We all know the many benefits of having a mentor in life. Be it personal or professional, we all like to second check our thoughts with people who we trust. Whether it’s going to be your first college, your first internship, taking feedbacks as we prepare for our first job, planning a switch, higher studies, moving to another city and so on! The situations where we seek input from someone who has been through that situation are diverse. The corporate jungle that we enter is full of common, mysterious, less traveled and totally unexplored paths.
One thing helps in wading through such situations. And that’s reaching out to someone who has perhaps been in similar situations. Whether you want to chart your own specific path or follow a proven degree to job journey. It’s almost always better to be cognizant of what’s around you, what’s already happened, and what new can be there in the near future. And who can be a good person to discuss all this while you process the information internally.
So, if you could collect any evidence that can help you decide the path to be taken or a path to be avoided for sure, definitely do that!
At most, if not each of those stages, you would have tried consulting with near and dear ones around you. Taking opinion from your family members, your spouse, a friend, or a college senior around you. They all unofficially fill the gap of a mentor in a way at a different point in our lives. And as it would happen, sometimes it can be good and sometimes not so effective. I purposefully won’t call it ‘bad’ , because I believe everyone in their capacity tries to suggest good when you would ask for help. The problem arises when their own experience is limited and their advice in relation to your objective or your potential, might be ineffective. I don’t intend to imply that I have a scale that measures the effectiveness of the suggestion. But that’s where the importance of an approach to decision making becomes all the more important.
A Case of Two Students
For example, consider two students interested in a supply chain job after finishing their undergraduate studies. One discusses informally with family, friends, and seniors around it. Everyone suggests that it’s a good field to go into. The pay is good and plenty of opportunities to grow. He or she applies for some jobs, interviews and joins an upcoming E-commerce company at good pay. Great, a job well done!
The second student discusses with his family and also tries connecting with some professionals already working in the supply chain. He’s able to set up a call with the professional. The professional suggests him to try striking a job in the industry he prefers. He suggests the student that the supply chain is a function needed by companies of various shapes and sizes. From your next-door UPS store to the Cola that you pick from your grocery store, or the car you fancy to drive or self drive in future! The call wraps up and the student gets interested in getting into the Supply Chain for the car industry. But he finds himself not prepared well enough for the job descriptions he sees.
Having no clue, he reaches to the Professional again. The mentor informs, he himself is not working in the car industry.
But based on his experience, he suggests him to look at the various job descriptions of the entry-level jobs of an automobile supply chain company. See if he can understand some key requirements and get some background of the concepts from videos on YouTube.
He also suggests taking an industry certification alongside when possible. And if he needs to find a job immediately for financial reasons, he can probably get started with the first supply chain job he can secure and then give himself time to pick on the skills needed for the automobile industry.
Understanding Possible Pathways
Now in the above two cases, neither of the two options is wrong. You can go either way and there’s no tangible way of knowing whose career would come out better. As you would guess, it would depend on a lot of factors outside of control for either of the students. From performance to company culture, hard work and so on. But at the same time, consider yourself asking these questions-
Who between the two of them is likely to be happier or more satisfied with their job roles?
Who among them is likely better prepared to brace any changes in skill requirements in the supply chain industry?
Who would have a higher likelihood of progressing faster in the same or a different organization?
Be it my first day at college or the last day at my workplace, I have heard multiple people emphasize the importance of having a mentor in your life. And whenever this topic has come, almost everyone re-iterates it and underscore its importance. But even after such a high awareness, especially in the ones who are better educated and working professionally, we seldom seek any mentors around us.
Current Scenario Of Training At Big Organizations
Big companies on a few specific occasions, like college recruitment, would put freshly graduated students under training. Where a ‘skill-based trainer’ may share certain insights to do their jobs better, but sparingly assign a mentor. In some organizations, there might be specialized leadership programs, but there would seldom be any encouragement to seek a mentor. Usually, there would always be people around us in the company we work, the college we study where there are seniors or experienced professionals to help us in certain situations. But usually, those are off-beat scenarios or once in a while conversations. We typically don’t follow it up with a specific agenda or preparation or go beyond the basics.
For example, we might be concerned about getting our first job after college. It would be mostly about which certification one can do, what programming language can one learn. And not about what's the kind of company or industry he should target. Software development currently happens in several companies that are not typically software industries. Similarly be it MBAs, accounting or anything else. And sometimes a student, even though graduating from a science program might not be personally interested to pursue the most obvious profession after his graduation.
Mentors Can Be Wrong Too!
To be honest, there can never be a right or wrong approach, even the mentor you seek can end up misguiding you. Not because, he wished you bad, but simply because he didn’t know much himself. And that’s where the problem comes with informal mentoring. Basically you needed mentoring so you asked from people around you, and a person helps you.
But it’s important to weigh the background of the person who is helping you. Does that person have a suitable education background related to yours? If not have they worked in the area of your interest or connected to it? Most importantly are they usually aware of the latest trends and upcoming things in their industry?
In my experience, often the answer to one or more of the above questions is ‘no’. And while you think you are getting helped, there’s a likely chance that you can get misguided. And that’s why it is important to seek out people who are more informed, responsible and unbiased professionals in the area you intend to develop yourself in. Approach them nicely and try to pick from their experience. Then asses what all can be applied to your current situation and pathway ahead.
The Consistency Issue In Mentorship
Honestly, this approach can usually solve the quality of suggestions you might get. But just one session or a call isn’t enough. You’ll never have all the questions prepared in one go. Not because you didn’t think about your doubts or prepared for the meeting. But once you’ll talk to someone credible, you’ll absorb the information shared by them and then further deeper intent questions will arise.
Now you may want to follow-up for the second round of discussion, but this time the mentor is busy. Approaching them repeatedly can be intrusive, and you find someone else to talk to. And you realize more than half the time you end up explaining the previous context. Or worse, with a new mentor, everything again gets started from the basics.
Basically, it’s easier to follow up with someone reliable who you are level set with initially and get consistent with them. Trying to get suggestions from different persons will be more time taking, exhaustive and with little results. It's the consistency with a reliable mentor that elevates your mentorship experience and the impact of it.
You will end up hearing the same thing, and you give up on the concept. You might end up thinking hard just by yourself and make a decision as to however you feel in that moment. Though still wishing it would have been so better if you second check and have more confidence in the decision you’re taking.
These are a few high-level reasons which should get you thinking about seeking a mentor in your personal, professional or extended social circle-
Decisions related to study and work are often high impact decisions. In many cases, once taken they set you on a path that is very difficult to change later on. It can also be very expensive to switch later on.
It’s prudent to do your due diligence and decide!Finding a credible mentor is difficult. Finding a mentor with whom you can consistently discuss your concerns in a progressive fashion, is even more difficult.
Mentorship is not about a person in your social circle who can just get on a call with you for an hour or more. It’s relevant only when you lookout for someone who has been there in the shoes you’re trying to get in yourself!
I hope this helps you connect with the importance of your career decisions and the process you can adopt to set you on a high flying career path you wish to chart on.
All the best!