I was very fortunate early in my career at BASF to have a number of senior managers guiding my career and giving me advice. One of the most memorable conversations from those early years surrounded the issue of how I viewed myself and what I really wanted career-wise. Sounds simple, right? But I can tell you that all these years later, those two questions follow me, quite simply because I am not the same person as I was back then.

Continually taking stock of who I am and what I really want was a key factor in determining how I went about seeking mentoring and who I sought out. Sometimes it was people who were in similar situations. Other times I sought out someone I’d met from another company.

But what is mentoring anyway?
Is mentoring the coaching you receive through a transitional or tough phase of your career? Can it come from someone who inspires you, even if you see that person only once? Or does it come through a guru, a yoda-like person? Does mentoring come from someone who doesn’t really have a particular vested interest in your career and most likely doesn’t even work in the same company, but who you trust explicitly?

My answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes.” But the “what” of mentoring is only part of the question. The key is knowing how to apply the various kinds of mentoring to the person you are and want to become.

As mentors and mentees, I feel it is most important to raise self-awareness. If this element is missing, we run the risk of misapplying mentoring opportunities and resources. While someone early in their career might benefit from examining competency profiles and how those fit with company expectations, a mid-career employee might find great value in exploring cross-business or cross-functional networking opportunities.

There are many facets of mentoring and each one has its own place and time. The trick to gaining the most value from mentoring will come with the wisdom of knowing when to apply each. The success of this, in turn, is dependent on your ability to remain open-minded to personal appraisals and to really know yourself.