Mentoring for senior HR: Taking your career to the next level

It’s part of HR’s role to help junior staff members achieve their career goals. But when senior HR managers are in need of their own professional support and guidance, who can they turn to?

The HR Man, Richard Westney, discusses the steps to take to find the right mentor for your circumstances.

Step 1. Acknowledge the value of mentoring

Whether you choose someone from within your own industry or another area of business altogether, engaging a mentor could be the catalyst to take your senior HR career to the next level.

By sharing their expertise and experience with you over the course of several months, a mentor can plug gaps in your knowledge or professional skill set, help you resolve difficult issues and build confidence, and open you up to different ways of thinking.

“I’m a huge fan of mentorships,” says Westney, whose own mentor helped him navigate a difficult stage in his career, and eventually inspired him to make the leap from HR director to an independent consultant.

“I think it’s vitally important, particularly if you want to navigate the wider business issues and think a little bit more strategically about what you’re doing.”

Step 2: Identify what you need in a mentor

When looking for a professional mentor, always keep the endgame in sight. In other words, what specific skills or business knowledge do you need to take your career to new heights? This will make it easier to find someone experienced in these areas.

“It’s very, very important that you know exactly what you want when you approach somebody to be your mentor,” Westney says, adding that choosing someone from outside the HR industry can expand your business knowledge and round out your skill set. This could be the first step to branching out on your own one day or even becoming a CEO.

“HR people can learn a lot in particular from CFOs and senior marketers, and I think those are the sorts of relationships they need to develop and foster,” he says.

“And if you can find a CEO at another organisation who’s prepared to spend some time with you, it may allow you to have the conversations you would like to have with your own CEO without negatively influencing your existing professional relationship.”

Step 3: Know what to look for in a mentor – and where to find them

Westney acknowledges that internal mentoring does have its place, but he says the benefit of an external mentor is that they can offer you a completely different – and objective – perspective to the one you’re currently getting in your own workplace.

“I think one of the things that can happen when you’ve got an internal mentor is that [the mentor] is thinking about the outcomes for the business, rather than the individual, from that mentorship,” he says.

“In comparison, an external mentor will often just listen, be non-judgemental and get you thinking about different ways of doing things. They’ll point you towards the areas you should be focusing on for your personal growth and development.”

So how do you find these external mentors? The Australian HR Institute (AHRI) has a mentoring program you can apply for. Alternatively, you may seek out someone from within your own network – someone you respect and admire – or ask for recommendations from friends and colleagues.

As well as being a completely independent sounding board, Westney says a good mentor can suggest ideas, troubleshoot unfamiliar business issues and introduce you to people within their own network who might be able to assist you in the future.

Rapport is perhaps the most important element of a solid mentor–mentee relationship, so make sure you really mesh with your prospective mentor.

“Don’t feel like you have to go with the first person you meet,” Westney says. “It’s like anything else: shop around a bit, meet a few people and see who you have the best connection with.”

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