The concept of careers has changed with the changing focus in the work place. The meaning of career has changed from being an objective, externally defined concept to a subjective, internally defined concept.
In the knowledge-based economy we are now talking about intelligent careers and boundaryless careers. Technology and knowledge are changing so fast that there can be no guarantee of a lifelong career in any one profession or organisation. Career is now your whole work-life no matter if it goes up, down, sideways or on hold for a while, e.g. while having children or taking a year-long sabbatical to sail around the world; and the individual is the only one who can determine whether this is a successful career.
It is your own responsibility
This places the responsibility for the career on the individual who no longer can (or want to) rely on the organisation to define required skills and provide standard careers. Each person is responsible for his/her own market value, and for making good career decisions according to their own subjective criteria – criteria that may change through different periods of life. This requires much more of each person in understanding his/her own motivation, skills, ambitions and in choosing the right opportunities.
Career transitions are hard, and many avoid them because they are afraid of change. However, a mentor can help you through the career transition by helping to clarify career ambitions, challenging your way of thinking and opening your eyes and mind to different perspectives.
The mentor supports the growth and development of the mentee, but the mentee is expected to drive the process forward.
What is the role of a mentor?
Mentor has relevant experience which is valuable to the mentee and the mentee takes responsibility for his/her own learning. Mentor’s role is to assist in this learning process – not to do the mentee’s work for him/her.
The mentor’s main role is to act as a facilitator to create learning opportunities, as well as openly present his/her own reflections not only on the situation of the mentee, but also on how the mentor can use these reflections in his/her own work life. These kinds of reflections can again lead the mentee to new reflections and together they create new insight of value to both parties.
It is important that the mentor has experience and skills that are relevant to the mentee, since the mentor is expected to offer his/her experience and stories as an inspiration to the mentee. The mentee is not offered final solutions, but is presented with stories that can inspire, ideas that can be built upon and questions that will lead to reflection. In this way, the mentee is able to build new solutions for him -/herself, and after implementing the new solutions the mentee will evaluate and discuss the results with the mentor in a new round of reflection.
A learning alliance is a two-way street where also the mentor can and should focus on his/her own learning. Listening to the mentee’s challenges and concerns, observing people and situations through the eyes of the mentee, and achieving new knowledge, gives the mentor the opportunity to reflect on his/her own behaviour at work, to question his/her own decisions on how to handle challenging situations, and to gain new knowledge about people, about the organisation and about other professions.
Talking about mentoring as a learning alliance takes the focus away from the mentor and onto the action in the relationship – the learning – for both mentor and mentee. Here there is a mutual focus on learning and no predetermined ideas of what the right direction or right solutions are.
This kind of mentoring is very much in line with the new way of understanding careers. Both parties in the mentoring relationship are responsible for their own learning, for taking action on this learning, and both parties are responsible for fulfilling their roles as mentor and mentee bringing all their knowledge, skills and experience to the table in an honest and open way which will create the best possible learning arena for both.
A mentor can make a real difference in your career and life. Come to the relationship with realistic expectations about the role and a willingness to work hard.
Michael B. Arthur. Priscilla H. Claman & Robert J. DeFillippi: Intelligent enterprise, intelligent carrers, Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol. 9 No. 4
Michael B. Arthur & Denise Rousseau: The Boudaryless Career, Oxford University Press, 1996