Mentors play a critical role in shaping the course of your life, from both a personal and professional perspective. That is certainly true in my case. Two mentors in particular were instrumental in my career development, and the gratitude I feel for them to this day has inspired me to form and coordinate mentorship programs throughout the internal audit landscape.
One of the most impactful mentors I had was a virtual experience. I found her through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (AICPA's) Mentoring Program, and she proved instrumental in getting me more involved with the accounting community.
She opened doors to opportunities I didn't know were possible when she connected me with the local Washington Society of CPAs (WSCPA). I got to meet that organization's CEO and have long, deep conversations about my goals and where I saw myself in the profession moving forward. These conversations opened my eyes to the possibilities I had in front of me. Later, this connection led me to be nominated to the WSCPA's board of directors.
Most importantly, this mentor helped me focus my ambitions. Where exactly do I want to take my career? What certifications are going to cover the skills I was most likely to need?
Especially early in a professional's career, it can be difficult to find someone who is willing to help you answer these questions and narrow down the options that will best prepare you for success. My mentor guided me through the process of publishing my first article through Internal Auditor, for example, which also led me to be invited to appear on a podcast as a subject matter expert.
Not all mentoring relationships need to be so formalized. My other mentor was someone who happened to be in the same company as me, just in a different department. When we finally got around to chatting, we discovered we had a lot of similarities, and the more we interacted the more she offered me a wonderful perspective on the softer skills critical to professional development.
How to brand yourself, how to communicate effectively, how to hone your emotional intelligence — at the time I didn't fully appreciate just how important these skills are. I was always very good at my job technically, but knowing how to effectively communicate the knowledge you have takes time and deliberate work. My mentor recommended personal development books, offered me her breadth of professional experience, and gave me the tools I needed to craft my own unique communication style.
These experiences have stuck with me, and ever since I have been driven to help others learn from my experiences. Today, in addition to founding a mentorship program with the IIA–Seattle Chapter to connect students and young professionals to more experienced IIA members, I also help coordinate The IIA Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program. Now in its third year, the Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program has expanded enormously, and we now are accepting international applicants to pair mentors with like-minded interests and industries as best we can. We're all excited to launch this year's program.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the feedback survey responses received at the end of last year's program:
- "This experience has been life-changing for me. My mentor has really helped me with career progression advice. We have such great insightful conversations, and my mentor has helped me navigate a recent promotion. My mentor has also provided me with some great professional resources."
- "This is the first time I have ever had a mentor of any sort, and from my perspective, Vicki has really brought me a lot of value. She has provided insightful discussion and perspectives on everything from internal audit methodologies like data-driven auditing to executive management relationship dynamics and managing the audit and risk committee."
- "I have obtained some valuable insight into internal auditing and my mentor's path to becoming an effective internal auditor. It has really put things into perspective for me and has allowed me to chart my path a lot better in terms of my career development and growth."
Regardless of your role, industry, or walk of life, I encourage anyone to pursue mentorship opportunities wherever you can. For both mentors and mentees, it's an immensely rewarding experience that can forge bonds that last a lifetime.
And keep in mind, these don't have to be formal, coordinated programs. Be open. Introduce yourself to people when you walk by their desks. Start conversations at the communal break room or coffee machine. Listen when your peers have something to say. You never know what doors might open.
Bonnie Tse, CIA, CISA, CPA, PMP, is an internal audit manager at T-Mobile in Belleview, Wash., and a 2020 Internal Auditor magazine Emerging Leader.
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