by Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC, LMFT, CEAP
For the last several years, I have been supervising new therapists. It’s a lot of work (for both me and them), but I love watching them grow as clinicians. And I feel a sense of responsibility to help the next generation of therapists find their way.
You see, I remember being in their shoes. Fresh out of graduate school and with a brand new job. I didn’t even know where the bathroom was, much less how to conduct a therapy session. I try very hard for the people I supervise to not spend so much time feeling “lost.” I had some really good mentors along the way, and I want to be just as helpful to them.
While I feel pretty proficient about this therapy stuff after 30 years of doing it (I seriously can’t believe that number), there are still times I feel I need to bounce ideas off a colleague. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I think I know everything and am infallible. So, when I am thinking about a case long after the client has left my office, I know I need to reach out to one of my mentors.
I view a mentor as someone who knows more than me about something and is willing to share insight with me. So, I have mentors for lots of different areas: owning a business, handling staffing issues, financial planning, decorating, etc. All areas I am involved with, realize I don’t know as much as I need to, and want to discuss with a true expert.
A career mentor is something we all need. If you want to move forward on your career path in a planned way, why wouldn’t you ask someone who has gone before you? If you want to change careers, why wouldn’t you talk to someone doing the job you want to be doing? Any way you look at it, you need to have someone you can go to who will help you in your goals.
Consider the following:
Your mentor needs to be knowledgeable. You’re not looking for a friend here. This person needs to be seasoned and experienced. This will not be someone new to the field you want to be mentored in.
Your mentor needs to want to mentor you. Knowledge is not enough. Good mentors understand there is a time commitment to mentoring. Good mentors like helping people and like seeing people grow.
Your mentor needs to be someone you trust and respect. If you use your mentor wisely, you will be willing to discuss mistakes made and concerns you have. If you don’t trust your mentor, or aren’t willing to make yourself vulnerable, you will not get nearly as much out of the mentoring relationship. Likewise, you need to respect your mentor. As you are sharing yourself, you need to have confidence in your mentor’s advice.
Now that you are on track to get a mentor, what are your responsibilities?
It is your job to maintain contact. You ask for and schedule the meetings, at your mentor’s convenience, of course.
It is your job to set the agenda. Good mentors are busy and won’t like to “meet just to meet.” You need to have a running list of topics you would like to discuss and get feedback on. Other than your current concerns, use the time with your mentor to get some long-term advice. Some questions to consider:
• What steps would you take to jump start your career if you were in my shoes?
• What are some things you regret not doing earlier in your career?
• What career-defining moments have come your way?
• What hard choices have you had to make and how did you make them?
It is your job to incorporate the advice you are given. The mentor/mentee relationship must be productive. You are there for advice and solutions, not complaining/venting. Your mentor will become frustrated if you do not implement the advice given. Obviously, if you don’t agree with the advice on several occasions, that is a sign that you might need a different mentor.
It is your job to ask for feedback and show gratitude. Asking your mentor “what else can I do to make our time together more valuable?” or “I would like your honest opinion about this” is key. Additionally, being grateful to your mentor on a regular basis demonstrates to the mentor that this is time well spent.
The next time you are in a challenging situation, or about to start a new endeavor, I hope you will ask yourself, “Who knows more about this than me?” and give that person a call. You never know, that person might be your next mentor!