That special someone

Starting a new job can be tough. You’re the new person in an office of established employees and, at times, you can feel like you’re alone on an island. Imagine how much easier the transition would be if there were someone at work that could help you learn the corporate culture, help you cultivate new contacts, and even boost your morale.

“Mentors must be able to supply support and guidance without micromanaging their protgs,” says Joanna Puglisi, vice president of the Chicagoland Region of Accountemps. “Mentors should not direct their protgs’ careers, but help guide them.”

Smart Business spoke to Puglisi about how a healthy relationship between a protg and a mentor can be satisfying and long-lasting.

Why have so few financial executives not had a mentor during their career?
One of the main reasons is that many companies don’t offer a formal mentoring program. Another reason is that professionals at all levels have many demands on their time and may find it difficult to commit adequate time to a mentoring relationship. At some companies, a mentoring program is standard and part of the orientation process for all employees. There are even companies that compensate their managers for time mentoring other employees. The biggest problem is a lack of awareness by a company that a mentoring program can be beneficial to employees.

What are the benefits of a mentor relationship?
Mentoring is crucial for fostering talent, promoting best practices and transferring wisdom. Mentors can offer introductions to key industry contacts and give the up-and-coming professional an insider’s perspective of the business.

For those who have successfully climbed the career ladder and are acting as mentors, there can be significant personal satisfaction in sharing the knowledge and expertise they learned along the way with beginning professionals.

How can beginning professionals specifically benefit from this relationship?
A mentoring relationship often helps them better understand the relevance of their overall contribution to the company’s big picture. A mentor can work with them to enhance their technical abilities, and also increase their value to the organization by suggesting areas outside their current responsibilities that can prepare them for the next level.

How can employers implement a mentoring program?
First, get staff input to make sure you structure the program around their needs. If your company has human resources representatives, get their advice on the best method for the team. Before establishing the program, it’s very important to have clearly defined objectives and to know what your primary goals are.

What is the most effective way for employers to identify potential mentors?
Choose people that not only have the essential technical skills that others can emulate, but those who are also excellent communicators and coaches. Offering advice and acting as a sounding board are keys to being a good mentor. These attributes are less about the number of years on the job and more a matter of highly-developed interpersonal skills.

Employers should also make sure that protgs are not paired with their supervisors. One of the keys to a strong mentoring relationship is the ability to talk freely about a wide range of topics, from office politics to career aspirations. It’s important to maintain a sense of trust. Establishing confidentiality guidelines up front and putting expectations in writing can be very helpful in ensuring the discussions are kept private and prevent.

Who gets the ball rolling?
Sometimes, people want to give back to the company and have that natural instinct to help others, so they will volunteer to help. Other times, employees don’t know that a formal mentoring program exists until someone taps them on the shoulder and asks them to be a mentor.

What are the advantages of being asked to mentor?
Being asked to mentor shows that the company respects your work. It can enhance your value to the organization by building on your supervisory, leadership and training skills.

Finally, do you have any advice for finance professionals seeking a mentor?
A mentor can be from the same company or even another firm. The mentor doesn’t need to be older; peer relationships can be just as rewarding.

During the first meeting, the protg should be prepared with solid questions to get the relationship off to a strong start. Intelligent questions lay the groundwork for a working relationship that will hopefully last past the time frame of the formal program. Also, don’t limit yourself to one mentor. In many cases you’re better off with a circle of mentors who have expertise in a wide range of areas.

JOANNA PUGLISI is vice president of the Chicagoland Region of Accountemps. Reach her at (847) 480-7995 or [email protected].