Did you have a mentor when you entered the business world? If not, did you wish you had one? Either way, here’s a strong case for becoming a mentor.
What is a Mentor?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a mentor is “an experienced counselor or guide.” In Greek mythology, it was a friend of Odysseus entrusted with the education of his son, Telemachus. It also means “to advise or train someone, especially a younger colleague.”
Does Mentoring Work?
Yes, and there are plenty of statistics to back that up.
• It improves retention. At Sun Microsystems, retention rates for mentees was 72 percent and 69 percent for mentors.
• According to an emerging workforce study in 2012 by Spherion, 35 percent of younger employees who did not receive mentoring looked for another job in 12 months.
• According to Forbes, employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often.
• Seventy-five percent of millennials want a mentor.
Regardless of the stage of your career, this either has you wanting a mentor or wanting to be a mentor.
Different Types of Mentors
Mentoring takes place in three major life stages:
• Youth: Big Brothers Big Sisters is a good example.
• School: You are training for a career path. Someone provides guidance.
• Workplace: You are in the working world, climbing the ladder or building expertise.
Accountants mentor college students preparing for a career in the field. The Philadelphia chapter of the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) offers a mentoring program for college seniors and AFWA student members seeking a mentor.
As an accounting professional, you will likely be involved in the third category. The American Institute of CPAs provides a mentoring program for accountants. The purpose is to help mentees improve in several areas:
• Advancing to the next level or taking on new projects.
• Sharpening technical skills.
• Gaining interpersonal skills.
• Seeking career counseling.
• Shifting focus to another specialty area.
• Understanding the firm’s corporate culture.
Picturing Yourself as a Mentor
If you are an experienced accounting professional at a large firm, you are likely to take another route, choosing to mentor a younger colleague. This is often driven by several factors:
• The business is changing. We can learn from each other.
• “If I knew then what I know now, I would have approached my career differently.”
• Leaving a legacy is important. I can help another person grow.
Your firm may have a mentoring program already in place. Deloitte and KPMG have programs. Ditto Ernst and Young and PwC. You would inquire internally about the program and volunteer to either become a mentor or mentee. PwC even has a reverse mentoring program.
What skills do you need to be a mentor? According to MentorCity.com, several stand out:
• Ability to listen: It’s often more important than talking.
• Availability: You need the flexibility to schedule time.
• Share: It starts with time, then knowledge and expertise.
• Insight: Help them avoid mistakes and make good decisions.
• Motivate: You need to be their cheerleader and keep them moving, even in adversity.
• Guide: You are offering advice, not drawing a strict roadmap and keeping them on it.
• Successful and positive: Your attitude becomes their attitude.
• Perspective: Seeing their problems from a fresh viewpoint.
• Advise: You are a sounding board, not their manager.
Are You Mentee Material?
Mentoring involves making time available, being patient, and being willing to help. However, the person being mentored also needs to follow certain rules. Cambridge University provides a guide. Although the guide is addressing students, the principles also apply to the accounting profession.
• What do you want to gain through the relationship? What help do you need?
• Be enthusiastic and committed.
• Respect your mentor. Accept criticism.
• Take notes.
• Have integrity. Be open and honest.
• Ask questions about things you want to learn.
• Leave your comfort zone.
Concluding Thoughts for Mentees
Here’s another important point: Time has a value. Schedule time with your mentor. Don’t assume you can stop into her office at anytime and occupy her desk chair. Be prepared for meetings. You are sailing a ship: It’s your career. You need to know where you’ve been and want to go. When you’ve been given advice and acted on it, report on the outcome.
Concluding Thoughts for Mentors
You can coach and advise a person, but you can’t control him or his actions. He isn’t your child. People need to learn from their mistakes. Your attitude must be positive. You might have your own issues with the firm or certain managers, but this should not become his point of view. You need to show him how to succeed in the current climate, not to tread water until the regime changes.