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The Career Value of A Mentor

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, July 2009 Community now

By: Carol Vernon

Great work experience, a good education, and strong references are key to building a successful career. But what else can you do to get ahead?  Find a mentor, that person who guides you, takes a long-term approach to your future, and supports you in nurturing your professional life.

Don't Forget! ASAE Will Be at This Year's Annual Meeting & Expo
If you're headed to Toronto, be sure to visit the interactive Career Connections Center hosted by at this year's Annual Meeting & Expo.

You'll be able to

  • Enhance your leadership skills or strategize your career during sessions with professional executive coaches;
  • Get your resume critiqued by a resume expert;
  • Search for jobs online;
  • Post jobs online and search for potential candidates;
  • Learn more about's online career development tools;
  • Discover ways to increase revenue for your association by creating an online career center.

For more information on what's going on, visit or call 202-626-2891.

Mentors are important for those starting out and for those already launched in a career. "Obtaining a mentor is an important career development experience for individuals," says Lillian Eby, professor of applied psychology at the University of Georgia.  "Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within the organization, and report more job and career satisfaction."

Finding a mentor isn't easy, but it can be done. If you are currently working in an organization, check to see if it has a formal mentoring program.  Also, check with your college alumni association as well as your professional groups to see if they have mentor programs.  If you're unable to identify a formal program, begin your own process by asking yourself what would be most valuable to you in a mentoring relationship; what skills would you like to develop with your mentor's assistance?

Many believe it's best to choose a mentor who shares your values and works in the same functional area. Professional groups in your field can be excellent sources of mentors, even without a formal program. Test the waters by asking for advice. Be sure to reveal as much about yourself as possible. Mentors are most likely to invest their time if they see a little of themselves in you.

The only real "don't": Never approach a prospective mentor from a state of helplessness or desperation.

Once you identify your mentor, talk about mutual expectations for the mentoring relationship: How will it work, how often will you communicate, and will it be in person, via phone, or by email? Some experts suggest monthly meetings supplemented by regular email and phone contact is best. Be sure not to overburden your mentor by demanding too much time and attention or becoming overly dependent. You and your mentor may want to agree at the outset that either of you can end the relationship at any time with no hard feelings.

You'll know the relationship is working if your mentor encourages you to set higher goals, provides direct and constructive feedback, helps you develop self-awareness, challenges you to grow beyond your perceived limitations, introduces you to movers and shakers, and above all, listens to you and is easy to communicate with.

And finally, remember to regularly say how much you value your mentor's guidance and time. The feeling of being needed and making a difference in someone's life is an important payoff for the mentor.

Carol Vernon is a Certified Executive Coach who works with individuals, teams, and entire organizations to help them work and communicate more effectively and create plans to work and live more intentionally. Email:

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