How to Achieve Your Career Dream

what is a mentor

We all need a little bit of extra help sometimes to move our career aspirations from dreams to reality. Often times we look in books or school, but there are other places to look.

Do you know people that have had great success with a coach at work while others swear by their mentor? These often available resources can give you a much-needed push.

So what are the differences between a coach and a mentor, and which will help you achieve your dreams?

Difference Between a Coach and Mentor

There are many different definitions of both, but most agree that a coach is somebody who is usually brought in from the outside, while many mentors are recruited internally.

The second difference is that a coach usually observes and makes suggestions for an employee to follow, while a mentor might simply show the person how to do things or open doors to opportunities and networks.

Another big difference is that a coach will normally focus on improving your job performance today, and a mentor’s goal is to prepare you for the long career road ahead.

How the Employee Relationship Differs

Some people describe their relationship with their mentor as part older sibling, part teacher and part counselor.

The mentor provides them with insight and advice about what is going on within the company or organization, and as many of them are senior managers, they also have the ability to suggest you for transfers and even leadership opportunities.

When people talk about their coach they often use terms like tutoring or even monitoring of their actions at work. While the coach can be internal, they often come from outside and bring new ideas and perspective to the table.

Do You Need a Coach or a Mentor?

This is a very individual decision, but part of it may depend on the culture of the organization where you currently work. Some companies actively encourage their junior leaders to participate in a formal coaching program and may have a team of coaches on call.

In other businesses the focus is on having older employees mentor younger workers, and they make an effort to match people up. But if the choice is yours, then you need to consider where you are in your career.

As noted earlier, coaches are great to help you make improvements in your current job while a mentor can give you some long term advice and suggestions.

When Do You Need a Mentor?

Both a coach and a mentor can help you, but you may be better served by a mentor when you are ready to move from a lower level into the management cadre. This is the place where a mentor can welcome you into the corporate boardroom, introduce you to the main players and show you the ropes.

A mentor can also be of greatest benefit to you when there is any form of transition at your place of employment. Situations like downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, and even being part of a spin-off or start-up enterprise can be challenging for anybody.

With a mentor by your side you can ensure that your mistakes are fewer, because you really can’t afford them. You can also ensure that you will have somebody you can trust when the road gets bumpy.

When Do You Need a Coach?

A coach can help you grow at any time in your career, but they are most helpful to an employee when at a crossroads and have to make a decision about which way to go in terms of your career.

Coaches ask questions that help you think about what the next right move might be for you and your career. These questions also help you breakthrough your insecurities and fears and allow you to focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.

If you have to transition to a new industry or profession, a good coach can help you identify your unique talents and skills and uncover the sometimes hidden barriers that are holding you back from achieving your full potential.

Getting a little help at any point in your career will bring you to greater heights than what you may be able to do alone. Choosing a coach or mentor is part of that process.

(Photo by USDA / CC BY)

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


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