Posted on 12/19/2022, 12:35:59 PM
Looking back, one thing which has made a massive difference in my career is the mentorship and guidance of people I worked with or met.
My career would not have been the same without those certain people who invested time and energy with me. But it wasn’t all luck or by accident. And anyone in their career can get that same backing and help to push them forward.
Before I even considered myself to have a mentor, or even had the idea… I was learning my craft as a school boy entering the business world. I knew nothing and had to learn from scratch. It was painful, slow and took longer than I had the patience for.
Getting sick of not being capable of taking on more work, the more interesting projects led me to ask myself why i wasn’t taking the steps forward that I wanted to. Introspection is a strength of mine fortunately, and it was clear that I could do much more.
When I added another dimension of focus to my work and dedication to improving, everything fell into place. It’s like how people say “work hard” and it’s too obvious to take notice of. When I put far more effort into my own improvement, help actually came to me.
My first mentor was really my first boss. He was running a small agency with lots of pressure, a family and lots going on in his life. If I didnt make sure I got my sit down with him once a month or booking in my review, life got in the way. It’s not 100% right but I understood it and made sure that didn’t stop us.
I always came prepared, having done some form of self-critique. I had pointed questions which only he could answer. Never ask any mentor something you can find on Google, for example.
Be prepared to ask difficult questions, the answers might not be what you want to hear. I struggled to begin dealing with the negative answers to my own questions. But, it gives you thicker skin and helps you grow. Ultimately, that would irritate me into action and I would come back the week after having spent time to address whatever the negative point raised was.
In the more recent years of my career, where I’ve found real traction and have a lot of ambition, it has been fun to speak to people I don’t work with and ask for their opinions. Not boss is a mentor. I’ve always worked with at least 1 person who I considered a mentor, but it can help to look for very specific examples who may be external.
When looking for a promotion, I sought out 10 people who were senior to me and in similar companies or situation that had achieved what I was looking for. I made extensive notes on what they did and how the story played out for them. Asked them where they think I could fall short to see if there was an obvious trend in their answers which I should work on.
I’d find somebody who recently became the CMO at a big company with funding to ask them what they would look for in a credible marketing leader of my age to see where I stack up against their answers. Then I would ask their Founders too.
Admittedly, I took this a little too far and spent too many hours doing this in lockdown when I could have been relaxing a bit more. But, what I learned was very useful and has helped me in positioning myself, learning certain things, understanding how the career ladder works.
I will probably always have at least one. If I’m a 26 year old CEO or demand gen marketer. 40 year old marketer or VP of marketing. Whatever it is, there will always be hundreds of people who have been where I want to go next. And they do want to help you, because it’s very likely that someone helped them to get where they are. You just have to know how to ask them and make the very best use of the advice you get.
Ollie Whitfield has a 10 year marketing background after finishing school and going straight into a marketing agency. After learning social media and content, he went into demand generation and project management before product marketing and then the software space.
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