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Business

Mentors can help steer a career

Before I decided to switch jobs at The Sun more than a year ago, I sought advice from everyone -- friends, colleagues and family.

I also reached out to a former boss, who has since become a mentor. She helped me weigh the pros and cons of the new position. I trusted her advice because of the relationship we had developed over the years, and the fact that she knew my work and goals in journalism. (Yes, I took the job, and here I am writing this column.)

Having a mentor can help steer your career in the right path. A mentor's role can vary depending on where you are in your career and what you're looking for. That person could be someone who listens and offers encouragement. Or someone who can help you find job leads or networking connections. They also may be someone who passes along wisdom based on experience.

"No matter how old you are, and how successful you are, everyone could use a mentor," says Laleh Malek, director of professional experience at the College of Business and Economics at Towson University. She constantly doles out this advice to her business students.

"Everyone has a story about this person who had an impact on my life," she adds. "That's what mentorship is about."

Several companies have formal mentoring programs, for instance, focusing on grooming young recruits or minority workers.

Insurer Aflac Inc. has a mentoring program that targets its minority sales agents with less than three years experience. The program provides training opportunities and pairs new sales agents with experienced counterparts, who offer support and encouragement.

Mitzi Jackson, a supervisor of multicultural market development, says the program helps attract and retain a diverse workforce. This year, the program has some 215 mentees, she says.

"The objective of the program is for retention," Jackson says. "Once we spend the money and the time to bring them on, we want them to stay. And we want them to be promoted to management positions."

David Morningstar, an Aflac sales coordinator who oversees the Baltimore-Washington corridor, has been a mentor to young sales agents for several years. The key is to show them -- not tell them -- how to be successful in sales, he says.

"To me, people learn from your actions more than your words," Morningstar says. "That's what it is always about -- stay with me and see what I do. I always find that had more meaning than I do this or that, or you should do this or that."

Even without formal programs, you can find mentors in and outside of work. Malek suggests meeting people in your field at college alumni and networking events or other functions.

The point is to find someone who you connect with and feel comfortable sharing information and asking questions.

From the mailbag: Telecommuting can offer not only convenience but also productivity. But as I wrote in a recent column, a new survey found that executives believe workers who telecommute are less likely to advance in their careers than their counterparts who work in the office.

Here's a take from Mary, a reader in Woodlawn, who used to telecommute at her job.

"I was more productive than I am in an office. No phones, no people, no interruptions, and do I care if I get overlooked for a promotion?" she writes. "Personally, I don't much care about the title. Call me what you will -- janitor, president -- just pay me. I am a worker bee who just wants to do my job."

What kind of impact has a mentor had on your career? Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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