I believe any aspiring financial and investment guru needs a mentor when she embarks on her career. No matter how smart you are, how good you are with numbers or how great the firm is where you find a job.
Because you don’t yet have a perspective on the full universe of where you work or might want to work. You don’t know whether you are being given a good assignment or whether you are meeting the best clients. You don’t know whether you are being compensated fairly. You don’t know who makes the real decisions, what the upward track is, or who you need to impress with your efforts. You lack the learning wisdom that time and experience bring. You haven’t yet been tested. You need someone who has been there and can impart insights and good judgment gained from her or his journey. You can also have more than one mentor.
How Do You Get a Mentor?
Rarely, but occasionally, one will identify and seek you out to support. More often, you have to find your adviser(s). Be observant. See who is respected. See who has a work style and ethic you want to emulate. Pick someone with whom you want to spend time and find a way to work with them, or seek their opinion on an issue. Talk to them in social settings when the opportunities arise. Create a relationship; it could last a lifetime.
One piece of advice: Don’t immediately go into the default position of seeking a female mentor just because she’s a woman. That’s reverse discrimination! Women mentors can be terrific, but there are fewer of them. I have also found, counter-intuitively, that sometimes certain women can be competitive. So look into their long-term track record with predecessors.
Don’t feel bad about having a male mentor. You’re going to have to work with an awful lot of men, so it’s important to know how they think and how to interact with them. Too often, young women can be held back in their careers by their failure to take risks, and a mentor can help teach where it is important. This sometimes seems to come more naturally to the guys. Young women also need to learn one rule that every male knows, and every female professional learns: Never cry, and never whine. To borrow from A League of Their Own, there’s no crying on Wall Street.
How Can You Best Use a Mentor?
Study and Learn From What Makes Your Mentor Admirable to You
It might be interpersonal skills; it might be technical expertise; it might be presentations and public speaking; it might be how he or she reacts under pressure; it might be good judgment; it might be her or his ethics and moral conscience; it might be decisiveness. If you have picked a great mentor, it is probably a combination of all these and more. A mentor is first and foremost a very special teacher.
Seek Your Mentor’s Counsel
Bounce ideas off him or her about work. Let him or her know about what you are working on and with whom. Share your longer-term goals and objectives.
Let Your Mentor Be Your Advocate
Mentors can help smooth the way through advice, and sometimes through action, to help you get the clients or assignments or promotions that you should.
Establish a Lifetime Relationship
In the process of learning from your mentor, you also build a friendship based on trust and support—one that can help sustain you both as you start out in your career and as you advance. Who knows? She or he might end up one day as your business partner. I’m not kidding. It's how I found mine.
Tell us in the comments: Have you ever had or been a mentor? We'd love to hear about it!