Mentors and career coaches are professionals who provide guidance to people who are trying to further their careers. Job seekers use mentors and career coaches to hone their skills and to help them identify the qualities they possess that are beneficial to potential employers. Employees seek mentors and career coaches to help them discover strategies for career growth and development.
Mentors usually work in a field, industry, or business of interest to the mentee. These professionals offer their perspective on how to be successful in a chosen field. Mentors also provide assistance and guidance to those they are mentoring on their career path. For example, some mentors offer their mentees access to resources such as professional contacts and job leads.
Career coaches usually do not have the same career background as the clients with whom they work. Instead, career coaches take an outsider perspective to help clients better understand their career and career goals. For a new job seeker, a career coach can help chart a career path, while an unemployed job seeker might receive guidance on a job search. Career coaches can also advise someone who has a job but is working to gain a promotion or to make the transition to a new career.
Some companies, for example, arrange formal mentoring for new hires, pairing them with managers or executives within the business. The mentors help their mentees to navigate aspects of their careers, especially within the workplace. Formal mentoring relationships also can be organized outside of a person's work environment, since mentors and mentees do not have to hold jobs in the same workplace. Mentors who are retired but still want to share their expertise are quite common.
An informal mentoring relationship is less organized than a formal one. It can form spontaneously or with a mentor or mentee approaching the other party. Informal mentoring can involve the sharing of expertise or guidance on a career decision. While informal mentoring can occur between professionals who are in different places in their careers, the relationship can also be between peers or between people in entirely different careers. Informal mentoring does not have to take place in person; instead, it can occur through a less formal format, such as an online forum, e-mail, or telephone calls.
Career coaching is nearly always a formal, fee-based arrangement. Some career coaches specialize in a certain type of client, such as those at the beginning of their career or those seeking to make a career change. Other differences in career coaching arrangements center on the means of communication. While many career coaches meet with their clients in person, some only talk via telephone or through online face-to-face communications such as Skype.
Mentors and career coaches each have a set of distinct characteristics and qualities. Mentoring involves no exchange of payment and is usually for a limited, prearranged time frame. Mentors are or were employed in business, usually working in your field or a related one. Mentors are often established and possess an insider's perspective that allows them to offer advice, encouragement, and counseling pertaining to your profession.
Drawing on their background, mentors offer expertise and help you set goals and devise strategies to achieve them. Mentors should be able to assist you as you work through challenges, make decisions, and grow professionally. They should also be able to keep confidences, follow through on commitments, and offer constructive, thoughtful feedback. You may have several mentors over the course of your career. The characteristics you seek in a mentor will change over time as you grow professionally and your needs change.
Using a career coach also lasts for a set, mutually agreed upon period of time, but it differs from most mentoring in that it is a paid arrangement. Career coaching occurs one-on-one and is usually brief, lasting perhaps only a few months. The time-bound relationship often focuses on specific issues and goals, such as a job search or how to gain a promotion. Career coaching involves diagnosing the issues at hand, forming a plan, taking action, and improving professionally.
Career coaches have often undergone specific training that gives them the skills they need to work with clients. In many ways, career coaches are often a combination of therapist and employment counselor. They actively use their listening skills and other insights to help their clients reach their potential. Career coaches have experience developing strategies for their clients and can help them determine their skills and competencies as well as gain tools that will bring them closer to their goals. Insightful career coaches can successfully prompt their clients to discover what they may not realize about themselves, their potential, and their future.
Before seeking a mentor, you should decide why you want one and what you want to achieve through mentoring. Then you should begin to analyze the various qualities you are looking for in a mentor. For example, mentors should be leaders who are respected by their peers, have a good education and strong communication skills, and are willing to give objective feedback. Mentors can be someone you admire both personally and professionally, but they probably should not be someone you know well and with whom you have already formed a friendly relationship. In addition, mentors need to have the time and patience to commit to the mentoring process.
Once you have a general idea of what you want out of a mentoring relationship, you can begin the search process. If you do not find any suitable potential mentors at your place of work, you can ask professional groups, business peers, and business organizations for recommendations. One way to screen potential mentors is by briefly meeting with them to see if they possess the types of knowledge or advice you are seeking. You should share with potential mentors what you are looking for and see if they meet your predetermined criteria. Keep in mind that you are not limited to one mentor and that some professionals have different mentors for different aspects of their career.
The process of selecting a career coach is often similar to choosing a mentor. After you determine why you are hiring a career coach and the qualities you want that person to have, you can ask for recommendations from peers and other business professionals. You should then investigate the types of training and certification a career coach has undergone. There are numerous career coaching certification programs and groups, each with their own requirements. They include the International Coach Federation and the Career Coach Institute.
You can research career coaches and their credentials online to learn about them and how they run their business. You should select one who has been successful with other job seekers or career professionals, especially in the field or area in which you are seeking guidance. Most career coaches offer a free initial meeting during which you can ask pertinent questions, such as the length of their coaching career, their specialty, their relevant coaching experience, their fees, and how the coaching will take place. An ideal career coach should be prepared to assist you in mapping out your career goals and strategies, should monitor your progress, and should offer objective feedback without judgment.
Using a mentor or career coach has many positive aspects for job seekers and other business professionals. Both mentors and career coaches provide a new perspective on your job search or professional development. They often can provide knowledge and advice you might not gain from any other source.
If you are joining a new company, a mentor can assist you with skills transfer and knowledge sharing, which can result in greater loyalty from you and to you. Those who are mentored in this context often feel more connected to their job and their employer. Many promotions come through mentoring relationships. When a mentoring relationship ends, you have a professional connection that can prove valuable in the future.
Career coaches also are valuable, offering an objectivity about your job search and career that might not be available elsewhere. Focused solely on helping you find success, career coaches know the tools that are needed to meet career goals, such as the best ways to write résumés and to use online networking tools. Career coaches are also experts in guiding their clients to find answers for themselves, achieve a path of self-realization, and embrace change, if needed. Even if career coaches have never worked in your field or industry, they have worked with many different kinds of careers and clients and can apply what they have learned to your needs.
Although a mentoring relationship or a career coaching arrangement has many advantages, there are also some drawbacks. Mentoring has the potential to be of limited value, especially if you chose a different career path after a short period of time. In addition, mentors may not live up to their commitment, may neglect the relationship, may not have skills or knowledge to share, or generally may not be supportive. Some mentors can take advantage of their mentees by taking credit for their work or by having a bad attitude. Mentors can also withdraw from the relationship before the agreed-upon time has been completed.
There are many ways to locate a mentor or career coach. Even if your employer does not have a formal mentoring program, mentors can still be found where you work or at various other businesses. Mentors can also be found through word of mouth, professional groups, social organizations, and online forums. Government programs, colleges and universities, and retired businesspeople can provide information on potential mentors as well.
Career coaches also can be found through personal referrals and simple online searches. The organizations that train and certify career coaches are ideal sources to locate legitimate career coaches. The profession also has a number of organizations that can connect you with a career coach. These include the International Coach Federation, the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches, and the National Career Development Association.