Do I need a mentor?

If you’re at a point in your career, whether you’re advancing in your field or pivoting to new positions, and you ask yourself this question then the answer is most definitely “Yes”. In the next 5 minutes, I will try to show you why that is, and then I will show you how you can start your mentorship journey which starts with finding a good mentor.

Why you should always have a mentor:

1. Experience is the best teacher:

If your initial reaction to the question was “No”, odds are you haven’t given it a proper moment’s thought and overconfidently think you have everything figured out for yourself. People often convince themselves that their situations and goals are so unique to them that nobody can provide useful advice to help in their career and personal development. While this might ring true for very specific skills and topics there’s no way for any single person to have mastered every aspect of their life and career without proper guidance. Even the most successful individuals have had mentors throughout their journey. Have you seen how Warren Buffet praised his mentor Benjamin Graham? The reality is that some of the most valuable human knowledge comes from experience, and collecting all of that knowledge through your own self-guided experiences would be a very difficult and time-sucking process. That’s why we pass on our knowledge and experience to others and that’s why some very experienced people can offer million-dollar advice and guidance. A mentor can be this person for you, having already done what you are aiming to accomplish, they can provide you with a better way of achieving your goals, helping you save time and avoid pitfalls.

2. Motivation and support:

Everyone has experience of venturing into new and unfamiliar territory, from learning a new skill to starting your career, and we know all too well how hard it can be. Ask anyone who has had a mentor before (I mean a good mentor) and they’ll tell you how crucial a mentor’s support and motivation can be; when you feel tired they keep you going, and when you’re lost they give you a heading to keep you on track with your goals. As described by the Dunning-Kruger effect, we often feel least confident in our abilities part-way through our journey even though we’ve already made good progress and are far better off than when we began our journey. Conversely, sometimes people reach the early peak of confidence and become arrogant about their abilities which mentors can guide you through as well and show you how far you still have left to go.

So a mentor will keep you on your journey’s path, providing the corrective guidance and support you need to help reach your goals.

3. It’s a natural learning process that’s become less common:

The idea of mentorship is not new. Since the dawn of time, those who have had experience have used it to teach the new and naive. Our ability to pass on our knowledge and experience to the next generations is what separated us from the majority of the animal kingdom early on. Through the millennia the process has remained largely the same, just focusing more on the knowledge that is relevant to the times. From the moment we’re born, and as we grow up, we receive mentorship from parents, teachers, siblings, friends, etc. In the past, we also used to receive our career and job mentorship at work from our supervisors and bosses who would be eager to fill us in on everything we needed to know. But then something happened; the advancement of technology and computers allowed for work to be done in a more isolated manner. We still collaborate on projects and group work but we get less and less in-person time with those who know more; meetings are reserved for keeping everyone on track and scarcely provide any mentoring. So even though we may work in teams we don’t work together anymore, and this environment has been pushed to further extremes with a global pandemic that has forced work out of office spaces and into physically isolated rooms. This lack of mentorship in the post-adolescent stages of life is a major driving factor of why you should seek out a mentor which will keep you from being benignly reactive to your current situational needs and help you be proactive with what you are missing about future needs.

Assuming now that you agree with the initial statement and need a mentor, it’s time to see how you can find a good mentor.

Finding the right mentor:

1. Know your goals

The first key to finding any mentors that may be good for you is to know what you want to accomplish professionally, both short term and long term. Setting up these goals will give you a better sense of what you require to advance, whether that may be taking on new responsibilities in your current position or switching jobs. You should also consider whose job you would like to have in the next 5 or 10 years. The more specific that your goals are the easier it will be to find a mentor with a proven track record that can help accelerate your journey.

2. Be conscious of your existing network

The more aware your potential mentor already is of your work and abilities, the more effective they will be at mentoring you. This will again be dependent on the goals you set for yourself and how far they deviate from your current career. If you can’t find a potential mentor within the closest circle of your existing network then try looking for a mutual connection, either through someone you both know or common ground on your and your mentor’s journeys.

3. Recognize that a mentor is not a sponsor

Mentors are there to advise you and help you build your career vision but they don’t typically provide you with a new job or promotion. Sponsors, on the other hand, are senior-level executives or recruiters that can advocate for you in that regard. Your relationship with a sponsor is typically meant to be short-term and a mentor can be in your life for the long-term. Although your mentor may not provide you with the functions of a sponsor directly they can put you in touch with a good sponsor that can help you with your short-term goals.

4. Meet with your potential mentor

When you’ve found a potential mentor start by having an informational interview or informal meeting with them. This will allow you to get to know them and their experience better, and they can get to know you and your goals. Depending on how well you know each other already (if your potential mentor is from your existing network) this step may be more or less necessary, but you should still have a meeting where you can discuss their experience and your commitment.

5. Evaluate the fit

After you’ve had a chance to meet, you should take some time to evaluate the fit of a mentor-mentee relationship. Your mentor should be someone who can not only provide you with experienced advice but someone who is also interested in seeing you achieve your goals and will provide all-around support throughout your journey. If you find your mentor to be a good fit, and they agree, you can continue developing your mentoring relationship.

For those readers who are interested in careers in data science or mathematical finance, Lantern Institute offers professional programs that can help connect you with an experienced mentor and get you started.

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