Career Wellness

Finding mentors: an easy how-to guide

Now that you know how important mentors are to career success, you may be wondering how you can find one of these scarce resources. Good news: they’re not scarce at all!

If you think you cannot find a mentor, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Or more accurately, you aren’t seeing what is already there. We are surrounded by potential mentors and it is up to us to make the most of these resources. Here’s a quick how-to guide:

Find informal mentors

Look around and see who you’d like to emulate. Perhaps they’ve done well and moved up the organization to the highest level.  Perhaps they’re an amazing public speaker, business developer, project manager or whatever.  Ask for a little bit of their time.  It’s easy to reach out and say “I really admired the work you did on X.  It’s something I’m working on developing myself.  Would you be willing to share some insights with me?” Then schedule a 15 minute call, or lunch, or coffee…any time together will work!  Then, when you get that time, be prepared and be curious.  The conversation will flow easily.

Identify mentors-from-afar

This is what I like to call people who you can learn from even if you cannot get one-on-one time with them.  I have many, many of these in my life and career.  I’ve never said to them, “will you mentor me?” I’ve simply noted what I admired about them and tried to absorb some of it. For example, a CEO I worked with from whom I learned to be a better public speaker.  Or the HR director whose motto was ‘never make a decision for the manager, but never let the manager make the wrong decision.’ Boy, I learned a lot about influencing skills from her. Even my mother-in-law, who could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

How can you do this? Say you observe someone in your organization who is great at leading productive meetings. The key word is observe. When you are in a meeting with them, watch and listen to them very closely.  Pretend you are a scientist.  Where do they sit? How do they sit? What do they say? When are they silent? What facial expressions and body language do they use?  Dissect everything.  Now, think about what would happen if you incorporate some of these behaviors into your own style.  Sure, you may have to tweak a little; some you may try and throw out, but I’m absolutely certain you will learn and grow as a result of this.

Allow your manager to mentor you

This may sound obvious to some, odd to others. I cherish almost every one of my past managers as mentors as well, starting with the wonderful woman who gave me my first opportunity in HR and taught me the ropes. In my experience, most managers really want to do more than tell people what to do all day. They enjoy seeing their team members develop and generally get a lot of satisfaction being instrumental in that.  Don’t wait for the once-a-year development discussion.  Continually ask for feedback, suggestions and opportunities to try out new skills.  If you do this in addition to maintaining your normal high performance, your manager will love you and become one of your biggest career advocates.

Raise your hand for formal mentoring programs

We don’t want to forget the formal opportunities that do exist. Find out if there are any formal mentoring programs in your organization, professional association, in your school, in your community, in your church. You might be surprised at what is out there.  Then, find out the criteria for involvement and if it fits, raise your hand!

Now that we’ve adjusted the lens a little bit, are you seeing mentors everywhere? Congratulations!  The next step is easy: name at least one.  I challenge you to take the next 10 minutes and identify at least one person who can be a mentor to you – formally, informally, your manager, or a mentor from afar.  I’ll bet you can do in 1.  Make it a personal goal to learn something demonstrable from them in the next 30 days.  And, let me know…did you do it? What did you learn?  Comment below to share your experience.

Career Wellness Checkup #17

Do you have a mentor outside your organization?

Last week, we discussed internal mentors and why you should have one.  Having a mentor outside your organization is also critical.  Why? Simply because they are not part of your corporate culture.

  • They will have a different view and can provide you perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have. Plus, it’s good to know what’s happening ‘out there’.
  • They have no skin in the game. They are not competing with you internally; they have no conflicting agenda that might shade their advice to you.
  • Life changes, business changes. If you should leave your company by choice or not, you need contacts and advocates and sounding boards who are not attached to your company and all the emotional baggage that may come with it.

Career Wellness Checkup #16

Do you have a mentor inside your organization?

Mentors are an important factor cited in study after study on career success.  If you are committed to your career success, you should not ignore the power of mentoring.

I’m not talking about waiting for your organization to tap you on the shoulder and offer you a place in a formal mentoring program (if it even has one).  A mentor can be formal or informal, long-term or short-term, broad or narrow-focused.  Yes, I’m using the term ‘mentor’ very broadly.

Formal mentoring programs can offer fantastic opportunities for growth, but what if the tap never comes?  And, even if it might some day, why wait?  Whether you use formal or informal channels, make having a mentor from inside your organization a priority.

Having mentors inside your organization is important because they are operating in the same world you are. They will be more familiar with the corporate culture, policies and processes, which can be of great help to you in navigating them. They also may end up serving as an advocate for you internally, and goodness knows, we can never have too many advocates.

Career Wellness Checkup #15

So you’re on social media.

How well are you managing your brand?

Whether you’re on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs or anything else, you need to realize that every word you write, every picture you share and every connection you make becomes part of your brand.

Here are few tips for actively managing your brand in a way that’s healthy for your career:

1)  Stay engaged. Update, comment, share, tweet or retweet regularly.  When you do, it reminds people that you’re there and often leads them back to your profile.

2) Keep your content aligned with your brand.  If you randomly share anything and everything, you will dilute your brand.  If you’re a tech person, share mostly on tech topics. If you’re a finance person, share mostly on finance. That doesn’t mean you should never color outside the lines but maintain the right balance. A little bit creates interest and dimension. Too much creates confusion.

3) Like, comment on or share content of others with relevant content.  People appreciate it when you share what they say and bring attention to their brand. If they like your content, they may reciprocate. 

4) Stay current.  You are always changing and growing.  Therefore, your profiles and what you share should change too. Read your profile on a regular basis and adjust as needed.

Career Wellness Checkup #14

So, you’ve Googled yourself.  Like what you see?  The good news is, your virtual brand is constantly evolving and you have a great deal of control and influence over what direction it goes.  The bad news is there are so many online channels for your message that it can be overwhelming.

Do you know which social networks you should be using? 

Even though I am a huuuuge proponent of LinkedIn, I am even more a proponent of being in the right “space” — the one that makes sense for you, given your profession, industry and goals. Each social network is a community and the members of the community make it what it is.  Take time to learn about those which are being used by people who do what you do.  If you don’t know…ask them!  Find out: Who is there? What do they do there? How do they engage? This will help you decide which is right for you.

Now, for most professional/administrative/managerial/executive workers (which is generally the population that read this blog), LinkedIn is absolutely the place to be. It’s a free, virtual space where you can post your “professional billboard”.  You get to write about you, what you you’ve done, what you’re good at and so on.  What you choose to include here shapes what people will know and believe about you.  Yes, it greatly mirrors a resume.  But you don’t have to send it out to dozens or hundreds of people.  It is there for the viewing at any time.  And, as you connect with people, share your status, comment on or start discussions, it drives people to see your profile, reinforcing your brand. One more word about LinkedIn: It is not just about job search.  In fact, it’s mostly not about job search.  It’s about engaging with other professionals in your network for mutual benefit, whatever that means for you at the moment.

Twitter is less well-understood by many, but can also be a great resource for professionals, both in influencing their virtual presence and in acquiring useful information and contacts.  No, it’s not all about celebrity watching, though if you want that, you can find it there.  You can also find thought leaders in every industry from everywhere around the globe. And you can share your thoughts with others who care about the same things you do.  What you share there (or “tweet”) and who you engage with becomes part of your brand.   If you know a lot about marketing analysis and you engage and share on Twitter about marketing analysis, guess what? Soon, people learn that you have this particular area of knowledge or expertise.  If you’re not on Twitter yet, you don’t even have to join to check it out. Try this: Go to https://twitter.com/search-home and search any topic of professional interest to you. (You can search by using the plain words or by using a hashtag – for ex: Java vs. #Java – you’ll get some different results either way).  You’ll probably be amazed at what you can find.

CWC #2

Do you have a good relationship with your leader?  Take my quick Career Wellness Checkup poll:

Your direct leader is in the best position to tout you or torpedo you. They will generally be perceived as the most credible source when it comes to your performance. If you don’t have a good relationship, how realistic is it to expect that they will advocate for you? For that project you really want to participate in, for that promotion, for that bonus?

You don’t have to be their best friend, but if you are talking smack behind their back, the negativity is coming through somewhere, trust me.  Recognize that your leader is an important part of your network. They may become a mentor, a sponsor. Don’t neglect that relationship or but develop it.

CWC #1

Do you know who your internal clients are?  Take my quick Career Wellness Checkup poll:

Unless you are the CEO, you absolutely have internal clients of some sort. These may or may not be the actual recipients of your services. They are the individuals who have the ability to control or strongly influence whether or not the services provided by you, your team or your department will be “purchased”/utilized.  For example, if you are in IT, every person who has a budget which they can allocate to technology if they choose is a client or potential client.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore the recipients of your services when they don’t hold the purse-strings. They may have influence on the decisionmakers even if they, themselves, aren’t actually making the purchasing decision. But it’s important to know who actually makes the cost/value judgement at the end of the day.

Making the most of a new job after a layoff

credit: Karl Sinfield CCA-SA

You’ve just landed a new job after a rocky journey through Unemploymentland.  Now, it’s time to relax, right?  Breathe a sigh of relief and just let life get back to normal, right? Right?

No way.

If you want to not just survive, but thrive, attend to these three key issues:

Financial

Given what you now know first-hand about the job market, you understand all too well the need to have a financial cushion.

  • If your unemployment was shorter than expected, you may actually be the recipient of a financial windfall. It just might be a good idea to stash away that extra cash.
  • If your unemployment was longer than expected, begin replenishing your savings right away.  Keep your pared-down lifestyle and spending habits and put away those extra dollars.  It may take time to regain the position you were in before.

Professional

Establish a strong foundation right from the beginning.

  • Make a 30-60-90 day plan for yourself, even if no one requires it of you.  At a minimum, learn about your company, your department, who the stakeholders in your work are, how your work will be measured, and what and who your resources are.
  • Show a strong work ethic from the very beginning. You have to earn credibility and respect. But, also set your boundaries with intention right from the get-go.  Whatever you establish at the beginning is what people will expect going forward.

Emotional

I see people all the time who are not prepared for the emotional challenges that come with re-employment.  Expect to be uncomfortable.

  • You will be on a steep learning curve again and, while it can be exciting, it can also be stressful.  Be forgiving of yourself as you grow.
  • Your ego may have taken a hit and it may take time to rebuild your confidence.  Acknowledge and celebrate what you bring to this new table.  They hired you for a reason – you’ve got what they want.
  • You may find you are physically worn-out as well.  Take care of yourself physically – eat well, sleep well.  If your foundation is weak,you will be more emotionally vulnerable.

It is said that every ending is also a beginning.  Make the most of yours.

Celebrate the season and a new year

Wow, can it be two months since my last post?  Apparently so.  Considering the interesting twists in my own career this Fall perhaps it is to be expected.  The most well defined change for me was being asked to join the adjunct faculty at Rollins College, and teach a class in the Masters of Human Resources program from which I graduated over a decade ago.  I absolutely loved it!  Of course, I knew I would.  It is something that has been ‘on my path’ my entire life.

I am now enjoying a little downtime and of course, celebrating the holidays.  I hope you are too.  Everyone needs downtime, to recharge, redefine or both.  And finding time to be grateful for our family, our faith, or whatever we appreciate in this life is a non-negotiable as we like to say in the corporate world.  Happy holidays to you!

Summer celebration – free profile review!

I love summer!  It’s a time to get outdoors, spend time with family and enjoy a little relaxation and renewal.  Speaking of renewal, it’s also a good time to refresh your LinkedIn profile.  

In celebration of summer, I am announcing a “giveaway”: a free LinkedIn profile review to the first 10 new subscribers after this post is published.  The subscription itself is free – all you have to do is click the button on the blog that says, “Yes, review my profile!” and you will begin receiving notifications via email of new posts.  I don’t post every day, so I promise not to clutter up your inbox. 

Once I confirm your subscription, I will reach out via email and ask you to provide me the URL to your public profile.  Then, after my review, I’ll follow up and share my feedback.  It’s that simple!

Thanks for reading and subscribing.  Enjoy your summer!