Finding a mentor

Having a mentor can help give up-and-coming professionals a sounding board, an introduction to new contacts, and a role model.
By Rebecca Machinga, CPA, CGMA

You’re driven, you’re accomplished, and you’re moving ahead. You have aspirations to continue advancing in your chosen profession and are doing all the right things. One factor to consider in your professional climb is finding talented and accomplished individuals to mentor you along the way.

Plenty of leaders recognize the benefits of having a mentor. In a recent survey by Accountemps, 86% of CFOs said it is important to have a mentor for career development.

The chance to learn firsthand from someone in a role you aspire to was the single greatest benefit in the survey, but not the only one. Having a neutral sounding board for ideas and having someone to help navigate office politics or introduce you to new contacts were also cited as top benefits. Mentors can not only show you the ropes but also help guide you to your next role.

A report by KPMG of female entrepreneurs showed that 95% of them viewed mentorship as a key factor to their success. “Great entrepreneurs have great mentors,” Brian Hughes, the national leader of KPMG’s Private Markets Group, said in the report. “The key is finding the right one and fostering a successful relationship.”

First, do a self-assessment

Many organizations have established formal mentoring programs, and, in most cases, these programs have guidelines for assigning or choosing mentors. If your organization doesn’t provide access to a formal program, the onus falls on you to seek out professionals who can help you develop. This can be difficult, especially if you consider yourself an introvert.

What is the best way to go about finding the right mentor or mentors for you, keeping in mind that you may want or need more than one? You must first do a self-assessment to determine what qualities you want and need in a mentor. The overall goal will be to continue to develop professionally, but be more specific. Consider the particular skills and attributes you want to develop, such as delegating, managing, leading, or mentoring.

Once you’ve determined those attributes, consider individuals in groups you might encounter: home, work, religious or community groups, and friends. From a professional standpoint, consider individuals in these places: your office; your company, but not in your office or department; professional organizations; alumni programs; friends or colleagues of family members.

Identify individuals with the qualities you want to emulate. Consider several individuals you’d like to approach and schedule a short meeting with each of them. Tell them that you’ve identified them as having qualities you’d like to further develop and ask if they will work with you to help you grow professionally. Most individuals will be flattered that you’ve asked them to mentor you. It’s important to establish guidelines at the outset so that expectations can be met on both sides: overall time commitment, frequency of meetings, and preparation before each meeting.

There are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to end a mentoring relationship if you’ve accomplished your goals together, especially if you’ve been successful emulating the qualities you were seeking. Some mentoring relationships will continue for years as you both grow together. Remember that your mentor is continually learning during your relationship as well.

Rebecca Machinga

Rebecca Machinga, CPA, CGMA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown. She leads the firm’s real estate services group, co-chairs the steering committee of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Development Initiative, and participates on several firm committees.

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