Finding Your Career Guru

Coach, advocate, champion. They are best-known as mentoring.  Whatever name you put to it, a mentor can be the most important asset in your arsenal for career advancement.  So, what is mentoring?   

The US Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles “asserts  that mentoring is the most complex type of human interaction, being more complex than teaching, counseling, supervising or coaching.”  

Reading this can scare anyone and about now you are thinking of the lateral move to putting the whole idea aside.  Before you put this one aside, let’s let the numbers convince you.  Fran Sepler, president of Sepler & Associates Inc., an organizational development firm in Minnesota, noted that “of the 1,200 top managers in Fortune 500 firms, two-thirds say they utilized mentoring relationships at some point in their careers.“  

Sepler went on to say that “there is a direct correlation between soaking up knowledge from a mentor and reaching a higher level of compensation and more promotions.”   If your career is stagnant and needs a little assist, finding a mentor may be the way to go.

Your company may have a mentoring program, so check with your Human Resource Department.  If not, here are some tips to help you get started.   

Before you commit to a long-term relationship, let’s define traits you should look for when selecting a mentor.  The Dreyfus Model for Becoming an Expert in a Dedicated, Focused Field” describes five levels of characteristics of a mentoring from expert to novice.   For our purpose, let’s look at the top three tiers:

Expert         Has at least 10 years focusing on a field.  Experience is broad and deep.  Aware of important variables in any new situation.  Able to use different paradigms and heuristics to solve problems quickly and creatively.  Reflective practitioner who self-assess what works and doesn’t.   Engages in “forward” reasoning to solve a problem.  Typically, this person developed the rules that serve a Guiding Principles to prevent problems and enhance success.    

 Proficient  Has at least 5 years in field, with some varied experiences.  Still “rule-bound” to other people’s rules when solving problems.  Becoming a reflective practitioner. 

Competent Has repeated experience doing the same thing.

When on the hunt for your next “career guru,” you may want to target a person that emulates the top tier.  Picking the friendly guy that hangs out at the water cooler just won’t cut the mustard.  You need to look for someone who is proactive in both criticism and support, and will be more challenging in helping you reach your goals.

Some mentoring relationships occur naturally with a person you “click” with and these can be the best.  A priority is to find a mentor who has the time, personality and talent to educate.  Look around your social or professional circles.  You may be drawn to someone similar in age, gender, race and experience. 

But these may not be the best pick.  You may have to look outside your comfort zone.  The ideal age difference is around 15 years with greater experience and is an “Expert” in the areas you want to pursue.   You may not be able to find every trait you want in one person.  Consider having more than one mentor, especially if you have varied interests and/or are highly specialized. 

Once you have that person(s) on board with you, both parties need to outline expectations.  Don’t be afraid to utilize this relationship to its fullest potential.  Use the mentor for long-term development that will have sustainability for your careers.  Mentors have a life-cycle so don’t cling too tightly.  As you grow and develop so should your network and one day you may find yourself in the “Career Guru” hot seat.   Anyone out there have a mentor or thinking of pursuing this avenue?  I would love to hear your experiences.

This article was written by Liane H. Gould, Manager of Career Services of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.


4 Responses to Finding Your Career Guru

  1. camp4all says:

    Powerful insights on the term ‘a mentor’. Anybody your friend, father, mother or teacher can be your mentor who can play an important role in building your career. Thanks!

  2. Linda Schwab says:

    With the expection of a couple of puntuation and grammatical errors, I think that this blog could be insightful for those who were able to interpret the overall message.

  3. You said – “Mentors have a life cycle so don’t cling too tightly”. Great point!
    As careers grow and evolve so will the advice or guidance that is necessary. Great mentors can actually help mentees make new connections as their careers evolve.

    Your tips on how to identify a good mentor are spot on!


  4. Outwear says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Outwear.

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