Working at Arbuthnot Latham –
How mentoring can help develop your career
Changing disciplines can be one of the biggest career challenges. Kerry Prior, Senior Platform Lead at Arbuthnot Latham explains how mentoring helped her, and how she is sharing her experiences with others.
I started my working life as a professional musician. It was an incredibly fulfilling time, but after ten years of living out of a suitcase, I was ready to try something new.
At first, I went it alone. With my subject matter expertise, I looked at event management, tours, and production. I soon realised that I loved projects, planning, finance, and resources; that brought me to a job in the city.
Getting my first role was not easy; I knew I had the transferable skills, but the challenge was proving that to others who might look at a musician and think “what can they bring to the table?”
I undertook basic training in Project Management, IT and Service Management to demonstrate to potential employers that I was serious; that I had the basic skills to function in this world.
My own perseverance helped me get a foot in the door, and, by chance, my first mentor was a fellow musician; this relationship really kick-started my career.
My mentor understood where I was coming from, my skills, and what I could bring. It showed me early on how a good mentor can see your value and help you understand it, as well as guiding and coaching you.
I learned so much during those early years and it has helped me as I have developed in my career. Having benefitted from it so much, I now mentor others.
What is mentoring?
It is a two-way relationship where knowledge and experience are shared. The most important part of mentoring is offering support to your mentee – this comes in the form of listening and being a sounding board.
It is about truly understanding someone’s challenges and enabling them to work through it.
I think back to my early days of feeling like it was ‘sink or swim’ but having someone who believed in me went a huge way. A mentor can be that person – detached from your actual day-to-day work - but who is there in the background, backing you up.
Mentoring also helps you grow your network, which is so important, therefore it can be good to have a mentor outside of your immediate circle. This does not just help you understand the world around you more fully, but it could open some doors further down the track.
What mentoring has taught me
One of the most important lessons I have learned is that people often confuse subject matter expertise with soft skills. For me, the soft skills are the most important of all. You can learn about a subject but developing the core underlying skills is where you really add value as an employee.>
So often, as a mentor, the value is seeing the gaps; where an individual might benefit from sharpening up a particular skillset to help them solve a problem or manage a certain stakeholder.
Beyond that, as a mentor, you have got a few things happening at once in the relationship. What someone is saying, what they are thinking, what challenges they are facing and, of course, the route to progress. Because of this complex interplay of different considerations, I would say, without a doubt, mentoring – as a discipline – is a good way to develop professionally.
>If you are lucky, your career will span more than 30 years – it is a long game. Do not solely focus on the quick wins. Younger people can be keen to progress quickly, and that fire and enthusiasm is crucial. But as you work for longer, you realise that as important as energy is, so is a strategic view of your development. Short-term wins might not always be good for your long-term career development.
What makes a good mentor?
A mentor should never instruct.
Listening and understanding an individual’s approach is also important. You are understanding what they need and helping them assess various options. Your own right answer might not be the right answer for someone else.
Sometimes you must step back and think what someone is really asking. Sometimes, what they are asking is not what they are looking for. It is not always necessarily obvious what people want. That is why the listening and understanding aspect is so important.
People can often feel underqualified for their current role or future ones. A good mentor will help you understand the underlying skills you can develop to further your career, to see your hidden depths.
A good mentor will also derive a lot of benefit themselves. I have learned a lot about myself and others. It makes me challenge my perceptions and think, based on my experiences, what would I do in that situation now rather than a few years ago? I also love watching people thrive and grow. It is rewarding thinking you are shaping someone’s future.
Key tip: Progressing your career
There is no shortcut to career success. If there is, people generally get caught out at some point with gaps in their knowledge or skills.
For example, if you take time to become an expert in your field, and you work equally as hard on your communication skills, then you become an invaluable source of counsel for your stakeholders. You understand their challenges, and you can articulate solutions. They trust you, put their faith in you, and the rewards follow.
You cannot fake being good or work solely on recognition, it is about becoming a rounded proposition yourself and demonstrating, through your work, your value to a business.
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