course of action for yourself."

Mentor-mentee relationships take many forms, both formal and informal. More businesses and organizations have formalized programs to pass on information, insights and guidance from veterans to those working their way up the ladder of seniority. It is most beneficial when a mentor is not in a position of supervisory authority over the mentee, because among the topics of discussion might be how to best work with the supervisor, or how to position oneself for career movement.

Alternatively, you can seek a mentor within a professional organization, through a college alumni or career service office or through a job seekers networking group. Some mentors might work with a mentee on a particular area of professional growth required for the mentee to successfully kick their career up a notch. Other relationships might be of a more limited duration, focusing exclusively on the job hunting process itself.

Krieg suggests that over the course of time, "your career may change and your mentors may need to shift with you or be replaced." When that happens, he counsels, "don't stress … your relationship need not end, merely the guidance you receive on certain topics."

As you go about finding a mentor and beginning that relationship, bear these tips in mind:

1. Seek experience and shared interest. It is so obvious that it is often overlooked: You want a mentor who is not only one-to-three steps senior to you in your general field, but a person who knows about the particular area within your discipline or skill-set you are seeking to develop.

2. Seek wisdom. Don't assume that just because a person holds a given position or job title that he or she is the right mentor for you. Distinguish between a person's accomplishments, knowledge and ability to counsel you wisely. You want a mentor who is able and willing to provide that sage advice.

3. Seek empathy. A good mentor understands his or her role is to not only to intellectually impart skills and insights, but to listen closely to the stories, situations, problems and goals of the mentee. Hearing the particular goals of the mentee is critical to setting out the shared work that is to be done. It is important that the mentor not just impart whatever it is that he or she thinks is important at any given moment.

If the relationship is to be truly beneficial, there will be some give and take on both sides, resulting in a clear framework for the work to be done.

4. Define when and how you will meet. It is only fair to both parties to determine in advance how often you will meet, and in what context. Sometimes meeting in an office will be most productive. However, meeting for lunch or coffee in a less formal environment might also be conducive to productive but less stressful discussions.

At the beginning of a relationship, you might want to meet more frequently. And you will want to discuss how amenable your mentor will be for time-sensitive, but unpredictable, consultations.

Mentor relationships are nothing new. They are in some ways reminiscent of the tradesman-apprentice relationships of the Middle Ages. Even further back in time, the Talmud taught: "Seek for yourself a teacher, and you will acquire a friend." That advice continues to hold true today. The best mentor-mentee relationships often evolve into long-standing professional and personal relationships of value to both parties.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.