You might be considering getting a coach or a mentor but aren’t quite sure which one to work with. It’s no secret that the people who are the most successful in their careers either have a coach, a mentor or both. Let’s start with a few questions. How are your career goals looking at the moment? Have you achieved what you set out to do in the beginning of the year? The terms coach and mentor are used loosely interchangeably in some circles but they are some subtle differences.
Let’s take a look at these 6 factors in deciding who you are going to work with.
Generally speaking, coaches are paid a fee. Mentors unless they are part of a very specific program, will give their time for free. You can however, find it’s not uncommon to pay for a business mentor. A coach can set you back anything from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds. Because of the cost involved you will want to be clear on what you need the coach to help you with, although they can help you figure the goal out as well as the problem as part of their coaching offering. It’s important to be respectful of your mentor’s time especially since they are not getting paid for it. Most mentor- mentee relationships sour when people fail to respect this. Remember time is money.
In terms of how long you should work with either, it makes more sense to work with a coach for short to mid-term goals and a mentor for more long-term goals especially because of the cost. You can work with a coach for an hour but usually you will need a few sessions to resolve issues and follow up. More on that when we talk about structure later. Your sessions with a mentor don’t have to be a fixed duration but you are at their mercy if something comes up because you are not paying them. Your mentor might also be someone you work closely with meaning that you can at certain time have extended access to them.
If the goal you are trying to obtain needs to be achieved quickly then you will be better off working with a coach. This is very much the case when you want to change career direction, get a promotion or you are job hunting. Your coach will work with you to focus on the specific actions and outcomes you want to achieve. On the other hand a mentor can be someone you observe over a long period to develop your soft skills or leadership skills as an example. Coaches and mentors can both help when it comes to helping with issues with your boss or colleagues.
A coach will have a more structured way of working with you whether you are on a 1 hour call or a 6 week program. Your coach may design and tailor a program for you. A coach will have use of specific coaching tools to help you get to the desired outcome for example personality tests or coaching models. Sessions will have specific aims that progress with time in between to help you take action. Your sessions with a mentor can be ad hoc and unstructured because you may just be after advice or information on methods to use to achieve your goal. You can loosely agree when you will have contact with a mentor but in other cases you may not even have an agreement because the arrangement will be very informal and unspoken.
A coach doesn’t need to have experience or expertise in your particular field to work with you and help you get results in your career. You will however find in certain industries consultants calling themselves coaches. You can work with a coach on specifics such as developing a career plan and staying accountable. Other times you might find it helpful and more productive to hear from someone that has actually successfully experienced the path you want to take. This doesn’t mean that you will have the same experiences but will raise your awareness and hopefully help you avoid common mistakes and failures. Another advantage of a mentor’s experience in a specific field is that they will have contacts they might be willing to share with you. This will be especially helpful if you want to grow your network.
I hope this helps you choose the right individual to support your career at whatever stage you are. The long and short of it is if you have short to mid-term career goals then you will need a mentor but if you have more long term goals, for example developing your skills in a particular specialism then you might want to find a mentor.
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