Keeping your career on track : The role of mentors


The theme of the last tip on sponsors would seem to be don’t underestimate the power of your network. The truth is that all the tips are entwined. How to leverage your network is also the core theme for this one too.  Now I want to talk about mentors.

If you want to continuously learn, you’ll need mentors. A mentor, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is an experienced and trusted advisor. While a sponsor needs to have some level of power to be effective, a mentor does not.  A mentor only needs to have knowledge in a domain that you don’t.

I have sought out mentors for vastly different things over the years.

Some of my mentors (Kelsey Howarth and Mary Hall) worked for me at the time they started to mentor me. These lovely ladies taught me so much about using social media that I can never thank them enough.

Some mentors have been peers, like Marta McMichael who mentored me as a newly titled Director. Other mentors were executives like Lisa Johnston who mentored me on career progression and making it to the executive level.

Other mentors were people I met at all levels in IBM.  If you’ve read “This is my Kingdom and I am King” you have “met” Steve Bates, one of my first mentors in the business world who helped me survive and navigate my first years as a professional in IBM.

The list goes on and on and on. You don’t need a formal mentoring relationship to be mentored.  You just need to be in learning mode and ask experts for their help and advice.

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One way to put to work the combination of mentors and career goals and sponsors is by leveraging what we call Executive Interview (EI) meetings at IBM AN EI is not an actual interview. It is a meeting that you proactively request to sit down and talk with an executive.  An EI should be short (30 min max) and you should have a goal and a reason why you are asking to speak with a particular executive.  You may know the executive or you may not.  If you don’t, you can ask to be introduced with the goal of an EI by someone in your network who does know the executive.

You can get knowledge and advice about a lot of things. It could be advice on breaking into a new domain. You can ask for opinions when you are trying to decide between multiple options or directions. There are countless things you can leverage executive expertise on about your career which will also enable you to make yourself known to executives who don’t have you in their line of sight as a matter of course.

A few tips on optimizing your time and theirs.

  • Don’t spend all your time talking about yourself.

  • Share a resume beforehand.

  • Prepare a 5 minute introduction of they key things they should know about you (I outlined how you might put that together in the blog First Week on the job? Get to know your team! ).

  • Prepare a list of questions to specifically ask for their advice.