Silent mentors – the forgotten resource

  • By Robyn Teet MAusIMM, Outgoing Chair, New Professionals Network

Within the minerals industry and across the AusIMM community, there is a strong focus on mentoring programs to facilitate the development of new professionals within the industry.

While there are many excellent programs in existence, there are also members who do not have access to a formalised mentoring scheme. So what can you do if there isn’t a recognised formal program at your place of work?

The good news is that there are a lot of people out there who are already acting as mentors – they (and you) may just not realise it! It’s also key to realise that no one is too good or too successful to have a mentor. Mentors can help you open doors, enable you to engage and focus on your goals and help you realise what you are capable of achieving, regardless of the challenges that you face. Even reluctant mentors can add value, and there are always things to learn from others. While the word ‘mentoring’ is often thrown around in graduate programs, workplace performance reviews and other career development initiatives, what does a mentor actually do?

While there are many aspects that mentors may be able to assist with, there are six key roles that mentors typically perform:

  • Facilitate networking by introducing you to influential figures in your industry and discipline, both academically and organisationally.
  • Provide direction on work-based challenges, be it project-specific, through performance reviews or management guidance.
  • Motivate you when things aren’t going as well as you’d like. Don’t forget that mentors have typically experienced the same things and are often your best supporter within the company.
  • Provide exposure to other aspects of the business, either through shadowing or discussion of business aspects above your current level.
  • Offer constructive feedback while pushing you to advance your skills in alignment with your personal career aspirations.
  • Provide lifelong career advice and friendship.

Although the last point isn’t always the case, I’ve seen many examples of this throughout my (short) time in the industry so far, and I have no reason to doubt that friendship is a key component of many long-term, effective mentoring experiences.

But how do you find a mentor when there’s no formal scheme? The obvious answer is ask! It’s surprising how far you get by just asking the question a lot of the time. However, the silent mentors (ie the mentors who don’t know that they are mentoring you) are an often forgotten part of the workforce that can be tapped into for advice and guidance. There is nothing secret about silent mentors, they exist across the industry and typically have one or more of the following traits:

  • involved across disciplines
  • technical competencies recognised by employer and/or professional bodies
  • undertake roles in industry-related committees, societies and/or networks
  • are successful within the organisation and demonstrate strong leadership skills
  • are effective communicators.

Once you have identified who might be a suitable but silent mentor, there is an option to approach the individual through formal processes if your employer has them. However, you could also approach them unofficially (outside of any formal program) or simply ask questions and for feedback. It is important to do some preparation to ensure that you get the most out of any interactions:

  • be clear about what you want (eg learning objectives, assistance with software or exposure to project management)
  • do some background research so you know the basics and aren’t asking questions that can be answered with a simple Google search
  • research the potential mentor to make sure they are the best suited to assist
  • value their time
  • be accommodating
  • keep it concise and be upfront about what you want
  • ask what you can do to help the mentor
  • be grateful.

Not everyone has time to commit to a full-time mentor role, and some people don’t believe that they can add value as a mentor. However, there is always something you can learn from colleagues around you. Instead of a formal mentoring session, why not try a 15-minute Q&A session? Most people can find 15 minutes, even if it’s over coffee, to have a chat and discuss engaging topics.

While many try to ‘make it on their own’, they often become overwhelmed and frustrated with their early career path. Therefore, it is important to remember that engaging with more senior people and peers within your organisation can not only fast-track your learning of technical and managerial skills, but provide you with advocates for your achievements that will most likely be with you throughout your career.

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