Paying it forward: how to be an effective mentor
Your experience and skills are valuable assets to share with others but mentoring is much more than just a one-way street.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has begun and it’s moving apace. Entire sectors are vanishing and most jobs that exist today will disappear in the coming decade.
Steering a career through this latest transition – or prepping for the future – requires a new way of looking at work and, in particular, your own skill set.
Put simply: it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Formal qualifications, experience and proficiency still count of course, but job candidates are increasingly being measured for suitability based on how well they demonstrate soft skills.
Broadly speaking, soft skills fall under the umbrella of social and emotional intelligence: your capacity for critical thinking and complex problem solving, how you handle stress and time management, whether you’re adaptable or inflexible, and how well you play in or lead a team.
The realisation that you have something of value will change the way you talk about yourself, and that will come across to the employer.
Megan Tait, Head of Innovation and Brand Experience at Audrey Page & Associates, calls the ability to demonstrate soft skills, “show, don’t tell”.
“It’s easy to talk about concepts and theories,” says Tait, “but being able to articulate what was happening in a business unit, team, organisation or industry at a specific time, and how you applied yourself to help that organisation get to where they needed to go, connects with your audience and puts things in context.”
Review and reflect
Soft skills are not only drawn from your work history. If you’re returning to the workforce after raising children, caring for relatives, studying or even moving to a new city or country, you’ve got transferrable skills.
“You’re honing soft skills to the max in those situations,” says Tait. “Dealing with complexity, personalities, time management, communications, resourcefulness. Some of those experiences are more challenging than you’d find in a corporate environment!”
That doesn’t mean you won’t need some further personal or professional development.
Julie Trenbath, NSW General Manager for Davidson recruitment agency, points out that “if a candidate has 95 per cent of the hard skills for the job and can demonstrate an awareness and commitment to improvement most organisations are happy to support you.”
Self-reflection can go a long way, literally.
Trenbath worked with a client who wanted to be promoted to team leader. “I had to give her some honest feedback: she was unaware that some of her facial expressions were a little stern, making her seem unapproachable.”
“It was a little confronting for her, but she took it on board and proactively worked on making changes,” says Trenbath. “One thing she did was put a mirror on her desk to observe how she reacted during conversations with clients or co-workers. That self-awareness led to regulation, and she’s now overseas managing a large business.”
In sport, coaches are critical to ensuring athletes reach optimum physical capacity and mental stamina. The workplace is no different, especially now.
Anthony Battaini, an organisational psychologist with Hudson in Melbourne, says companies are recognising that part of their employee value proposition is offering career advice and support while you’re in the job.
“Coaches and mentors who understand the marketplace can help you manage your career path,” he says. “They’ll advise on building skills, and how to transfer those skills from one situation to another, as well as writing a good resume and presenting well at an interview.”
Career coaching can be especially beneficial while you’re thinking about a change or if you’ve had an employment setback and feel uncertain about your own value.
“Working on a plan of action with a coach or mentor suddenly creates a lot of other options. And when you’ve got options, your anxiety will drop and you’ll become more enthusiastic,” says Battaini.
“The realisation that you have something of value will change the way you talk about yourself, and that will come across to the employer.”
There are a lot of competencies that transfer from one environment to another. Battaini says the trick is to reimagine the tasks that comprise your job or the skills you’ve gained through things like volunteering or even leisure pursuits and put them in a slightly different context.
“What employers and recruiters want to know before they employ you is what motivates you,” he says. “So, part of telling your story is being able to engage with them in a way that shows you’re really committed to this career, it means something to you.
“You’re not just doing a job. This is what you’ve chosen to do and it’s how you contribute.”
Reframing the future
Regardless of how it happens, finding yourself in transition can be daunting. It’s not unusual for some people to feel “quite dimmed by the experience,” says Tait.
But with change comes the opportunity to reframe your future.
“Understand that change has occurred, and remember that you still have that huge trunk full of gold-star experience, insight and value for the marketplace. That never goes away,” Tait says.