You have probably heard of mentoring. When a person is stuck in their career or simply needs some guidance, it’s mentoring that brings them back on track and helps clearly identify long-term goals and a strategy to achieve them.
But despite all the benefits that mentoring brings, many IT specialists still seem unaware of it or unwilling to try. This article will explain where exactly mentoring fits in the IT industry and why it’s so important for any specialist, regardless of their field of expertise.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a practice aimed at one’s self-improvement and growth with the help of a mentor. In other words, mentoring implies help and assistance that are focused on helping a person grow professionally. For example, if you are a senior developer and have no idea about which direction to move in, mentoring can help you find your next big goal.
It is important not to confuse mentoring and coaching here. Coaching is probably a more popular practice and is focused on achieving short term goals. A coach usually gives advice on how to resolve a particular problem, helps correct one’s behavior in order to achieve the set goals, and unleash the potential of a person who is undergoing the coaching.
Mentoring, on the opposite, offers a mentee a pearl of wisdom and chases long term goals. Mentoring is aimed at providing a mentee with expert advice and knowledge that will be useful in the future. So a mentor does not advise on fixing mistakes or on the best strategy - instead, a mentor asks questions that guide the mentee in the right direction and shape their way of thinking.
From everything said above, we can conclude that a mentor is a person who provides mentoring services, while a mentee is the one receiving them. Now let’s move on to the benefits that mentoring brings for both parties involved.
The importance of mentoring
Why do people decide to try mentoring? There may be various reasons for that, such as the desire for professional growth, the need for advice and guidance, willingness to improve one’s skills, and to expand the network. However, mentoring is beneficial not only for the mentees but for mentors as well. Let’s see what kind of benefits mentoring brings for both.
The benefits of mentoring for the mentee
If you are a mentee, the first and the biggest benefit that you will get is the knowledge and experience of your mentor. During mentoring, mentors tend to share their own experiences, past mistakes that they’ve made, and steps that led to success. A mentor is actually a source of wisdom that can not only provide valuable insight or advice but also encourage you to try something new. This, in turn, can make a significant impact on the mentee’s career.
Second, mentoring is all about a trusting and respectful relationship. Hence, a mentee not only gets practical and useful advice but also support and encouragement. A mentor is a person who will not only explain how to achieve a long-term goal but also how to deal with present mistakes or failures in the most beneficial way. And this is something that many people (if not all of them!) really need when struggling with work.
Another great benefit of mentoring for mentees is the option to significantly expand one’s network. This is especially true if the mentor is external: meaning, not working in the same organization as the mentee. But either way, mentoring helps mentees meet new people (including potential employers) through their mentors and hence expand the network and make new and valuable connections.
As well, do not forget that mentoring usually helps people discover new career opportunities and explore new possibilities. Mentoring encourages mentees to ask important questions, define and even redefine their goals, and overall become more confident in terms of personal and professional growth.
The benefits of mentoring for the mentor
Mentoring has a few significant benefits for the mentor as well. First, the mentor gets a great chance to shape their leadership and interpersonal skills by communicating with the mentee and sharing knowledge. As a result, a mentor can later become a teacher, a tutor, or just remain a mentor on a regular basis. And there is no need to say how good leadership skills are important to anyone who wishes to propel their career to the next level.
As well, mentoring helps improve listening and communication skills. It’s critical for a good mentor to be able to listen to the mentee and understand what exactly they need - and that would be impossible without proper listening and communication skills. It is important to note that a mentor should never push their opinion on a mentee but only provide useful guidance based on the mentee’s needs.
One more important benefit is that a mentor gains personal satisfaction from helping the other person. Though some people may consider this benefit insignificant, in fact, it can contribute to increasing one’s confidence and further develop a willingness to help and educate others.
Qualities and traits to look for in a mentor
We know what a mentor should do in order to provide value to the mentee. But what qualities make a good mentor?
First is a sufficient level of expertise and knowledge. Ideally, this person should be a few levels ahead of you so that they can tell about their journey and provide the best guidance on professional growth. However, this is not critical. It may happen that a person has a higher title than you but is bad at explaining things or doesn’t seem approachable and reliable enough. In this case, remember that your primary focus is experience combined with knowledge so you want to look for that first.
The next trait is about interpersonal skills. A good mentor should be approachable, reliable, and ready to share knowledge and discuss the mentee’s journey and growth. As we mentioned above, a person may be an outstanding expert but their communication skills may be really poor - and in this case, a person will not be a good and helpful mentor.
Another critical quality to look for in a future mentor is a respectful attitude towards the mentee and the other people around. An impressive title (like the VIP of sales) should never come with a superior attitude - remember that. Instead, you want to find a person who is respectful towards others despite their titles. This is related to another skill which is active listening. Since the mentor is here to provide advice and assistance, they need to carefully listen to the mentee and understand what the mentee actually says and means. By understanding what the mentee means and what they want to achieve, a mentor can efficiently guide them with the help of supporting and relevant questions and proper guidance.
Another important feature of a good mentor is the ability to give constructive and honest feedback to the mentee. The thing is, the mentor is there to help and teach you, not to cheer you up only. Hence, it is absolutely important that a mentor knows how to provide valuable and honest feedback that will help the mentee grow and improve.
Tips for mentees
We’ve talked about qualities expected from a mentor - but what about a mentee? There are certain responsibilities that a mentee should carry out as well, such as:
- Openness for feedback: remember that mentoring is aimed at helping you, not criticizing!
- Specification of goals: a mentor is not the one who is responsible for defining your goals and future career path. It’s the mentee’s responsibility only.
- Schedule your meetings and be proactive: do not wait for the mentor to initiate all your meetings and discussions.
- Think of ways to measure success and track the progress.
It is important to note though that the mentoring process will differ in different organizations and between different people. Being a software development company, we would like to now focus on mentoring specifically in the IT industry and with the help of our own examples. Read more in the upcoming Part 2!