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How IT Mentors Can Help Advance Your Tech Career

By Rich Hein, CIO
January 29, 2013 04:35 PM ET

CIO - You've worked hard in your IT job, you've attended classes and even have all the latest certifications. Still, your career is stuck in neutral. While dedication, education and training are irreplaceable, sometimes they aren't enough. Sometimes you need a personal touch. Sometimes you can't beat the insight you gain from someone who is where you want to be someday.

After all, when it comes to professional development and career planning who couldn't use a trusted advisor to bounce questions off of? Whether it's something as mundane as how to approach a specific assignment or something more life-altering such as weighing job offers from different companies, having a mentor in your corner who's "been there, done that" can help turn your job into a career.

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January marks the celebration of National Mentoring Month, so it's the perfect time to raise your awareness on this often under-used resource.

How Are Mentors Valuable to You?

Mentors are helpful because, in addition to expertise in their field, they have a network of business professionals and, most importantly, they are willing to share what and who they know. People who mentor are likely to have had mentors at some point who helped them understand their industry better, hone their strengths or sharpen skills.

The mentor/ mentee relationship is a symbiotic relationship. "It is important to remember that this is a two-way relationship. While you are looking to benefit from the mentor, you are also looking to help the mentor," says Imad Lodhi, a veteran of IBM and the outsourcing industry.

While many times the mentee seems to get the better part of the deal, the person doing the mentoring gets something out of it, too. He or she can directly impact another person's life for the better. "By helping another person succeed, you help create a brighter future for all of us, and gain the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a difference in someone's life," Lodhi says.

That said, mentees should also do what they can to help their mentors. For example, a younger mentee may be more knowledgeable about building an online brand or being a social influencer. Sharing your knowledge is one way to contribute to the relationship.

What to Look for in a Mentor

"The qualities that make a good mentor are those define a great leader," says Michael R. Spano, a Certified Executive Consultant in the IBM CIO Office and a long-time participant in mentoring. Being insightful and experienced, a good listener and approachable are all qualities to look for.

The mentor you choose should also have a passion for coaching/teaching. "Not all leaders or teachers are great mentors, but all great mentors find ways to teach and inspire, without criticism, and are always supportive," Spano says. When choosing a mentor, look for those qualities, but then observe the person for a while and see if these characteristics stand up.

How Can a Mentor Help Your IT Career?

Having a mentor is important regardless of your age or your position, according to Lodhi,. "Everyone needs someone from the outside to share the insight and experiences to help better ourselves. Mentors can help you establish the 'big picture'," says Lodhi.

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