Will seeking a mentor reveal how little I know about my job?

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Reader: I’ve worked in my information technology role for 20 years. Over the past decade or so, there has been an enormous emphasis on specialization. Companies look for staff with certifications and extended periods of experience on a specific technical platform. I’ve avoided that trend, preferring to work as a generalist with a background in a wide variety of industries and platforms. For the most part, it’s gone well.

I was hired into a new role about 18 months ago, in an industry and on a software platform with which I have virtually no experience. When I started, one of the leaders in my organization helped onboard me, teaching me about the technical and data structure of our software platform as well as providing me context for business operations and needs.

That leader left the organization about six months ago, and I’ve found myself increasingly floundering. The manager who hired me was fired earlier this year, and his replacement has increasingly high expectations. My business-side colleagues are both difficult to work with: One is disengaged and inept, the other has an extensive background in the organization but is rude and arrogant.

I feel as though my best path forward would be to find a mentor, but I’m afraid that would reveal my limited skill set and jeopardize my position.

I want to stay with the company. I love my co-workers and enjoy learning new things. But so much of this is foreign to me, and I’m not sure how to learn more without putting my role at risk.

Karla: I can’t speak to trends in the technology market, but I’m intimately familiar with impostor syndrome — the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are, that any success you’ve had is due to luck and other people, and that you’re about to lose it all once your deficits are exposed. Sometimes that feeling comes from within, and sometimes it’s the result of an unsupportive environment.

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Maybe I’m reading too much into your letter, but you seem anxious about asking for something completely reasonable: support and guidance to help you do better at your job. Which, incidentally, you were qualified enough to be hired for in the first place.

When you say you’re “floundering,” are you quantifiably failing at your job, or are you performing well enough but anxious that you’re about to crash, having lost the magic feather of the leader who initially supported you? If it’s the latter, humor me while I run through some reasons you may be doing better than you think:

  • Maybe your initial learning curve has plateaued after a year- and-a-half, and all you see is how much more there is to learn. The more you learn, the less progress you feel you’re making, and you’re frustrated because you think you should be further ahead.
  • You might also feel out of your element because your job is pulling you from your familiar generalist track, where you know a little bit about many things, toward a more specialized one where you need to know a lot about a narrow topic. If you want to put down roots at this company, you may have to dig deeper.
  • It may also be that you’re now in a dog-eat-dog environment running on unrealistic expectations and unclear goals, with a boss who makes demands without feedback or direction and colleagues who either can’t help you or make you regret asking for their help (leading me to question whether they truly know that much more than you do). An environment that makes you fear you’ll be punished for seeking help is not a healthy one to work in, even for experts.

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All that said, your instinct to seek even more guidance is correct, whether it’s focused on training to deepen your knowledge and develop your skill set, or broader mentorship on steering your career through the current environment.

In an ideal world, your boss and colleagues could provide or point you to those resources. But since they don’t seem particularly helpful — and could well end up using your vulnerability against you — I recommend starting with the experts who are no longer with your company: the leader who left and the boss who was fired.

They’re not going to be able to provide the degree of guidance they did before, and if they harbor hard feelings, they might not feel inclined to provide free consulting to benefit their former employer. But they might be willing to offer personal counsel and guidance to benefit the person they hired and trained. They may have insights on managing outsize expectations or breaking through rudeness to get answers.

With that in mind, try reaching out to them via LinkedIn or their personal email if you have it. Thank them for the opportunities and mentorship they provided before, and ask if they would be willing to meet for coffee or over the phone to help you talk through general strategies.

Even if they can’t help you directly, they may be able to recommend networking groups, experts or other resources that can. And their perspective on the company in general may help clarify whether it’s worth it for you to stay and make that deeper dive, or whether another department or employer would serve your career better.

Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/09/21/mentor-skills-work-advice/

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