By Lisa Kopochinski

For decades, the traditional process of interviewing for a position has largely been structural and interrogative in nature. The candidate sits opposite the interviewer (or panel of interviewers) who generally fires off a list of questions while writing ubiquitous notes.

By James Careless

Here’s a highly useful secret that few people know: mentors gain as much from mentoring as the protégés they mentor.

“By helping someone less experienced learn the ropes of a profession – be it HR or anything else – a mentor develops a better understanding of what they themselves know and do, and gains insights into how to do it better,” said Ravinder Sanghera, CHRP, chair of the Mentorship Committee of the Toronto Chapter of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). “In other words, when you explain something clearly to someone else, you end up explaining it clearly to yourself.”

Mentoring is also an effective way to open experienced minds to new perspectives.

“There are big changes taking place in HR, in part due to the differing attitudes to life and work between Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials,” said Jane Watson, CHRP, key contributor to the Toronto Chapter’s Mentorship Committee. “To keep succeeding in HR, HR veterans need to stay fresh and up-to-date. Working with younger protégés who see things differently is a great way to do this – and after all, one day, veterans may find themselves seeking support from the most successful protégés as they advance up the ranks.”

Giving back to the HR profession is a third compelling reason to be a mentor.

“It is natural for people to want to share what they’ve learned, to help shape the new generation of HR professionals coming up and to generally give something back to a profession that they’ve built their career on,” said Jennifer Laidlaw, CHRP, director of mentorship with the Toronto Chapter. “Being a mentor satisfies all of these desires.”

How mentoring works

Mentoring can take many forms and intensities. It can be as casual as a chance meeting between an experienced professional and an up-and-comer, or as structured as a scheduled series of consultations between mentor and protégé on an ongoing basis.

As befits its role in the human resources field, HRPA is actively committed to promoting and supporting mentoring, with chapters across the country taking the lead in delivering these services to members.

After all, as the world becomes ever more computerized and faceless, knowing people has never been more important for career advancement, longevity and mobility.

In Toronto, the local HRPA chapter has an impressive 555 people signed up to its mentoring program. Watson serves both as a mentor and a protégé.

“I have gained valuable knowledge and support both as a mentor and a protégé, with learning occurring in both positions,” she said. “This is something I didn’t expect; I thought I would benefit from being a protégé, but I was unaware of how beneficial it is to be a mentor!”

As with other HRPA chapters, the Toronto chapter matches prospective mentors and protégés using a web-based system that compares the desires of both classes of participants, putting together pairs with similar skills, interests and goals.

“Because our members are so busy – mentors and protégés alike – our goal is for them to interact at least once a month,” said Sanghera. “We encourage initial meetings to be in person. However, the advent of Skype and other forms of remote communication are also proving useful for mentors and their protégés.”

Once the pairing has been established, there are many ways that the relationship can proceed.

“Some prefer to set a clearly defined goal – say, skills upgrades – and work towards them together,” said Laidlaw. “Others see the relationship as more ongoing, with the mentor advising the protégé on issues as they arise.”

For her part, Watson has found great value in her mentor’s sympathetic ear.

“I can bounce ideas off her when I am launching a new program, or dealing with issues at work,” she said. “It is extremely helpful to have someone who has been in the profession longer than me to provide sage advice and guidance. What really helps is that my mentor knows what I’m going through, because she’s in HR, too.”

A smart career decision

Mentoring is an important part of an HR professional’s career plan; not just as a protégé seeking knowledge and contacts, but also as a mentor leaving their mark – and creating contacts with the power brokers of the future. After all, as the world becomes ever more computerized and faceless, knowing people has never been more important for career advancement, longevity and mobility.

“Nobody knows more than an HR professional how centrally important close human relationships are to personal success,” said Sanghera. “By taking part in mentoring, you can form and foster such relationships at every stage of your career. This is why mentoring is a win-win for mentors and protégés alike – and why so many HRPA members take part in our association’s many mentoring programs.”

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