If it’s not clear already, going it alone is not a sustainable career strategy for ambitious entrepreneurs. Much as you’d like, you lack the time, resources, and expertise to handle everything yourself. Is there a role for a financial mentor to take the load off?
You most certainly can’t give yourself hard-won advice born from years of real-world experience. For that, you need a trusted mentor whose expertise and interests complement yours, and whose philosophy and personality you can tolerate (or embrace).
It’s especially important to have a mentor in a competitive and specialized industry like finance. Here’s what budding financial professionals and entrepreneurs need to know about finding the right fit — and what to expect in the financial mentor relationship.
- You Can’t Move Forward Until You’ve Set Expectations
Before you begin your mentor-mentee partnership in earnest, you and any prospective mentor must attend to some basic housekeeping: namely, setting reasonable mentor-mentee expectations. Precisely what these expectations entail, and how they’ll be enforced or circumscribed, is between you and your financial mentor. But dialogue is an essential predicate for a successful relationship.
- Local Market Expertise Matters
Seek out financial mentors who understand the market forces you expect to encounter in your day-to-day duties. “Market” is a fluid concept here: market analysts might look to mentors with knowledge about the countries or global regions on which they’ll focus, while real estate finance professionals are likely to drill down on narrower geographies. Mentees who’ve recently moved should “ask former professors or bosses for local recommendations,” says Florida real estate investor Ralph Serrano.
- Your Mentor Won’t Work Wonders
Inherent in setting mentor-mentee expectations is the mentee’s implicit understanding that their mentor won’t work wonders for their career, or even solve all their problems. The sooner you acknowledge this, the sooner you’ll be ready to move forward with a constructive mentor-mentee relationship.
- Style Is Important
Your financial mentor might not be a miracle worker, but it’s important that you get on well with him or her. Think about how you want your mentor to approach your relationship: arm’s length, hands-on, or somewhere in between? Do you want to drill down on narrow, technical topics, or focus on long-range matters? The choice is yours, and it’s likely to dictate your choice of mentor.
- Scope Matters Too
The scope of your relationship is critical as well. If you need help grappling with a discrete professional issue that’s likely to recur over time, you’ll choose someone for their expertise in that specific area. If you envision your mentor as more of a life or career coach, you’ll choose someone with a different skill set. Remember, there’s more to finance than dollars and cents.
Who’s Your Financial Hero?
Another way of thinking about what you want in a mentor is to think about your financial heroes — the people or institutions that convinced you to go into this line of work in the first place.
Perhaps you’ve long idolized Warren Buffett’s folksy approach to seeking value, or the straightforward investing philosophy of John C. Bogle so resonates with you that you’re willing to call yourself a committed Boglehead. Neither man has the time to take you under his wing, of course, but both have kindred spirits who might be willing to do so.
In other words: your financial mentor might not be all that different from your financial hero. You just have to know where to look, and what questions to ask.