In my first five years in the planning profession, I progressed with the guidance of my supervisors, colleagues and peers - all of whom have offered valuable advice. But in addition, I've recently developed two mentoring relationships outside the firm. A planner outside of my company has become a mentor of mine, and I have found her advice to be invaluable. I have also become a mentor for a younger Gen Y advisor who recently entered the profession.
Both experiences have changed me dramatically, and given me a keen sense of the value of these relationships.
WHAT YOU OFFER
I have been working with my mentee for a bit more than a year. She joined NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners, because she wanted to find out about the fee-only model and needed guidance in finding a job. She reached out to me for advice in finding fee-only firms and we struck up a friendship.
I coached her through the interview process for her current job, and at that point decided to make our arrangement more formal. She wanted to have someone to talk with as she went through her first year since there were no other young planners at her firm, and I wanted to develop the skill of being a mentor.
Over the last year, I have helped her manage her expectations for the job and the profession as a whole, coached her through situations with colleagues and clients, and supported her through the initial learning curve new planners experience.
Yes, a fellow colleague could have done much of the same work - but because we do not work together, our conversations could be more frank and honest, without the interference of office politics. Our different workplaces have also given her a chance to compare her experiences against those of someone at a different firm.
Michelle Harrison, a paraplanner with Bartley Financial Advisors in Bedford, N.H., has been in the NAPFA Genesis mentor program since its inception. When I asked her what she gets out of the program, she told me she appreciates having access to expert advice: "Rather than searching around the Internet when I have a question, I have someone whose experience I can learn from," she says. "As a result, I can go directly to implementing best practices."
She didn't quite know what she was signing up for when she took her first job, she says, and appreciated having a mentor available for questions. "Having a mentor gives you perspective that you cannot possibly have when you are at the beginning of your career," she adds.
But make sure both people are committed to spending time on the relationship, she cautions. "I know that, during the weeks where I haven't put the time in to think about issues that I would like to discuss, that the calls haven't been as fruitful."
SEEING BOTH SIDES
Over the last year, as I've gone through this relationship, I realized I needed a mentor's guidance and experience myself. Having developed relationships with planners who were five to eight years ahead of me in their career, I approached one and asked if she would be my mentor.
Not every planner thinks they need a mentor. Many young advisors are comfortable using their colleagues to fill that mentor role. "I have been very fortunate to receive guidance from senior advisors at work," says Alan Menase, another NAPFA Genesis member and a client services advisor at Mallard Advisors in Newark, Delaware. After a year in his job, "I know I can continue to learn a lot from these advisors who have been effectively dealing with clients for years."
For me, however, there have been a couple of immediate payoffs. One of the things I've noticed already is that I need to improve my listening skills - not because she said it, but because being conscious of myself in a new relationship made me aware that I interrupt more than I would like to. I've also found I need to be more assertive with my opinions and my reasoning in certain situations. What surprises me the most is how it has taken an external relationship to have this realization.
FINDING A FIT
Many planners say they worry about finding a relationship with the right fit. I think that in any mentoring relationship, it's critical to have both parties understand their own goals from the outset. This shouldn't be an empty relationship for the mentors - maybe they are working on their own mentoring skills, learning how to communicate with less-experienced employees or perhaps learning "Gen Y speak."