Finding a Mentor: The Value of the Mentor Relationship
There’s no doubt that hard technical skills are crucial to be successful in engineering-related professions. We’ve previously touched on how important power skills are, as well. Power skills include communication, emotional intelligence, and critical, creative, collaborative thinking.
These skills are invaluable in varied situations, including when engineers need to communicate their ideas to both technical and non-technical people through presentations and technical papers. One of the advantages of a mentor relationship is that the mentor can advise the mentee on how best to acquire power skills and give feedback on how to handle particular situations.
Developing a mentor relationship benefits any engineer, whether you’re just starting your career or you’re at a high level in your organization. Indeed, 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs.
Beyond power skills, there are other reasons why having a mentor is extremely valuable. This person can help the mentee set priorities and goals for projects, as well as helping to reach those goals. They also give the mentee critical feedback on everything from leadership skills to time management. By engaging in this relationship, the mentee can avoid costly mistakes and grow professionally, building on strengths and compensating for weaknesses.
Finding a Mentor: Learning Never Stops
The truth is that, whether you’re a freshman in college or have multiple degrees under your belt, learning never stops. That’s especially important to remember for engineers in their 30s, 40s, and beyond who may believe they’re finished with proactive learning. Mike Bergelson, founder of the mentor-matching site Everwise, says, “The skills that got you this promotion will not get you to the next promotion.”
An example of a productive mentor relationship is that between Mohit Aron, who started Cohesity, a maker of hyperconverged secondary storage (HCSS), and the Executive Chairman of storage technology supplier NetApp, Dan Warmenhoven.
When Aron was conducting interviews for positions in sales, he says, “[Dan made me realize] that I was interviewing salespeople like engineers. He helped me interview salespeople to identify red flags early on and to test for a culture match. He made me realize that I should not check the references that the candidate gives me. I should check with peers and people who reported to [that person] to seek neutral references.”
Finding a Mentor: What to Look for In a Mentor
Whether this person is part of your company or in a completely different industry, your new mentor should possess the skills and acumen that you want to attain.
It would be wise for you to look for mentors roughly three to eight years older than you, since they will have recently dealt with the problems and issues that you’re currently facing. Mentors in this age group will also be able to counsel you best about your current career stage, whether entry level, middle management, or executive level.
In searching for a mentor, keep criteria in mind such as:
- Is this person knowledgeable about your industry and/or have the skills you want to learn?
- Does this person provide authentic insight, sharing personal stories?
- Does this insight include sharing failures and what they learned?
- Does this person ask open-ended questions and actively listen to your answers?
- Is this person open to learning new things?
There’s also a bottom-line gut check – you should get along well with your potential mentor and talk easily with them.
Once you’ve established these things, you can determine the nuts and bolts of the mentor relationship, including goals, meeting times, and meeting cadence.
Finding a Mentor: Powerful Insight
There are all kinds of ways to keep educating yourself throughout your career, from reading business books to training courses to volunteer work. But having a mentor is perhaps the most powerful way to gain insight into your decision making.
In our next post, we’ll examine the mentor side of the relationship.