While there's no substitute for professional training and solid work experience; there is one more thing that can help you rise to the top of your chosen career — a mentor.

Having a senior and experienced person in your corner, guiding and coach you, can help fast track you to the top floor.

Adam Shapley, managing director of Hays in New Zealand says a good mentor takes the time to understand their mentee's professional development needs and has the relevant experience or contextual understanding to be able to help.

"Ideally, a mentee will come to the first meeting with their mentor armed with this information, but if not, a mentor needs to ask a lot of questions to understand their mentee and their strengths and weaknesses, both in terms of technical and soft skills," says Shapely.


"They need to also ask for their mentee's feedback on what their priorities are and what they want to gain from the mentorship."

In addition, Shapely says a good mentor will agree goals, key priorities and the regularity of meetings with their mentee to ensure they are both on the same page.

"They will then share relevant knowledge, provide appropriate coaching, and open the right doors to help their mentee succeed at this point in their career.

"A good mentor isn't afraid to give constructive feedback when necessary. Equally, they're open about mistakes they've made and what they did differently the next time they were in the same situation.

"Crucially, a good mentor never tells their mentee what to do — they offer advice but it's up to the mentee to make their own decisions."

If a manager thinks they can just appoint a colleague to mentor a member of staff, think again.

"A successful employee may not always make a good mentor," says Shapely. "That's why it's important that any manager who wants to introduce mentorships within their department must offer mentors training on how to be a good mentor.

"There's very little in the way of additional 'risk' — apart from the obvious failure of mentorship programmes and therefore lack of development and knowledge-sharing. Both the mentor and mentee need to be aware of what's expected of them for the relationship to work."


As the mentor and mentee start working together it's not unheard of for the mentee to question the advice they are being given. Trust is crucial for the relationship to work; but if it starts to wobble then there may be no way out.

"It's important to ask yourself why you disagree with your mentor's advice," says Shapely. "You chose this mentor because they are successful and an expert in a skill or field you want to learn and succeed in too. Their experience and career successes mean that their approach is worth considering.

"Remember, a mentor is volunteering their time to help you — if you don't agree with or want their help anymore, thank them for their time, advise that you've learnt all you think you can from them, and then look for another mentor who you believe would be more helpful."

According to a recent survey carried out by Hayes, 65 per cent of mentees aren't sure what's expected of them. On the face of it, this lack of clarity may mean they can't ask the right questions.

"The best option is to come to every meeting with a problem or challenge you want their help to solve," says Shapely. "You don't necessarily need to have a list of prepared questions — although many mentees find it beneficial to jot down questions as they think of them during their working day.

"But if you don't want to do this, you can start each meeting by describing a particular challenge you're facing, task you're working on, or skill you need to improve. Then ask for their advice.


"For example, perhaps you have a big presentation coming up. You could bring along the draft outline to discuss and your mentor could suggest any talking points you may have overlooked and share their best practice presentation tips; to help calm your nerves and present clearly and confidently."

Shapely says in most cases it will be your boss who becomes your mentor, which could put a strain on your day-to-day relationship.

"It is important though to consider if there may be someone better qualified in addition to your boss — so don't only consider your boss when looking for a mentor," he says.

"When looking for a mentor, you should look for someone who has already succeeded in your role or in the skill you are looking to develop. The years of professional experience a potential mentor has or their level of seniority aren't as important as the relevancy of their experience. Look for a mentor who has succeeded in your role or who has overcome whatever obstacles you are facing so that they understand your challenges, relate to your situation and can provide relevant and salient advice.

"Crucially, you'll want someone who can commit to confidentially mentoring you — you need to trust you can disclose and discuss your work dilemmas with them without ramifications.

"Finally, reflect on your own personality and style and ensure your mentor mirrors a similar disposition. For example, if you're introverted, but your boss is one of your organisation's most outgoing executives, they may not be able to offer the exact advice you require."


The day will come when you need to call an end to the mentorship and move on. This has to be done carefully.

"You should have been very clear on what your professional development goals and needs were and what you wanted to get from the relationship when you first met your mentor. As a result, you'll both be aware when your mentorship has met those goals and run its course.

"So, have a conversation with your mentor, thank them for their time and advice, share some of the successes you've enjoyed as a result of their advice, and offer your time if you can ever be of assistance to them.

"Don't burn your bridges. After all, you never know when you might come across this person again in the future."