Growing up with four older brothers, I developed an appreciation early in life of the importance of mentors. Being able to learn from people who’ve walked the path before you is immensely valuable. In the workplace, I’ve also benefited greatly from my mentors’ guidance.

Having a mentor (or six) has definitely fast-tracked my career and challenged my thinking. Five years ago, I was a Principal Solution Engineer at Salesforce – a specialist-type role. My mentor encouraged me to put my hand up for a manager position available in my team. At the time, I’d never considered management in my career plan but my mentor opened my eyes to this as a possibility. I haven’t looked back.

I strongly believe that everyone can benefit from having a mentor, like I have. Here’s five ways a mentor can help fast-track career growth.

1. Accelerate your learning


I’ve heard the mentor/mentee relationship described as “the best way to time travel”, and I couldn’t agree more. Your average mentor has an extra 10–20 years of knowledge and experience to draw on, and you can obtain the most valuable and relevant learnings from those years in a short amount of time.

Too often people are afraid of asking for help or advice, both professionally and personally. But by having an open mind, and accepting that mentoring is not a sign of weakness but one of the best ways to learn, you open yourself up to immense benefit.

2. New perspectives at every stage


Learning is a lifelong pursuit, and mentors can provide guidance at different points along that journey. It’s unlikely you’ll have one mentor throughout your life and career who can provide all the answers. You need to pick the right mentor for right now.

I have six mentors at the moment, and I draw value from them all in different ways. I have one person I consider a life mentor. I talk to them about my career holistically and the direction it’s going in. It’s a very honest and direct relationship, one where she challenges me to think differently. Another mentor of mine has previously been in a similar role to mine, so can offer very practical advice on day-to-day challenges. A third is in a completely separate business area, so they help me understand different go-to-market strategies, approaches to setting up teams and ways of working with customers.

Some mentors I’ve thanked and said goodbye to. While their guidance was always immensely useful, sometimes there comes a point when they’re no longer the right fit. Then I have other mentors who I'll never say goodbye to because they've become friends.

3. Avoid mistakes and seize opportunities


Listening and learning from others’ experiences can save you from making the same mistakes as them or missing out on the same opportunities. The mentor has already walked the path that the mentee is current walking, and no doubt made numerous mistakes along the way – if only they’d had someone guiding them, and the benefit of hindsight.

4. Break out of your comfort zone


A good mentor is a confidant that gives you direction and options, and helps you break from your comfort zone. For this relationship dynamic to develop, it’s important that there is trust and commitment between the two parties from the start.

When starting out, you need to set a framework. An agreed initial contract of six months is best, with 45-minute sessions each month. Plus, an initial chemistry session is essential in developing trust. You need to feel you have a good connection in order to set agreed goals, provide support and challenge one another down the track.

5. Networking opportunities


One of the benefits of having a mentor is being able to access their vast networks. In many cases, a mentor is a conduit to others in the industry, potentially introducing you to contacts and influencers that can help expand your own network.

How to choose the right mentor


Choosing the right mentor comes down to knowing what you want to achieve. Once you’re clear on this, you’re in a good position to find the right person.

Start by listing out people who you know, have a good rapport with and respect or admire – ideally someone who’s reached a level of success in an area that you aspire to. The org chart is a useful place to start for inspiration. Although I would avoid your reporting line – these people have a vested interest in your success (or in keeping you in your current role) and may not be impartial.

A mentor doesn’t have to be the person at the very top (who’s usually too busy to offer individual mentoring anyway), but it could be someone on the same level as you or a few levels above. If you don’t know them personally, start by reviewing their LinkedIn profile to get a deeper understanding.

Ultimately, you’ve got nothing to lose from having a mentor and everything to gain. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors.

For more Salesforce career stories and thought leadership content, subscribe to our blog today. If you are based in New Zealand, make sure to join me at Salesforce Basecamp in Auckland on 31 August.