Showing the way

Entry-level accounting and finance
professionals can’t always depend on
their companies to find a mentor, suggests a new survey. The majority of the
chief financial officers surveyed (58 percent) said that it is uncommon for new
employees to be matched with mentors to
help them up the career ladder — either
formally or informally — within their

The survey, developed by Accountemps,
was conducted by an independent
research firm and included responses
from more than 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or
more employees.

“Mentoring is certainly a valuable way
for companies to transfer wisdom, nurture talent and get new employees up to
speed quicker … but not many companies
make the effort to create mentoring programs,” says Tom May, Cleveland branch
manager for Accountemps. But, May said,
even if a company does not have a mentoring program, there’s a lot an employee
can do to seek out his or her own personal mentor.

Smart Business spoke with May about
the importance of creating mentoring programs and what employees can do if no
such program is available.

What are the benefits of a mentoring program — from both the employer and employee perspectives?

From the company’s perspective, it is an
excellent way for new hires to become
more productive more quickly. It also
helps new employees understand the corporate culture, office protocol, and how
to confidently handle sensitive situations.

From the employee’s perspective, having a mentor for those first few crucial
months on the job helps them get up to
speed quicker, helps them grow in their
professional career and, ultimately, makes
them a better employee. A mentor — or a confidant — within a company can help a
new employee understand the aspects of
an organization that often are not obvious
to a newcomer.

Why do you think so few companies institute
mentoring programs?

In the financial world, in particular,
experienced professionals (who would
make excellent mentors) are often hard
pressed to squeeze a mentoring relationship into their already-packed schedules.
Plus, companies themselves often don’t
see it as a priority to start a mentoring program. Employers do see the value of these
programs, but it is something that gets put
on the back burner and often never gets
implemented because of time constraints.

What could a newly hired employee do if no
mentoring program is available?

New hires should not expect a mentor to
come knocking on their door. Employees
need to be proactive and seek out one —
or more — informal mentor. And companies that don’t have a formal mentoring program often encourage this kind of
informal mentoring.

Employees don’t necessarily have to say,
‘Will you be my mentor?’ but instead they
need to work to form casual alliances
with employees they admire, who are
well-established in the company, and who
are also approachable. The employee
needs to feel safe and comfortable asking
this ‘mentor’ for advice.

What kind of person would be a good informal mentor to a new employee?

Someone with wisdom and perspective
— and age or title is not necessarily a factor in that. The employee should also seek
out people who not only have the required
skills they want to emulate, but who are
admired and respected. Also, new employees should not rule out finding mentors outside the company through professional and community organizations.

There also can be different kinds of
mentors. One can guide employees on the
technical aspects of their job; other mentors can guide them on the managerial or
corporate-culture aspect of the company.

While this may be out of the comfort
zone of some employees, they need to
remember that these ‘mentors’ are often
honored to be asked advice.

Finding a mentor is not something new
employees often think about doing. But,
while it is an underused tool, it can truly
help a new employee’s learning curve and
ultimately help advance a career.

TOM MAY is the Cleveland branch manager for Accountemps,
which has more than 350 offices throughout North America,
Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search
services at Reach May at (440) 777-8367 or [email protected].