Having a meaningful mentor when starting college will help smooth your path to becoming the accountant you want to be. But this does not mean finding a mentor just to be able to say you have one, or to tick off an item on your to-do list. It’s about finding the “right” mentor for you at any given time in your career—and that can change over the years. You also may work with multiple types of mentors simultaneously to accomplish your goals. This blog post explores the what, why, and who as it pertains to your mentor search.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is someone in a similar career as you (in my case, accounting), who has valuable knowledge and experience in that field, and most importantly, has the time and desire to offer guidance as they share their perspective with you. If you are still in college studying to be an accountant, your mentor might be another student a few years ahead of you or a professor, either of whom can provide general career planning advice. Once you have landed an accounting job, mentors tend to be more senior on the corporate ladder in your firm, or someone in a high up position out in the community, who can help you with next steps as you continue to progress.
Why Do You Need a Mentor?
A mentor serves various purposes, depending on what stage of career development you are currently in and what you want to accomplish. It is, therefore, a good idea to be “purposeful” in your search , so that you attract the right kind of mentor at the right time. First, determine why you need a mentor by clarifying your immediate and long-term goals, and let that govern your search. For example:
- In college, you will need someone to guide you in proper course selection, job interview techniques, tips for taking the CPA exam (i.e., from someone who has recently taken it and passed), and so forth.
- In the workplace, your needs take on another dimension. It’s then time to find someone with the savvy to assist with navigating office dynamics, building colleague and client relationships, and negotiating sensitive things like promotions and raises.
Who Should be Your Mentor?
Since you are in the driver’s seat, you get to control who you want to be your mentor. But it’s not something to rush into. The selection process takes time, as it’s important to get to know the person, to see if you click. Several conversations over coffee and lunch will illuminate whether you are on the same page. An analogy is the dating scene, where you might go through meeting several people until you find someone who is a good match.
Mentors do not necessarily have to come from within your company. The main thing is to find someone you respect in the industry you are pursuing, whether it is a colleague, a friend, or even a family member. When you target mentors outside of your company, you tend to get a more objective approach to problem solving and career planning.
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What Qualities Should You Look for in a Mentor?
Professionalism and trustworthiness are the primary qualities to look for in a potential mentor. Someone who is a good listener and confident in their decision-making also comes into play, as you want their help with some big life decisions. Advice is not a one-size-fits all. In talking to a variety of people, you will no doubt hone your own “must-have” list. This is a very personal quest, with everyone being on their own journey, both mentor and mentee. Continuing with the dating analogy, work towards narrowing it down and then select the person with the values you most admire, and which closely align with yours.
Where is the Best Place to Find a Mentor?
The truth be told, you can find your first (or next) mentor just about anywhere: in the classroom environment, at college campus recruiting events, mixers, networking events, volunteer and community outreach activities or among friends and family. So, be aware when you are out and about socializing and meeting people that a potential mentor could be found in everyday situations of life—on and off campus, and in or out of the office setting.
In closing, I’d like to offer a few key tips that I have observed that will help establish a lasting mentor relationship:
- Ask if they have time to meet with you
- Start off with a short relaxed meeting and a few phone calls
- After a few meetings, tell them you like the information and guidance they provide
- Don’t blurt out, will you be my mentor?
- Take the time to build a relationship!