Tonight I am speaking at a FreshIdeas event to professional women about what they should be looking for in a mentor. One thing I regrettably was not able to cover is the assumption that a mentor should be from the same company or industry background. While there are benefits to working with someone in your company you respect, this approach misses some of the main gains to be had from mentoring.
Just as with coaching, a good mentor need not have your industry expertise as this allows them to ask you questions that haven’t been asked before rather than working with peers who all agree "we just don’t do it that way here" – a type of collusion and opportunity blindness that mentors from different backgrounds will not share. There is also less likelihood of them feeling threatened by your successes – a concern I hear from clients who don’t want to appear as if they are vying for their boss’s job.
Getting a Mentor Outside Your Industry
- Search widely from across several sectors for mentors who seem approachable and who have successes that you respect.
- Be open to giving and receiving feedback, not just about career issues, but also as to how the mentoring relationship is progressing.
- Be ready for your assumptions about "how things are done" to be challenged. We learn more from those who stretch us than those who agree with everything we say.
- Plan an exit strategy so that neither party feels they are locked in for life. Many mentoring relationships have a shelf life of about a year, at which point it is probably a good idea for both parties to move on – though by all means stay in touch.
- Even when in a good mentoring relationship, always keep your eyes open for who else you may want to approach "as a sounding board" either at the same time or after your current mentoring relationship has ended.