Foto: Picture owned by interviewee

A mentor as your key to success? This is how you find the right one!

Marjolein de Jong21 October 2019

It seems to be the go-to recipe for a successful career among professionals: career coaching. And rightfully so, according to Yvonne Burger, professor at the Center for Executive Coaching at the Vrije Universiteit. But how do you find that one coach that will help you make changes the most pro-actively? 

With what kind of issues do people approach a mentor? 

„That really depends on what you’re looking for. Some clients are struggling with themselves: they want to know what the next step in their career will be, or have trouble finding the right balance between their professional and personal lives. Others want to set up concrete goals, such as increasing their revenue or expanding their business internationally. It’s important to determine whether you’re more in need of a mentor or a coach.” 

„Coaching or mentoring are pretty efficient ways to take steps quickly.”

What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? 

„A mentor guides you by giving you advice and motivating you. This is often a more experienced professional or senior employee within your own organisation whom is able to advise you. Generally speaking, a coach helps you find your own solutions. On top of that, there are formal and informal mentors. You’ll always come across people in life that you’ll learn from. You could call those people informal mentors. Additionally, there are professional mentors and coaching relationships – and that is something else entirely. That’s a profession, if you ask me. You need to be knowledgeable about coaching methods and with that also comes professionalisation and contracting. Having said that, all coaching methods are approximately equally effective. It’s really about you knowing what works for you personally.”

Why are you such an advocate for mentorship?

„Mentorship makes you work on yourself and your own issues in a very focused way. If you’re being trained in a larger group, other people’s problems will be dealt with too. You can undoubtedly learn from that a lot but coaching or mentoring are pretty efficient ways to take steps quickly. Its effectiveness is high and in comparison, it’s a cheap service.” 

„It’s not a protected title: everyone can put a sign on their door with the word ‘coach’ on it and start welcoming clients.”

How do you find a good mentor? 

„It’s not a protected title: everyone can put a sign on their door with the word ‘coach’ on it and start welcoming clients. Still, there are certain criteria you should take into consideration. Look for professional associations for coaches close to you and check whether there is someone available who’s familiar with the theme. Is that person part of a professional association? Has he or she been trained? It’s important for a mentor or a coach to continuously keep professionalising.” 

How do you then ensure a successful mentor program? 

„I advise people to first look within their own organisation and check whether there already is a mentor system in place. Don’t just have someone assigned to you but figure out if there’s a connection with that person first. Then set up a ‘contract’, to clarify what each of your expectations are. How often will you see each other? How long and where do you meet? Take the time to frequently assess whether it’s working or not. If you’ve had three meetings and you’re noticing that things aren’t heading into the right direction, start looking for someone else.” 

„I’ve heard the craziest stories, such as a story about a self-proclaimed coach who ended up hitting a client.”

What are things you definitely shouldn’t do? 

„I’ve heard the craziest stories, such as a story about a self-proclaimed coach who ended up hitting a client, or a mentor-mentee relationship that evolved into a romantic relationship. You can’t upkeep a mentor-mentee relationship in an unprofessional environment. As a mentor or a coach, you need to always keep close watch on what is happening within the professional relationship. That’s why psychological knowledge is essential, so that the mentor recognizes when lines are getting blurry and – for example – inappropriate feelings start to occur.”

Do you have tips for people who find it scary to ask someone to be their mentor? 

„You can try to make it smaller by asking someone if they’d be open to having coffee with you and bounce your ideas off of them. And then explore if someone is willing to have these types of conversations more often and under which conditions. Strive for a professional relationship. A financial compensation has certain benefits to it: it makes the relationship more business-like, sets boundaries and creates a clearer relationship.”