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4 Unexpected Ways a Mentor Can Be Your Career Development Ally


Tue Dec 19 2017

4 Unexpected Ways a Mentor Can Be Your Career Development Ally

Fast forward to your next annual performance evaluation. The self-evaluation form asks you to address topics such as accomplishments, training, areas for improvement, and development plans. You want your superiors to acknowledge you as an employee worth investing in. You have some accomplishments—but are they ones that matter to your employer? You’ve completed some training sessions—but admittedly, these seemed more like “check-the-box” activities. Do these sessions relate to your performance, now or in the future? Regarding areas for improvement, you’ve done what was expected of you and everyone seems satisfied—so how do you know what improvements you should focus on? As for development plans, it doesn’t seem as though there are any obvious opportunities for new or different challenges, let alone promotions.

The details of your performance evaluation may be different from the ones just listed, but it’s likely that your evaluation criteria will include what you’ve done and how well you’ve done it; additional skills you’ve acquired through formal or informal training; ways in which you can add more value to your employer; and how all this could add up to professional advancement, including pay increases!


It’s no secret that career development programs at many employers have become diluted or disappeared entirely in recent years. So, are you entirely on your own to build the best possible case to your employer that investing in you is a good move?

No, you aren’t—your mentor can be your career development ally in ways you might not expect. Let’s take the performance appraisal criteria one by one, and see how a mentor might help not only your evaluation but your career as well.

Your Accomplishments

Employers value accomplishments that directly support the company’s financial performance. If you’re in a sales position, for example, your accomplishments include meeting your dollar sales targets. What if it looks as though you’re going to miss your sales targets, even though you’ve diligently worked hard to achieve them? Your mentor can help you develop an action plan to get back on target. Such an action plan could include identifying and making calls to specific new customers, reconnecting with old customers, or surveying existing customers for their needs for complementary products and services. Once executed, the action plan is an accomplishment in itself.


As a talent development professional, you know how to get creative with training! Here again, your mentor can help you brainstorm innovative ways in which you can strengthen your skills related to your current job, as well as help build toward new assignments. For example, your mentor might facilitate your attending one of the scheduled meetings between senior managers or instructional designers. This informal training yields dividends to you and your employer in the form of strengthened relationships and a greater understanding of the talent needs your company is trying to address.


When areas of improvement center on the “softer” side of employee performance, such as being a team player or when and how to speak up at group meetings, your mentor might be your only source of insight into the unwritten rules that govern so much of this behavior within the workplace. Have you just joined a top-down organization like the New England Patriots football team, where “keep quiet” and “do your job” is the mantra for each team member? Your mentor can share insights into organizational codes of conduct—both what’s in the employee handbook and what isn’t—as well as describe how your company’s mantra translates to your day-to-day behavior, from showing up on time to perfecting the skills for which you were hired. If you doubt that this softer side of employee performance adds value to the organization, remind yourself that the Patriots were the first team to reach nine Super Bowl playoffs (as of the 2016-2017 season) and won five of them.



Your mentor knows the difference between employee “potential” and “preparedness.” In most organizations, there are three simultaneous prerequisites for a promotion: timing, opportunity, and sponsorship. Your mentor can be involved in all three, but can be a “make or break” influence in regards to timing. Having worked regularly with you over time, your mentor may be the only one who can make a persuasive case that you are professionally prepared to assume the new role when it becomes available. Timing also involves your mentor looking beyond the immediate horizon, at specific opportunities for you that may be a year or more in the future and for which you and your mentor can formulate a development plan.

With all this unexpected, newfound help from your mentor, your career ally, you may actually be hoping to fast forward to your next performance appraisal. When you’re there, savor the experience and satisfaction of capturing all your accomplishments. And remember your mentor when you get to the top!

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