The consulting and contracting world is inherently isolated. You’re out on your own, finding new clients, surmounting new problems. In a traditional work environment, we are surrounded by other professionals who provide advice, examples and a support network. While they also provide competition, those around you can be a great resource when you’ve hit a wall in a project. Especially the sagacious advice of one who has been in your field much longer than yourself. These mentors can help you navigate office politics as well as provide insight in tough business situations.
The contractor and consulting world is full of opportunities to develop such relationships. In fact, they are more important in the independent employment world. Mentors help guide you toward projects that will further your career and strategies that will help develop your work skills. It’s equally important, as you develop in your career, that you allow yourself to be a resource to others.
Be Humble: It requires a measure of humility to allow yourself to be mentored. Admitting that you aren’t experienced enough to handle every situation that comes your way, or recognizing that you could use a second opinion is something that many aren’t ready to do. Once you get beyond that stigma, you are guaranteed to benefit from having a good mentor.
Reach Out: While sometimes a mentoring relationship develops organically, other times it requires something of a cold-call process. You can attempt to develop that relationship organically by simply send queries and career questions to someone else in your industry whom you respect. Otherwise, it can be beneficial to simply state your desire directly: I’m looking for someone to provide some advice as I start up in this field. What you’ll find is that – rather than seeing competition – most people will see potential to help someone grow.
Absorb Wisely: Sponges have one major issue in that they absorb indiscriminately. Your new mentor will be helpful and you would be wise to keep your eyes and ears open to any advice that comes your way. However, you should also take everything with a skeptical eye, if it doesn’t seem to make sense, perhaps it does not. Test each hypothesis in your mind before blindly pursuing it. Weigh your mentor’s opinion heavily, but don’t follow it religiously.
Be Open: Mentoring someone doesn’t take huge amounts of time. Yes, you are working for free on some level, but you are helping someone else achieve their goals. It’s hard to put a quote on that, isn’t it? I’d err on the side of accepting rather than rejecting. Of course, you can’t take it on as a full time position, so keep your reigns tight as your time tightens.
Be the Well: You are the well of experience that someone has come to draw from. Accept that your anecdotes and advice – though you may sometimes feel they are insufficient – are precisely what you’re there for. Even as some projects or events fall outside of your experience, your general aptitude and intelligence will provide sound advice for whoever comes seeking it.
Reap the Rewards: While you wont be paid, mentoring someone does have it’s rewards. Friendship, first and foremost, is difficult to avoid in this scenario. Also, you may be called upon for projects beyond the person’s capacity. You expand your network and develop a list of people who owe you on some level. You develop a reputation as well, as an individual of intelligence and merit. That kind of personal investment is never truly forgotten and down the road may come back to pay you many times over.
Despite the lone-wolf mentality of the independent workforce, there is strength to be found in numbers. When we are starting, we must draw from people of experience. When we are experienced, we must give back into the pool from which all future work will be developed. It’s a cycle which benefits everyone.