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How to find a mentor

Published: Aug 2019

From our 2018 Women in Treasury Annual Global Study 79% of respondents felt that mentoring was key to career advancement. However, navigating the path to finding a mentor is not always clear. We asked Kristy Duncan, CEO of Women in Payments, for her advice on how to find and nurture critical mentor relationships over the course of your career.

First, let’s consider the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor is someone who can offer insights and guidance to a more junior person, be it in their career or in a different setting. A sponsor is someone who actively advocates on behalf of a more junior person, offering public support and advocacy to help advance the career or position of that person, either within or outside their organisation.

If I were looking for a mentor, I’d look for someone who has a good overview of the industry. I’d want someone who can provide guidance on both the type of role, for example relationship management, technology, or strategy; as well as offering thoughts on different areas or organisations in the industry that might be considered to round out my resume. I’d look for someone whose experience and judgement I respect, but that may be very different from my own, so I may learn from them in developing my own career.

One concept I really like, is that of the ‘personal board of directors’. This is a handful of people you invite to help guide you through your career, and possibly other areas of your life. You can select people from within your professional network, as well as from your personal network, whose advice you value, and who can offer you different perspectives for consideration. You might set a goal of meeting or speaking with each of them either at set intervals (starting with semi-annually), or on an ad hoc basis as the need arises. When inviting people to this role, you should be clear what you are requesting, both in terms of the type of advice and relationship you are seeking, as well as the term of the ‘board role’.

I’d suggest three ways one might seek a mentor. First would be through a formal or informal mentorship programme. Second, would be to seek informal mentorship from a more senior person in your organisation. This could be done simply by inviting the person for a coffee or breakfast, and requesting career advice. I suspect there would be very few people who would decline the offer, but please respect the polite declines, as it likely indicates the person feels they are not able to commit quality time to a new mentoring relationship. If the coffee meeting goes well, you could suggest quarterly or semi-annual meetings going forward. It is important to respect the very high value of these people’s time.

Third, you could set up your own peer mentoring group. I’d do this by inviting perhaps three like-minded friends or colleagues, who are at a similar career stage, and suggest perhaps monthly or quarterly meetings outside office hours, to share career challenges. You may want to set some guidelines, such as Chatham House Rules, to guide the discussions, to maintain confidentiality of the discussions.

It is important to bear in mind that mentorship is a two way street, in that both the mentor and the mentee should gain value. The mentee gains insights and guidance from the mentor. The mentor benefits from the concept of reverse mentorship, by learning from the mentee about career challenges they face, as well as the perspectives of someone who is at an earlier stage in their career. The mentor can then take these learnings to make changes in their organisation to be more welcoming to a new generation, as well as adjusting the mentor’s own leadership style to be more relevant and supportive to the rising stars in the industry. Another way mentors can benefit from the relationship, is by tapping into the network of the mentee, when seeking to hire new talent.

In all cases, it is extremely important to respect the value of your mentor’s time, and to come to each discussion with a clear agenda, so you can both learn from the relationship.

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