Your first mentee relationship may have occurred without your knowing it. Think about someone you asked for help or advice—a family member, friend, or maybe a neighbor. What made it a mentor-mentee relationship? It’s the ask: Seeking and offering guidance in life choices is the hallmark of the mentor-mentee relationship. For a working adult, these relationships with more experienced individuals can help you achieve a goal, resolve an issue, or exchange guidance and support on your career development.
One of my first opportunities as a mentee was in a position as a junior accountant. I was a quick study, and within a month I had at least three hours per day with nothing to do. I asked the person training me what else there was to do and was told to just stretch the work to make it a full day for me. To avoid any conflict with my trainer (who wasn’t my supervisor), I asked an IT manager what I could do to get more work in my day. I went to this department head because accounting and IT worked hand in hand in providing the information needed by management to make decisions. This person suggested I go outside my department head and ask the assistant controller for work to keep my focus within the accounting department.
The advice I received provided my first real step toward a more invigorating work life. It gave me additional responsibilities and taught me more about the company and processes than I would have learned by staying in my lane. As a result, I held many positions in my 14 years there: accounts payable for three facilities, accounts payable supervisor, accounts receivable supervisor, assistant department manager, and finally fixed asset manager for 18 manufacturing facilities and corporate headquarters. My professional mentor relationship gave me the confidence to ask for more opportunities and led to both salary increases and further growth. I was encouraged to become a nontraditional student and to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered through the company’s financial assistance program to obtain my accounting degree.
Another early mentor relationship I had was with my college advisors and professors. My company had paid for 10 years of my college education on a part-time basis, and a great career opportunity was opening at the company for a person with a degree. I went to my college advisor to see how quickly I could obtain my degree because I wanted that position. I found out that I could get my degree in two more semesters if I went to college full-time. That would be the summer and fall terms for a total of six months vs. another two years on a part-time basis. My dilemma was that I would have to quit work to do this. The company couldn’t keep my position open. My family would be without my income from work. While I worked through my choices, my college advisor and professors all mentored me for approximately six months. At the end, I did quit the company, pursued my degree in two heavily loaded semesters, upped my GPA, and sought other opportunities.
NEVER TOO LATE
Mentorship relationships are all unique, and one can be very different from the last. More than 20 years ago, I quit the corporate world to launch my own business. This involved my banker, my financial planner, other members of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), my former boss, current friends, and many others. A major concern of mine was financial. Could I manage my personal financial commitments? How long would it be before I started earning an income? What should I charge for my time? Where would I locate clients? What were the deterrents for being a business owner?
My banker and financial planner were able to provide a timeline for the possible expiration of my savings and mentored me in managing my debt and other financial responsibilities. They also helped me secure a new loan for a more prestigious vehicle since I would be going to meet clients and needed to look successful. While it was exciting to think about owning my own business, it was also such an uncertain time. I would be the only employee, with no one to turn to or delegate to. I needed the insights of someone who had taken this journey and who would not see me as competition. I needed support and inspiration. This is where I reached out to IMA members, my current boss, and friends.
IMA members helped me with time management, networking, business tools, liability insurance, advertising, and so many other things I needed to know when starting my business. I found them to be reliable and collaborative. One of them even gave me my first paying project.
BEGIN IT BY ASKING
My former boss turned out to be a great mentor, pointing out other skill sets besides my accounting knowledge. In addition, I was able to use him as a reference for software implementation projects. He knew what I had done as a team member and my hands-on approach with my team when we had changed accounting software at the company where I reported to him as president.
Current friends became clients. They mentored me on responding to their expectations. They encouraged me to stand up for my billable time and to be dogged in my pursuit of collecting for services rendered. They helped me with communication of what I needed from them and what I could provide.
These people were my mentor team. And now the majority are my friends. We’ve exchanged roles many times over the years where I mentored them. This couldn’t have been done without trust, respect, open communication, and honesty with each other. Some of these relationships were short and many were longer term. I hope each of you will find a person that will see the “star” in you and provide guidance. Make your request, and they may take you up on being a mentor. I know that’s how it happened for me.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.