The job hunt: Key step to career success: Find a mentor

Learn from the voice of experience

Contributing columnistOctober 1, 2012 

Lenroy Jones

You need look no further than Hollywood to see the value of mentors. After all, even Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Finding a mentor is a common goal for workers and one that helps them grow, but how do you determine who's appropriate to be yours?

People who make the best mentors have experience in their vocation and offer you a chance to learn and grow from their life lessons. Good mentors are also individuals who have a passion to teach others their wealth of experience.

My most effective mentor was Wayne Wallace, a leader in the career services field who led such efforts at the University of Florida. With years of experience he was willing to share, he provided consistent and honest insight about the inner workings of higher education as well as excellent insight for my job search. He was always only a call away and always made time for me.

Many mentors, such as Wallace, go unnoticed by the media. He was well-known in his field as a promoter of leadership development, and 15 of his former staffers in career services have become executive managers throughout the United States.

That's proof that whether you are employed or looking for employment, securing a mentor is essential to your success.

Mentors can accelerate your career progress and help you avoid missteps.

In his book Knock 'em Dead: Secrets and Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, career management and job search expert Martin Yate shares clear criteria for selecting mentors:

■ Mentoring is not a group activity.

■ The best mentors are older than you.

■ Let the relationship develop naturally over time.

■ The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the protégé.

■ The mentor must be committed to being a mentor.

■ Find someone who will tell it straight.

If your job or job search has stalled, consider identifying and securing a mentor. Understand, though, that finding a mentor doesn't absolve you of your responsibility in becoming successful or finding a job.

This person can provide you excellent insight, though, if you're willing to listen and take the steps to determine your best course of action.

I remember many conversations with Wallace. While he would always provide solid advice, he also listened and pointed out areas to consider more deeply. I always respected his opinion. Even though I disagreed with him from time to time, it was with the utmost reverence. We had mutual respect for one another, even though he was senior to me and had strong credentials.

While a good mentor won't necessarily take your side, he or she will be a good sounding board and give you an honest and different perspective.

Mentors don't merely disagree with you to play devil's advocate. Offering a different perspective is in your best interest, but remember it is your job and job search. You should be assertive and own your decisions, but do listen carefully to your mentor.

Some of the most effective mentors I've had, including Wallace, also shared insight into their personal lives that strengthen the relationship.

I no longer can call and have those conversations with Wallace, as he lost his battle with cancer this past summer.

But he's truly not gone. Every day, I'm given opportunities to work in my purpose and passion because of the impact he had on me.

Thank you, Wayne Wallace.

Lenroy Jones is the associate director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. He has a master's degree in college and university administration from Michigan State University. Join him on LinkedIn, "like" him at Facebook.com/CareerDude or follow him as @CareerDudeTweet on Twitter.

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