When faced with a tough decision on the job, do you have someone you can go to for advice? A mentor is the working world’s version of a savvy older sibling — someone you can count on as a confidant and friend, someone you go to for guidance in navigating tough professional situations. Whether you’re just getting started in the credit industry or you have several years of experience, seeking a knowledgeable mentor can significantly boost your career progress. Here’s what to look for in a potential professional partner:
Why seek a mentor? Having someone to provide encouragement and steer you through professional dilemmas is particularly important for new credit professionals, but those more advanced in their careers can also benefit from the counsel of an industry veteran. Of 1,400 Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) polled in a recent Accountemps survey who said they had had a mentor, 35 percent said having a confidant and advisor was the single most important benefit of the relationship. Another 27 percent said the top advantage was gaining insight into a particular field or industry, 21 percent cited encouragement or boosts to morale, and 12 percent said introductions to key networking contacts were most beneficial.
What makes a good mentor? Look for an individual who is well respected within the firm and who has a good handle on communication and networking skills. A formal mentoring relationship isn’t always necessary; new employees can learn a lot by observing and seeking advice from those in more advanced positions. An experienced mentor can provide insight into office politics and protocol, as well as in handling difficult situations — knowledge that isn’t necessarily taught in school or during new hire orientation, but that is essential for professional success. The key is to select someone advanced enough in his or her career to offer a long-range professional perspective.
What should you avoid? Just as with any other confidant, look for a mentor who is discreet and trustworthy. Avoid those who tend to gossip or speak disparagingly of others. Instead, seek a mentor who is positive, productive and well liked. And don’t be afraid to look outside your firm. While an in-company advisor may be better versed in on-the-job protocol, a trusted mentor in another organization could offer innovative perspectives you may not get otherwise.