Under your wing

Entry-level accounting and finance
professionals are rarely taken
under a mentor’s wing, a new survey suggests. According to a poll
developed by Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary
financial professionals, the majority
(58 percent) of the 1,400 CFOs polled
said that it is uncommon for newly
hired employees to be matched with
mentors, either formally or informally,
within their organizations.

“Mentoring is one of the best ways
for a business to get a new employee
up to speed, but it is a practice that is
rarely implemented in business,” says
Melinda Alison, St. Louis regional vice
president of Robert Half International,
the parent company of Accountemps.

Smart Business spoke with Alison
about the reasons businesses should
put a mentoring program in place and
the benefits it can offer a company.

What are the benefits of a mentoring program, from both from the mentor and protégé
point of view?

For the newly hired, having a mentor
within the company is a wonderful
way for the person to feel secure, supported, and guided on what it takes to
be successful in the organization. It
also helps employees enhance their
own skill sets, which makes them
more valuable to the company. For
mentors, it allows them to hone their
own leadership and communication
skills. It is also a huge form of flattery
for top workers to be identified as
strong employees who are good role
models. What this means to the business, ultimately, are happy employees
who are, in turn, loyal employees.

Why aren’t more companies providing mentors to entry-level staff?

The best explanation is that the benefits of mentoring programs are not
yet on many businesses’ radar screens.
It is not expensive to implement a
mentoring program, but it does take
time and planning.

What steps need to be taken to create a mentoring program?

Identify the employees’ needs. What
do your newly hired employees need?
Some might need a mentor on technical aspects of the job. Others might
need help on communication or leadership skills. Identify the categories of
employees that need mentoring.
Often, it’s not only new employees
who need mentoring. See if mentoring
can reach other areas of your staff,
such as administrative or newly promoted managers.

Identify the mentors. Don’t pair an
employee with his or her supervisor —
this does not make for a comfortable
mentoring situation. Instead, find
employees in another area of the company who have proven track records
in managing or coaching employees.
The mentor does not necessarily have
to be in a leadership role, but, instead,
should be a person who has characteristics that you want other employees
to learn and emulate.

Get a mentor agreement in writing.
You might want to contact your HR
department for help on writing up a
formal agreement. Identify a timeline
for the mentor program with specific
goals and objectives.

Track success. Discuss the mentoring program at monthly management
meetings and share success stories
with the rest of the company.

What can professionals do to find a mentor
when their employers don’t provide them,
either formally or informally?

Some employees who are very
career-focused and want to move up
within the organization will sometimes
seek out informal mentor opportunities on their own. Professionals may
need to be proactive in their search
and give potential mentors good reasons for wanting to spend time with
them. Networking with industry-specific organizations can also pinpoint
mentors outside a company.

No one person knows it all, and it’s
perfectly acceptable to work with
more than one mentor at a time.
Perhaps one individual might help you
hone technical skills, while another
provides management expertise or
industry knowledge. An experienced
mentor can also provide insight into
areas that aren’t taught in school but
are essential to career success, such
as office protocol and how to handle
sensitive situations. Your number one
priority should be to maximize what
you can learn from a mentor.

Employees — both those in need of
mentoring, and those that feel that
they have the capacity to become mentors — should discuss the benefits of
formal and informal mentoring opportunities with their supervisor or HR

MELINDA ALISON is the St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International (www.rhi.com). Reach her at (314) 456-6574 or
[email protected].