Interviewing For A Mentor

Jul 28 2010 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

One of the top things a candidate should look for during an interview is a mentor. How can you tell if managers at your target company could be good mentors?

A common predictor for success in most new jobs is a strong mentor relationship. Job seekers should add this their list of criteria for a new position and consider it one of the key things to look for in a new position.

It’s much easier to see job responsibilities than to see if someone will be a good mentor. Here are a few ways to discover if the person interviewing you or managers at your target company could be a potential mentor.

Why Is Interviewing For A Mentor Important?

If you are looking for success in your next job and seek more than a paycheck, you’ll need to decide if you’ll find a good mentor at the company you are considering. According to Amy Barrett of Business Week “Mentors aren’t your parents, friends, or even your more generous investors. They are business veterans whose only role is to tell you what you really need to hear about your company. Mentors do plenty of cheerleading, of course, but their real value is in the objective, unvarnished advice they can provide.”

Forbes Magazine quoted research by Gerard Roche, senior chairman at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles who found “Executives who have had mentors have earned more money at a younger age.” Roche’s research also demonstrated that “those who have had mentors are happier with their career progress and derive greater pleasure from their work.”

While it should be clear that a mentor relationship at your next job should be an important criteria, few candidates put this high on their wish lists. It’s a huge mistake.

According to Accenture’s CFO Pamela Craig, the firm’s study found that just 13% of those surveyed said they use a mentor at work for career advice. This is interesting because, these same respondents also stated that they clearly saw the value of a workplace mentor: “mentors helped them think differently about certain situations, helped them with their current roles, helped them see more opportunities and possibilities, and helped identify their skills and capabilities.”

While workers routinely turn to friends, family, peers, these sources while still valuable, probably don’t know the inner workings, culture , and politics of your company – only an insider can really provide that.

Why would so few use mentors, when so many see the value? Why do few make this a key point in their job search wish list, when recruiting experts tie a monetary and happiness value to working with a mentor?

Finding a good mentor is difficult – it takes time. Finding a mentor requires building a relationship with someone who you can trust, who you can communicate with, who you can take constructive criticism from, and who is willing to invest the time into helping you.

No matter your level of experience, a good mentor can help you:

* Learn from their past successes (and failures)
* Gain valuable feedback, long before you get an official employee review
* Understand factors for success in your company and industry
* Understand your knowledge/experience gaps and how to close them
* Gain introductions to your mentor’s network
* By playing “devil’s advocate” for you
* By being an independent sounding board to discuss problem resolution
* Navigate the politics of your organization

The New York Times article contained a great quote about the value of mentors: “Mentors allow you the benefit of their experience to see around corners and anticipate what is coming at you so you can make better decisions.”

What To Look For In A Mentor?

A checklist of what to look for in a mentor include:

  • The best mentors are within your company – or if your company is small, within your industry or profession
  • Choose a mentor who’s a few rungs above your immediate boss, who can see your organization (or industry) from a broader level than your boss.
  • Find a mentor that you admire … ideally someone who commands respect throughout your organization or industry.
  • Find a mentor who’s not afraid to get tough with you. Finding a cream puff won’t help you grow – find someone who will kindly push you to greater success.
  • Choose a mentor who enjoys mentoring. There’s a big difference in the value a mentor brings if they want to be in the game.
  • Availability and selflessness – Barbara Wankoff national director of workplace solutions at the auditing firm KPMG, was quoted by The New York Times advising “It all comes down to time and availability … You want a mentor who is going to make your needs a priority, no matter what might get in the way.”

What Questions Should You Ask To Find About Mentorship During Interviews?

While your primary goal during the interview process should be to sell yourself to the company, savvy candidates also use the process to learn if the opportunity and company are a good fit. One of the key items to look for should be mentorship opportunities.

Since you probably realize it’s not wise just to blurt out during an interview “Will you be my mentor?”, you’ll want to look for clues and ask a few pointed questions during the process.

Some direct questions to help discover mentors:

  1. Does your company have a mentorship program?” – Some companies have a formalized program to match senior managers with employees for a formalized mentorship program.
  2. One thing I’m looking for in my next employer is a great mentor. Do you have a mentor at the company? How were you able to find a great mentor here?
  3. Ask your network: Ask your contacts who work at the company, or contact others in your Linkedin network who work at the company. It’s ok to be direct here by asking contacts that you’re considering a position at their company, and you wanted to learn how your contact found a mentor at the company.” If you’re going through Linkedin, and you get a high percentage of non-responses, that may tell you something about mentorship opportunities at your target company.

More likely, you’ll find your answers more indirectly:

  1. Ask HR: What resources does the company provide to help employees succeed and increase company contribution?
  2. Ask the hiring manager: I’m interested to learn how you rose through your career at this company. What were some of the key factors of your success here?
  3. Ask the hiring manager’s boss (or boss’ boss): How do you develop employees for advancement?
  4. Ask Team members, your network, and your Linkedin contacts at the company: How do people stand out here? How have you navigated the internal politics here? How does management develop and choose employees for promotion?

The goal of mentorship questions isn’t to find a VP who’s willing to sponsor you after 5 minutes – That’s not very realistic. Instead, look to see if the managers you’ll be working for view mentorship as valuable in their organizations. Seek out peers to see how difficult the organization made it to find mentors, and if the company supports and promotes these types of professional relationships.

The New York Times Article quoted Joe Watson, chief executive of Without Excuses (a diversity consulting firm) who added: “Too many workers are waiting for the equivalent of the ‘Career Fairy’ to come down and appoint them a divine mentor who can look out for their interests. These types of relationships take chemistry, synergy and trust, none of which happen overnight.”

Readers – Please share in the comments below how you’ve found clues about companies views towards mentoring, or how you’ve discovered a mentoring interest during your job search.


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