Observations from lockdown: Is Mentoring the new Must-Have?

We all know it’s a good idea to have a career mentor.  But working from home – or being furloughed – seems to have led to an explosion in the demand for mentoring this year. 

I signed up as a mentor in the well-received CIPR Fellows’ Mentor Scheme in April and started mentoring three PR professionals in May.  I also started to mentor some of the team at an international PR agency where I am a non-executive director.  Plus I currently find myself acting as a ‘sounding board’ to a growing number of friends and business contacts on interview technique and career planning.  This is definitely the year of mentoring – and not just for me.  

What have I discovered from this experience?

The current environment (affecting those at work and those whose roles are at risk) has prompted a lot of people to take stock of their working life, their current role and what they want to achieve in the next few years.  This is a good time to seek advice from an interested third party, someone who is not associated with your employer, and not necessarily a friend or family member.  My findings are that there are some noticeable trends in what motivates this interest in taking professional advice.

Whether you are aiming for promotion, seeking a move, planning in case of headcount reduction, taking opportunities for personal growth, or simply trying to make the absolute best of your current role, self-development plans are critical.  

These can be focussed on training needs but are more typically aspects such as building a network, positioning yourself in your current workplace, or identifying what you need to do to earn the promotion or new job: how to make it all work for you.

The first of these – building a network – is an analytical task of identifying who you know, who you should know, and how to go about meeting those people.

The second – positioning yourself or, as I think of it, ‘building your professional brand’ – incorporates identifying your strong points, working out how to make them even greater strengths, and making sure you are recognised for them.  This will help you achieve that more senior role, or position you advantageously in the job market.  It also helps to identify in which areas you need training or a skills refresh and explore what’s available.

If you are thinking of a move, this is a good time to think about what sector you would ideally like to concentrate on and what truly motivates you – and focus on practical steps to help you get there.

Mentoring is a gradual process and often a bit of a voyage of self-discovery for the executive being mentored.  It is also absolutely fascinating for the mentor: you can be giving feedback on a proposal or CV, offering interview or presentation rehearsal, giving practical pointers, or simply listening with a sympathetic ear.

The challenges of working in lockdown have been many, but it has clearly given people an opportunity to reflect, analyse and plan.

There is definitely a healthy market for mentoring at the moment which could lead to a greater focus on career development which in turn will pay dividends when we eventually emerge from lockdown.

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