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Career Counselor
On-the-Job Idols

April/May 2008 Millions of Americans cast their votes for their favorite singer on American Idol every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, but how many of us take the same amount of time to identify and learn from our on-the-job heroes? While personal ambition and talent are necessary to accomplish career goals, few professionals who have achieved success have done so on their own. Receiving help along the way from a trusted advisor is often essential, especially when you are starting a new career.

A mentor who offers guidance and advice can help you navigate the ins and outs of your profession and remove any obstacles that threaten to halt your professional progress. Unfortunately, many entry-level employees fail to partner with a mentor because they are intimidated by the prospect of identifying and approaching a potential candidate. But finding a mentor is much less difficult than you might think. Here’s how you can do it:

Be proactive. Mentors are unlikely to come to you and offer support and guidance. Therefore, you need to take the initiative and reach out to them. After identifying well-established financial professionals you respect, approach them by expressing interest in their work. Explain that you would like to find out more about how they honed their skills and abilities. This will help you demonstrate your desire to grow. 

Cast a wide net. Different mentors can impart different lessons. It’s perfectly acceptable to reach out to more than one person. For instance, one individual might be able to help you hone technical proficiencies, while another can share expertise on developing key soft skills or tips for dealing with office politics.

Focus on learning. Your top priority in selecting mentors should be to maximize what you can learn. Devote your attention to the wisdom and perspective that career partners can offer. 

Remember to give back. Mentoring is a two-way street. Offer to lend your mentor a hand whenever possible. 

Respect the person's time. Once you have found a mentor and begun interacting, be respectful of his or her time. Arrive at scheduled sessions with a list of questions, but don’t expect your contact to have all of the answers. Research issues before you bring them up. 

Be appreciative. Once you’ve established a relationship, keep mentors updated on progress you’ve made in areas in which they have helped. Always thank them for any assistance provided and share the credit for your successes when appropriate.

While it may require some effort to secure the right mentor, the payoff can be significant. Not only will you develop a valuable source of information in your industry, but you also will find yourself on an accelerated path toward achieving your career goals.

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ACCOUNTEMPS is a specialized temporary staffing service for accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps provides support throughout an accounting department. Headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., Accountemps and has more than 270 offices in North America, Europe and Australia. Accountemps' Career Counselor column, a SmartPros staple for over four years, is refreshed twice a month.

2008 SmartPros Ltd. All rights reserved.

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