17 May 2008

At Your Side: Mentoring in the Workplace

I once worked for a company where anyone who needed help in a certain area could call on one of their senior administrative assistants, trainers or IT specialists who would come to your desk and walk you through a problem. We called this “at your side” training. When I started at a new employer I thought the concept of having an “at your side” was everywhere. I found out it wasn’t, but I believe it should be.

I recently met a former co-worker for lunch and she described the way the assistants are trained in her office. She said that new assistants are mentored for the first year of their working career. They work initially as an assistant-in-training and report to a senior assistant for mentoring and help with anything that comes up on the job. They are encouraged to bring any requests from their boss and run it by their mentors so they can think through the next steps. Their bosses feel more confident that newbie mistakes will not be made and the new assistants feel more confident knowing it is expected of them to ask questions. They didn’t have to fear looking like they didn’t know what they were doing.

What a great idea and what a forward way of thinking for this company. Because of this mentoring program they had no problem hiring young assistants right out of college. They knew their real training would begin on the job and the end result would far outweigh the risks of hiring someone with no experience.

The reason I started my blog was because I wanted to pass on my knowledge and experience to anyone who wanted to listen. I felt that since I had been an admin assistant for almost 30 years I probably had something I could pass along that would be useful. In that sense I am mentoring via the blog.

I shared at a recent IAAP dinner meeting my reasons for joining this professional association and one of the reasons I gave were the mentoring opportunities. What a great place to go and what resources we have at our fingertips by other more seasoned members. Just looking out over the audience I saw experts that I wanted to plug into what they knew and learn and grow from them. The more experienced assistants can also learn from the younger assistants with their advanced knowledge of computer software. Mentoring can be a give and take experience.

Sharing what you know

Here are seven things you can consider about mentoring and being mentored:

  1. From the top down. It is always better if the mentoring has the stamp of approval of the employer. This helps to alleviate the feeling that you are trying to tell someone what to do. When the employer approves the mentorship it is accepted as their normal business practice. No toes are stepped on.
  2. Take the advice. You won’t agree with everything you hear, but listen to it with ears that understand your mentor has been on the job for many years and probably knows what they are talking about.
  3. Ask questions. If there is any doubt, don’t be afraid to ask. It is better to ask than to do it wrong and then have to re-do it. It is also better to leave the impression that you will be back if you need further help. It will give the mentor confidence in you.
  4. Be patient. The mentor needs to be patient as the new person is learning so many things. Take the time to explain and listen back to make sure it is understood.
  5. Be available. Mentors should stop by and see how things are going and be willing to offer assistance and advice when they see someone is struggling.
  6. Be an encourager. There was a time when each of us was the new person and just learning. Remember, it can be overwhelming at first. An encouraging word can go a long way.
  7. Pass on the praise. If things are going well, let the employer know. If things are not going well, keep working on it until it is. A successful protégé is a reflection of their mentor.

Mentoring Outside the Workplace

If your company does not have a mentoring program there are still opportunities for growth. As I previously mentioned, there are mentorship possibilities available through your administrative professional association. I also have a close circle of administrative professional co-workers and friends and we help and mentor each other in different areas of our careers. Your mentor may not even be an administrative professional, but an experienced business person or a former boss or colleague who has agreed to counsel you in your career. Be open to learning from others.

Another way you can be mentored indirectly is through reading professional magazines, books, blogs and websites. Reading useful articles can give you helpful insight and tools for your career.

We are not an island...Reaching out for counsel and assistance can be a useful career and confidence builder and reaching out and sharing knowledge with others can be rewarding and will sharpen your own skills and keep you current.

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