No matter how much talent or drive you possess, beginning a new job can be challenging. Not only do you have to learn the day-to-day requirements of your new role, but you also have to get up to speed on your employer’s unique culture, business priorities and processes.
And that’s where a mentor can be invaluable. He or she can give you the inside scoop on the unwritten rules that aren’t addressed in orientation sessions or the official company handbook.
Even professionals who have been on the job for awhile can benefit from having a mentor help them navigate tricky office situations, like communicating with higher-ups, gaining support for your ideas and sidestepping internal politics. Having a mentor can also help you blow off stress because you know you have a trusted confidant and adviser at your side.
Finding the Right Person
In seeking a mentor, keep in mind that you can look outside of your office as well as within. While someone within the company will be able to advise you on the particular ins and outs of your office procedures and culture, an outside mentor can offer an objective perspective on career challenges.
Here are some additional suggestions for finding the right person to mentor you:
Look around. If your firm has a formal mentoring program, which many do for lawyers, take advantage of it. It is always wise to have an ally on the inside. Still, this shouldn’t prevent you from looking for good professional role models outside the legal profession, your particular firm or community. The best advice can come from many different sources and fields.
Just ask. If you come across someone in your field or industry you feel you can learn from, invite them for a cup of coffee or lunch. If you feel comfortable with the person, ask for ongoing guidance. Many successful professionals have had others help show them the way in their careers and would welcome the opportunity to pay it forward.
Assess your needs. What kind of professional assistance could you most use? Do you need to improve your soft skills? Are you wondering if you’ve got what it takes to make partner? Although it’s important to seek out mentors you genuinely like, also look for people who can help you overcome professional challenges.
Don’t be too formal. Remember the relationship between mentor and mentee doesn’t have to be a formal one. There is great learning potential in simply paying close attention to professionals you admire. For example, you may simply ask a lot of questions of a lawyer you respect and work alongside. There are no set rules when it comes to the amount of time each person must spend or the types of meetings you should have. In this way, mentoring can often be something that’s done on the fly, as is convenient for both parties involved.
Don’t be discouraged if seeking out a mentoring relationship requires some time and effort on your part. The encouragement, advice and guidance you receive can help you better anticipate and navigate potential obstacles and give you the confidence you need to succeed in your career.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.