A trend I’m seeing lot right now is that of business associations providing free mentorship programs, designed to deliver more value to their members. I’ve been asked to conduct mentorship training for a few associations in town, and one question is always asked (as it should be!) – “What are the key differences between using a mentor vs. a Career Counselor?”
There are indeed distinct differences between the two that you should know about.
Let’s start with a Mentor. In short, a mentor is someone whom you desire to be like. It could be someone already in a career position you aspire to attain, or a professional with a skill set you desire to match. This is the same premise that drove the practice of “apprenticeships” throughout history, where younger individuals worked alongside more senior professionals in order to gain hands-on training in a skill or craft.
Colleges now promote acquiring internships more than ever. Why? Because combining education with real life application and experience (apprenticeship!) gives the student added benefits over others who apply for the same job. The important thing to remember is that once you do have a job, a major key to developing your career is embracing the fact that your education is never over. Consistently calling upon a mentor can be immensely helpful, as long as you are clear about your goals and building accountability in your relationship.
Now let’s look at a Career Counselor. This is someone you work with in order to understand the techniques and methodology of developing your career within an organization (which could include mentoring as a step), or to strategically reposition yourself in the job market to find new employment. Although Career Counselors are not often experts in your specific profession, they know how to find, source and develop strategic plans that align with your purpose and passion – the things that make your skill set work for you.
Career Counselors are great at helping you see the big picture of what is happening, pulling you away from the details of what you do day-in, day-out. This process helps identify where you can challenge yourself. Quite often when I work with a client, we discover that not every skill set you learned should be a measuring stick for determining steps to take in developing your career or finding a new one.
The benefits of working with a mentor are built around specific, focused skill sets with the goal of understanding the role the mentor has “mastered.” Just keep in mind that you are only getting information from their perspective. Their role could be different within other organizations. This is where the benefits of a Career Counselor can help. They will help you focus on the bigger picture and make sure you look up from your work to really see how you are directing your career.
Bottom line: In most instances, both mentors and Career Counselors are beneficial in different ways.