Go offline to plan your career: Find a mentor

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Welcome to Part 1 of a three-part series on career mentorship. This week: Not sure if a career mentor can help you? Find out how a mentor can help you reach your Toronto career goals.

We don’t like to ask for help these days. It’s so much easier to jump online and Google keywords in order to gather enough information to answer any question. But just like the internet can misdiagnose a cold — leaving you convinced you must have a rare form of some flesh-eating bacteria and only months to live — it can also provide the incorrect information for your career questions. Or you might be overwhelmed by what’s out there and need it narrowed down.

Maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. Maybe you don’t even know where to start! While there is a plethora of valid information out there to be gleaned from the web (ahem, THIS article), it is only one part of the profession success equation. There is no replacing the value of real human interaction. And by this, I mean mentorship. With a human. That part was clear, right?

What is mentorship?

Mentorship, in this context, refers to a professional relationship, typically between two people, with one being more senior in their career achievements than the other (peer or group mentoring scenarios are also good ideas). The mentor (senior) bestows knowledge and guidance upon the mentee or protégé (junior), using their expertise gained through experience.

Formal mentorship programs are available in Toronto, oftentimes specific to a certain field, industry, academic institution, or demographic, usually with a fee attached. Informal ones are just as valuable, if not more so, because they can provide advice that’s larger in scope and more transferable to different careers. Which is perfect if you’re not sure what to pursue or know you’ll probably transition through multiple areas. Also, they’re usually free — ideal for the Toronto job seeker.

The catch with informal mentorship? You not only have to do the leg work to find a mentor who is a good fit, but you also have to get them to agree to the relationship. Seem like a lot of work to add to the pile you already have looking for a job? Perhaps. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

Here are 5 ways a career mentor can add value to your job search and career goals.

1. Reflection

When job searching and setting career goals, the best place to start is looking inward. What are your values? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? A mentor serves as a tool, like a mirror, that lets you see your reflection. We’re not always proficient at recognizing what motivates our actions or decisions. We’re also our own biggest critics, yet blind to our talents, so it can be difficult to identify strengths and weaknesses, which is crucial knowledge to have when career planning.

Mentors can help you ask the right questions and constructively examine the answers, giving you enough self-awareness to pursue a career path that makes the most of your potential and will meet your definition of success.

2. Inspiration

With more experience and more success, a mentor serves as a source of inspiration for what is possible — not someone you are admiring from afar, but a real, tangible individual who is three-dimensional. You get access to direct information about their past accomplishments, present projects, and future endeavours — the inside scoop! Plus, you get to hear all about how they met each goal. Do you want similar success? Use them as motivation.

3. Experience

Trying to figure out the next step and how to get there can make you feel isolated, like no one understands your particular struggle. Having a mentor relieves that feeling of being alone; there’s someone at your fingertips who has been where you’ve been and can not only relate and empathize, but also give you advice based on their experience. You can tap into their successes and learn from their failures.

4. Connections

Because they’ve “been around” for longer than you, a mentor comes equipped with a network, individuals in their industry, and beyond. If their expertise isn’t able to address a specific question, they can direct you to someone who has the answer. They can also connect you to companies and upper management once you decide on a career path, opening doors you would otherwise just be staring at blankly. As they say, it’s all about who you know.

5. Encouragement

Career planning is exciting. It’s also frustratingly, teeth-grinding hard. Some days will leave you knocked down and discouraged. Having a mentor is a resource for encouragement. They can remind you of what you’re pursuing and why you’re pursuing it. They know it’s hard sometimes because they’ve been there. But they also know it gets better.

Putting effort into your job search and career plan will ultimately pay off — or, put literally, pay out.

Senior Coordinator of Program Development by day, freelance writer/editor/researcher by night, Dana Marie Krook is a firm believer in “having it all” — which, of course, means chasing your dreams, your bucket list, and your cupcake craving as far as necessary. She loves word games, yoga, running, and superhero movies, but would trade it all for the chance to see her first YA novel on the shelves of a bookstore.

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