Mentorship is one of the most powerful tools for aspiring internal audit professionals and also provides valuable experiences to mentors. Early in my career, several professionals informally provided me with advice, suggestions, and guidance that helped bring me to where I am today. At the time, I did not realize these individuals were acting as "mentors" but the knowledge, experience, and insights they provided shaped the decisions I made, and I am grateful for the impact they have had on my professional development. Now that I am further in my career and understand the value of mentorship, I thoroughly work to cultivate the relationships with my mentors and mentees so we both get the most out of the experience and grow together.
At a recent internal audit forum, IIA Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Bill Michalisin co-facilitated a panel on mentoring and career management. The panelists were young internal audit professionals who were part of Internal Auditor magazine's 2016 Emerging Leaders. As a fellow Emerging Leader, I reached out to Michalisin and some of the panelists and asked them to share their perspectives on mentorship with Internal Auditor's readers.
What should I look for in a mentor?
"It is important that you spend time thinking about where you are in your professional development, what needs you have, and how a mentoring relationship can aid you in growing to address those needs," Michalisin advises. "Are you interested in learning more about a particular industry? A skill or profession? Or do you want to work on yourself and your own path to growth?" Michalisin recommends potential mentees look for individuals they respect and are ahead in their careers, whether that is in the mentee's field or in an area in which the mentee is interested. "Whatever your goals may be, what you look for in a mentor depends on you individually, which is why I suggest you select a mentor that you know in some way versus selecting a total stranger," he says.
Jenny Wei, manager, risk advisory, at Deloitte, says she looks for a mentor "that has the qualities and attributes that I admire and want to learn from." Wei says the relationship must be mutually beneficial, with both sides seeing value in it. "I think it is important that your mentor is willing to invest time in the relationship, and that as a mentee you've been able to grow from the results of their advice, which further encourages your mentor to invest in you," she adds.
Kristine Tkachenko, senior auditor at the University of Toronto, says she looks for "experience I do not have, knowledge in areas that I am interested, and compatibility." And Jesus Valdez, senior internal auditor at Southwest Gas, says it's important to know that internal auditors do not need to have just one mentor. "Having multiple mentors has been an extremely rewarding opportunity," he explains. "I have learned so much more about business acumen, and the industry, in general, from my mentors."
Where Can I Find Mentors?
There's no magic formula for finding a mentor, but it is important for mentees to do their homework, think about what they want in a mentor, and explore current networks — personal, professional, social — to identify candidates. Mentors can be found in the workplace, in professional associations like The IIA, and any place where networking opportunities are plentiful.
Wei points out, "Sometimes people don't realize that they have mentors in their career and personal life because it isn't formalized." She says she would challenge those people to think about the people around them that have supported them in one way or another and reevaluate that assumption. "Often, our mentors are already with us, and what we need is to recognize and practice ways to enhance that relationship even further," she explains.
Michalisin adds, "Many great mentors that I have had the privilege to work with include those that I was already interacting with regularly whether in the workplace or in personal circles." He suggests looking for opportunities to engage these individuals at events, through social media, and through peers.
Tkachenko agrees. "Get out there and network, go for it even if you are not comfortable, and you will quickly feel at ease," she says. When you find someone who you want to be your mentor, "don't be afraid to approach that person directly," Valdez adds. "The worst that can happen is that they say 'no,' and that is fine."
What Is My Responsibility as a Mentee?
All three past Emerging Leaders state that making time for the relationship is critical to its success. Therefore, the mentee should actively seek connection with the mentor. "Remember that having a mentor is a two-way street, so make sure you also offer your time," Valdez says.
Wei offers two additional suggestions: "Regardless if you agree with the advice your mentor provides, try it anyway and report back on the results," and "demonstrate progress or actions from each meeting." Wei says these suggestions are important because they give the mentee an opportunity to learn through trying and naturally encourage the mentor and mentee relationship to develop by showing the mentor a return on his or her investment. "Nothing makes mentors happier than seeing the impact of their contributions in helping someone else," she explains.
"Work with your mentor to develop and set clear goals and discuss the expectations both of you have for the relationship," Michalisin adds. "Such clarity provides the basis for a strong relationship and one that meets the needs of both participants." He advises mentees to be present, respectful, and professional and proactively follow up with their mentors to ensure they get what they need.
What's in It for the Mentor?
The value of being a mentor is "giving back to the community," Tkachenko says. She says she has a passion for helping young professionals make introductions and for providing advice as needed.
"Being a mentor to others is an amazing experience and is a great way to thank your mentors and pass on knowledge to others," Wei adds. "What I enjoy the most is seeing the impact of helping others and seeing them grow into top performers in their career as well as their personal life."
"The benefits for a mentor are just as plentiful as those that are derived by the mentee," Michalisin adds. "In many ways, mentoring provides an opportunity for mentors to learn, grow, and evolve to be better leaders given the skills that mentoring helps to develop." He says he encourages members of his team, who may not have a team to lead, to consider mentoring as he believes it helps develop critical leadership skills, including listening, empathy, goal setting, providing feedback, and coaching. "Regardless of the stage of your career, learning is a constant thread and we need to ensure we look for it at all levels and in a variety of relationships."
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
Mentoring, both as a mentor and mentee, is hard work. It requires a significant commitment and, like in business, the return on investment matters. Mentees must be sure to listen and be open to the guidance and counsel being shared even if, at the time, they may not want to hear it. And mentors must be willing to listen, show empathy, share perspective and feedback, and invest the time necessary to coach and guide. Mentoring can be a rewarding experience, and in a profession like internal auditing it is critical to passing the torch to the next generation of practitioners.