by: Mary Finlay
The other day someone asked me about mentors. Does everyone need one? What do you actually talk about with your mentor?
I thought these were great questions. The simple answer to both questions is: it depends.
I don’t think you need to have a mentor simply because all the career books say that if you are serious about your career you should have a mentor. I do think you should consider getting a mentor if you need help with advancing your career or transitioning into a new role or managing the balance between your personal and professional life. Sure, you could probably figure out how to navigate through each of these situations on your own, but wouldn’t it be helpful to talk to someone who has been there and done that?
The best way to find a mentor is to look around you and identify someone you respect, admire and is a step above you in the organization (so they have experience and wisdom to share). Reach out and ask the person if they would be willing to meet with you on an occasional basis to give you professional advice. Let them know that you are seeking them out because you like how they work or have great respect for what they have accomplished. Promise them that you will come to your meetings with specific questions and will be respectful of their time. And when they agree to be your mentor, be sure to thank them.
I have mentored countless individuals over the years. Here is a sampling of some of our discussion topics:
How do I position myself for a CIO role?
How do you manage up?
How can I get better at public speaking?
Will you look at my resume and provide some feedback?
I have been given 3 new departments to manage and I’m feeling overwhelmed.
I feel like I am drowning at work. What can I do to manage my time better?
Will you do a mock interview with me to help me prepare for a real interview?
A mentor can provide tremendous value if you know what you need from the relationship. And don’t be shy about approaching someone to mentor you. Most people are flattered to be asked.
The Importance of Education
by: Mary Finlay
One of the best things you can do for your career is to add education to your portfolio. The type of education that you need and should pursue depends on where you are with your career.
Perhaps you are getting ready to graduate from high school and college isn’t the right path for you, but you would like to pursue a career in technology. You should try to find a program like YearUp. YearUp is a training program that teaches students computer and work skills. After completing six months of classroom training, students are placed in six month apprenticeships with companies. The YearUp students are skilled in areas of PC maintenance, help desk, and web design. Many of the students get hired following their apprenticeships and find themselves on their way in a professional job. YearUp started in Boston and is now in Providence, New York City and Washington D.C.
Perhaps you are interested in going to college. There are many companies and positions that require a college degree so it will certainly give you an advantage to pursue an undergraduate degree. Do you need to major in computer science? The answer depends on what you are interested in doing for your career. If you want to land a job in some of the more technical positions such as an applications developer, a database administrator, a security or network engineer, then yes, you should major in computer science or another specific IT major. But, there are also plenty of other jobs within an IT organization that require analytical skills, business knowledge, and excellent organization skills. A solid liberal arts degree will help you with these positions.
Maybe you already have your college degree and are wondering if you should go for a masters degree. If you are interested in moving into management or becoming an expert in a particular facet of technology, a masters degree would be the smart thing to do. Having a masters degree will also give you an edge over others. Not only will it give you additional knowledge and experience, but it will also communicate to others that you have the drive to devote the time and energy into your professional development.
I pursued my MBA from the Simmons School of Management ten years after I had received my Bachelors degree in psychology from Allegheny College. I wanted an MBA so I could learn about the various areas of business such as marketing, operations management and finance. I also wanted to learn about all of the things that would help me with managing others.
I got all of this from Simmons plus so much more. When I look back on my career, I credit my Simmons experience as a major factor in helping me achieve what I have accomplished.
Education doesn’t always mean a formal program or degree. Hopefully you are in a job that provides opportunity for ongoing learning–conferences, on the job training, technical training courses. Even if your company doesn’t provide these types of opportunities, find ways to keep learning on your own. Remember, you want to be the person that others see as someone who can learn to take on new and different things.
by: Mary Finlay
You pick up any book or article on careers and most likely there is something about the importance of networking. I think networking is very important, but I’ve never liked the typical advice of attending a professional event with the sole purpose of getting your business card into the hands of as many people as possible. So, twenty people have your business card and perhaps you have the card of the same twenty people. Now what? Probably not much.
I think real networking occurs when you become part of something with others–aka, a professional group or society. Let me give you an example.
About five years ago I became a member of the Society for Information Management (SIM). SIM is a national organization. I belong to the Boston chapter, the largest chapter in the country. SIM offers a number of things for IT professionals–an annual conference, regional leadership development programs, local lunch and dinner meetings with interesting speakers, and a CIO roundtable. While I have enjoyed all the offerings of SIM, I have probably gotten the most value out of the CIO roundtables.
For three years I facilitated the CIO roundtable. We get together five times a year. There are usually about 30 people at the meeting. The meeting portion lasts about 4 hours. As a group, we select the topics of the meetings. In the past year we have discussed everything from career strategies to business intelligence to emerging technologies. Following the meetings, we go out to dinner where the networking continues, sometimes late into the night. Between meetings we stay connected through an online group.
Through my involvement with SIM, I have developed a strong network of about 60 people. We share job listings, work challenges and solutions, and lots of laughs about the nuances of working in the IT field. I know that if I need help with anything, I can call on any of my SIM colleagues and they can call on me. This is an example of a true network.
I haven’t met a successful person yet who didn’t get help along the way in their career. A network made up of professionals in your field is one way to get this kind of help. Joining an organization such as SIM is a great way to get started in building your network.