As any young wizard, new Jedi or ring-bearing Hobbit will tell you, having a mentor can mean the difference between meeting your goal and failing miserably. Yet only 26 per cent of the workers Accountemps surveyed actually have one.
If you’re among the finance specialists who don’t think they need guidance from a more experienced professional, you may want to reconsider. Here are five reasons to make having a mentor a top career goal:
1. Executives are willing. Sixty-two per cent of the CFOs interviewed for a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey have been a mentor at some point in their career. This suggests the majority of finance execs understand the value of such a relationship and are interested in paying it forward. In other words, if you ask a veteran accountant to mentor you, chances are good they’ll agree.
2. You learn from someone in a role you aspire to. Your university degree taught you how to be a good accountant and auditor, but it didn’t tell you much about climbing the career ladder. Someone who currently has your dream job is the ideal person to mentor you. With their first-hand experience, they can tell you what accounting certifications are most valuable and which career path to take for what roles. You also get to learn from their past successes and failures, which helps you make better decisions in the early days of your career.
3. Mentors teach you the unwritten rules. Every organisation and accounting speciality has its own culture and best practices — very few of which are found in print. A mentor can show you the ropes and help you avoid pitfalls that can slow down your progress. They are also a valuable resource for industry information and insider tips.
4. Mentors are a sounding board. You have ideas and dreams, but are all of them good for your career? A professional mentor can offer an outsider’s view on everything from writing a great business email to jumpstarting a stalled career. They won’t hold your hand, though. Rather, their job is to listen, let you know whether you’re on the right track and give pointers along the way.
5. Mentors can open doors. As long-time accounting pros, mentors not only know things, but they know people. This means they can introduce you to industry leaders and enlarge your professional network. And the more people you have in your circle of contacts, the better your chances of working on high-profile projects and hearing about interesting job openings.
How to find a mentor in the accounting industry
Here are some tips for finding and working with a mentor.
Understand what a mentor is not. When compiling a list of potential candidates, leave off the names of your boss and your boss’s boss. A mentor’s role is to offer occasional guidance and advice — not directly or indirectly supervise you. The ideal person to serve in this role is someone who has more experience than you but is in a different department or company.
Weigh internal vs. external. There are pros and cons to having a mentor in the same organisation: They know who’s who, understand the corporate culture and can help you navigate internal politics. Some businesses and accounting firms, especially larger employers, also have formal mentoring programs — making the process much easier. However, you’ll have difficulty discussing a new job search with an in-house mentor, which means you could be on your own when putting together a CV or determining whether an offer is competitive.
Look for a role model. Seek out experienced professionals whose career you’d like to emulate and who share similar values, goals and personality traits. While opposites can get along, it’s much easier to learn from people who are more like you than not.
Be a good mentee. Mentors want to help you, but you need to hold up your end of the bargain by respecting their time and communicating clearly. This means initiating meetings, checking in between sessions and thanking them for their guidance. Other mentee musts: prepare for each meeting, show up on time and complete recommended tasks
Nobody makes it to the top alone. And after you’ve found your Yoda to your Luke, nurture this valuable professional relationship.