The benefits of career mentorship transcend fields, contributing to success in almost any workplace. Along with a good network, a good mentor is an asset to helping you ascend to leadership and adjust to a new role or workplace.
This is particularly useful when you are trying to explore new opportunities in a foreign place.
But how do you find and maintain a good relationship with your mentor? What makes a good mentee?
A visit to LIT ASEAN Careers, an event co-organised by Young NTUC and Temasek Foundation, and supported by the National Youth Council, helped solidify some of these thoughts.
While the day was chock-full of career advice, over an hour of the afternoon was allotted to speaking to career mentors, who are young professionals with working experience in ASEAN.
Here, attendees could seek out their mentors from a number of backgrounds and ask them questions that could help them in their career navigation, especially in the ASEAN markets.
At the end of the day, attendees could choose to commit to a four-month mentoring program with the mentor of their choice.
Whether you work at a company with an established mentorship program or are trying to get up the courage to send that LinkedIn message asking that cool person in your network to coffee (just send it!), here are some of the themes that arose from LIT ASEAN Career mentors.
Know yourself – or at least a little bit about what you want
Though mentors often sit in a position of greater experience than their mentees, that doesn’t mean they’re going to do all of the work for you.
That’s a good thing! Not all of their experience is going to be applicable to your personal career goals.
However, that means that you’re probably going to need to go in with some idea of what you want out of the sessions.
“It’s hard to find a mentor who can help you if you don’t know what interests you,” says Megan Yulga, senior regional manager of brands and campaigns at Circles.Life.
That doesn’t mean that you need to go in with an itemised plan – or even anything too specific.
However, being able to direct that first conversation with something as general as ‘I’d like to work toward a leadership role in my company’ helps immensely.
Then, your mentor knows what exactly from his or her experience is applicable to yours.
“It’s easier to do the hard things – to grow, to change jobs – if you know how you want to succeed,” Megan emphasizes.
Be uncomfortably curious
Ask questions, and don’t shy away from leaving your comfort zone, because a little bit of discomfort is a pretty good sign that you’re growing.
After all, you’ve already taken the first step in making contact with your career mentor, so don’t shy away – initiate conversations and shoot your questions.
“Mentees should be curious and open, and willing to try things beyond their comfort zones,” says Theesuda Sotpiparpnukul, flight operations engineer for Thai Airways.
Often, those are the attitudes that receive the best suggestions from their mentors.
Your relationship with your mentor should be built on enough trust to where you feel comfortable asking those questions.
Not every mentor-mentee relationship is destined to succeed, so consider the relationship always in a state of evaluation and re-evaluation.
If you feel like it boxes you off or isn’t fulfilling your goals, feel free to bring it up or find someone else.
If you’re not allowed to fail, run
Failure is key to succeeding, as strange as that sounds. Of course, that means that you’re learning from your failures.
But to learn from them, you have to be allowed to make mistakes in the first place.
Circles.Life’s Christoefel Champ Chayadi is one of LIT ASEAN Careers’ career mentor and also a member of the company’s Space Cadet program, an official mentoring program for leadership.
He suggests asking some questions to help you ascertain how your mentor perceives failure – to figure out if you have the room you need to grow.
“Ask specific questions, like ‘what happens if I make a wrong move?’” he suggests.
If your mentor doesn’t practice what he or she says, then consider changing mentors. Admitting failure and asking for help requires honesty. Feel free to ask the same brand of honesty from your mentor.
Figure out a structure that works for you both
There’s no right or wrong way to set up a mentoring session, but try to keep things regular, with just enough structure to keep you accountable but with enough flexibility to allow for the ways that you grow and change in your career.
Megan suggests meeting at least 30 minutes a week, with a list of the top priorities for the week, while Christoefel suggests bringing up your three- to five-year plan in the middle of your sessions.
Make sure you have worked out your objectives and set milestones to hit during your mentorship period.
There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but whatever way you pick with your mentor, stick to it.
Work life is often busy, but make sure you’re making your professional development a priority.
It is, after all, an investment in your future.