Want to Develop Your Skills? Find a Mentor!

Close up of ropes on a yacht.

“Learning the ropes” is an expression that goes back to the days of apprenticeship on a seafaring craft. While mastering the sails was probably not in your advanced accounting classes at college, neither were the countless practical nuances required to become a true professional in a CPA firm.

However, whether you are just beginning your first job or have had a couple of years of experience, finding a mentor to help guide you is a smart move.

As a new professional, mentorship is a great way to better establish your career. Mentorship helps young professionals develop needed skills while giving you a more personal sense of how to navigate challenges and successes in the workplace. Once you have decided to find a mentor, the following three considerations will help maximize your success:

Outline your career goals

Because mentorship is an exercise in personal/professional improvement, the goals you create should match your career expectations. Maybe you don’t want to be a partner just yet, but you do want to understand what it takes to become a partner, or at the very least an excellent manager of people and work projects.

Maybe you have the desire to be a respected consultant to clients. Your goals should reflect skills required. It may be you will need to develop leadership skills or possess confidence-building skills. On the other hand, you may be interested in understanding how best to develop a work/life balance so you can successfully navigate becoming a professional while building a family.  

Make your list, but don’t overcomplicate the process. Keep your goals reasonable and attainable, and most importantly, something you can measure. You want to be able assess your goals, measure your success and make adjustments as time and experience refine your expectations.

Identify the mentor who can help you achieve those goals.

A mentor can be anyone who can provide you with influence, guidance and direction. You may find, depending on your mentorship goals, that it is more beneficial to have an educator, such as a former professor, as your mentor. It may be a relative in an unrelated business but with similar ethical and technical standards, such as an engineer or an architect. Perhaps even a friend who has a bit more work experience than you can be a mentor.

Of course, it is entirely fine and advantageous to seek out a manager or partner in the firm to be your mentor. Ideally, it should be someone with similar goals or a career path similar to what you expect for yourself.

Build a mutually beneficial relationship

Many professionals are eager to help mentor a new generation, but don’t be surprised if you find some resistance. Successful professionals tend to always have too much on their plates. If your request is not met with a positive response, explain why you chose them. If the response is positive, take some time to establish a connection that offers a mutually beneficial relationship for you and your mentor. How can you support their goals, work load or leadership skills?

If your first choice turns you down, ask them if they can recommend someone else who fits your mentorship criteria. You may be pleasantly surprised by their answer, and it may give you new perspective on your choices.

Not every mentor/mentee relationship works out, and that is ok. Review your progress with regular meetings and informal communications, and if things aren’t moving you forward, have an open discussion with your mentor. There is no harm in changing mentors as you go along. The key is to remain professional and thankful for the other person’s investment in your career, as they may be an important voice in your future down the line.

One final word on your mentorship journey: Take notes on your progress. A journal with daily, weekly and/or monthly status notes will be enlightening down the road. It will also help you avoid getting “mission creep” where you miss the mark on reaching your goals. Along with your journal, we strongly recommend developing milestones and timelines to help you document your progress toward achieving key improvement steps.

Best of luck in your journey!

You may also be interested in our blog post about starting a new job as a remote employee.

Interested in joining the LvHJ team? Check out our accounting career development in the San Francisco Bay Area! Learn more about life at LvHJ on our careers page at https://lvhj.com/career-opportunities/.


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