When Tammi Lauder graduated from college, she took a secretarial job at a broker-dealer while she saved money to pursue a master's degree in social work. While at the firm, one of the investment advisers for whom she worked became her mentor.
"Over the years, as his business grew, we worked one on one and he gave me responsibility of handing some of his relationships independently," says Lauder, now a senior vice president/wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.
They split those accounts 50/50. It was her first taste of commission-based compensation and she was hooked. Though her mentor left to work on institutional accounts, "my mentor encouraged me to go to the manager and make my case to keep the account and go out on my own."
In finance, "we don't make a product, so we understand that our people are our product," says Paul Silverglate, a strategic client services partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in San Jose, Calif. "We build our whole business around developing our people, building a pipeline of talent and retaining them," he says. Young professionals come out of school equipped with the ability to number crunch, but "they haven't learned the human interaction side of the business and that comes from mentoring," says Silverglate.
Mentors Are a Benefit -- Treat Them Like One
Mentors, unlike friends, are often long-time professionals who can help guide and advise you in the development of your career. Perhaps no one benefits more from mentoring relationships than junior employees -- or those in their first few jobs out of college or graduate school. "Young professionals want mentors who can give them encouragement and space to grow," and organizations that provide access to a mentor is often one of the criteria they look for in a position, says Thomas J. Delong, an organizational behavior professor at Harvard Business School.
In addition to helping develop your skills and guide you in your career, mentors can help you build your professional network and learn the ins and outs of navigating the organization.
The Mentor Search -- Formal
To find a mentor, the best place to start is with the resources an employer already offers. "Most employees are surprised to discover that their companies have mentoring programs that they didn't even know about," says Beth Carvin, CEO and president of Nobscot Corp., a retention management consulting firm in Honolulu. About 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs. Ask your human resources or training and development department at your company to tell you what programs may be available.
Other good places to find mentors are local and state organizations in your field, as well as alumni associations. But don't just join these groups, participate in their events and get involved. "Many people who are involved in these groups are seasoned career professionals who have much experience to share," says Charles H. Cleaver, administration director and deputy controller of Saginaw County, Mich. "Being involved in committee at these groups with them can give you connections and access to information you wouldn't ordinarily have," he says.
The Mentor Search -- Informal
If you would rather not reach out through a formal mentoring program, there are countless opportunities to find someone to guide you. Often, it is as simple as asking someone whom you admire. "I was in discussion with a gentleman from a different division as we looked to solve a problem. His ability to think in the abstract and his intuitiveness was amazing," says Rich DeSalvo, who was a managing director and director of mutual funds, unit investment trusts, 529 plans, closed-end funds, offshore funds and money markets for Morgan Stanley's broker-dealer division. "I immediately wanted to spend more time in conversation as I knew I could learn from him. To my good fortune, a few months later, he became my boss," says DeSalvo.
It's tough to know what you're looking for in a mentor if you're not sure what you would like to get out of the relationship. Take a personal inventory and ask yourself what you want to learn or where you need help. Do you want to become a better speaker? Do you want to improve your ability to close a sale? Do you want to become more effective in meetings? DeSalvo wanted to learn how to think more abstractly. "When I was in meetings with my boss, I listened to not only what he said, but asked myself why he said it the way he did," says DeSalvo. "Over time, I began to anticipate where he was going with a discussion."
Be very clear upfront about the parameters of the relationship. Is it a one-off, advice-giving session or something more labor intensive such as monthly face-to-face meetings? "Set your expectations up front about how much time, how often as well as confidentiality and potential conflicts of interest," says Carvin.
Realize mentoring is a two-way street. While many people enjoy creating a legacy and teaching the younger generation, the relationship will be much more meaningful and effective if you offer something in return. Of course, many young professionals think they have nothing to offer their more seasoned colleagues, but take stock of your skills to see where you might help them. You're likely more tech-savvy than your mentor and can help them set up a LinkedIn page or teach them how to use Twitter.
For many young professionals, a mentor may alter the course of their entire work career. "I don't think I would have stayed in this business without his initial guidance and support," says Lauder, who never did pursue her masters in social work.
-- Toddi Gutner
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