36. Mentors are important

If you are ambitious, a mentor is essential.

I came into the corporate world not knowing a damn thing, I had to learn everything the hard way.

I made so many mistakes in my career because of this, don’t make the same mistake, get a mentor, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.

I had no one to give me careers advice, there was no Linkedin back then, the careers advisors we could call, didn’t know much; plus they was only available to 16-18 year olds.

I didn’t go to university and there was no one in my family or friends I could turn to.; it was a lonely road.

Prior to my first corporate job, I had a cleaning job when I was in primary school and by my teens/early 20’s, I had jobs at McDonalds and Sainsbury’s.

At 23 I started my career in accounting, knowing absolutely nothing about it, nothing!

I just job searched by AAT, got my first job as a purchase ledger clerk, earning the lowest amount in the office.

Then a year later I landed my second job, this prove to be a good and bad decision; the good decision was my pay was increased, it was a larger organisation, and I had a bit more autonomy.

The bad news was, it was in the public sector, systems where old, progression was almost impossible, it was ruled by office politics, the office was mature and “selling you a dream” was common practice.

My goodness, what I learned about office culture and people was brilliant; what it cost me was pain.

I put my trust in my line manager and other members of staff, to help support/guide my career right, I said to myself, “just work hard”, “be grateful”, “this is a good position for a black man from the ends”, “my work will speak for itself”, oh how I laugh at that way of thinking now.

Let me say, ultimately it is nobody’s fault but my own! I was naïve, I was so grateful to have an accounting job that I didn’t think anything through.

I now know, a job is not a gift unless you have received it via nepotism, they have a need, you have the skills and that’s it!

You are not being hired from the goodness of their heart.

There is nothing wrong with counting your blessing, but being overly grateful is dangerous; just remember if the company needs to make drastic cuts, they will have no problem making you redundant.

What ended up happening was my career was being shaped to suit the organisation but not me, I expressed early on that I wanted to become a management accountant, I asked the head of management accountants, what would it take for me to make the move, I was told “do good at your job in accounts payable (AP)’.

I took those words literally and I worked my backside off, evenings, weekends, bank holidays etc, nearly 6 years later a position in management accounting opened up; I applied, I didn’t even get shortlisted for an interview, to make matters worse they claimed I had no experience in areas everyone knew I had experience in, it was a blow.

On top of that, a person in AP was promoted to management accounts because they were doing a bad job in AP and they decided to “promote the problem” right into management accounts.

Some time later, I spoke to everyone including my Head of finance, who said “I know you are worried about being boxed into AP but don’t worry”, can you believe when I resigned for another role, he was the first to congratulate me and told me “good move, you made the right decision”.

Today, I blame no one for this as it was my fault, no two ways about it; I had no plan, no idea what I was doing, I was slow to make basic observations, I was too grateful, I was too people pleasing, I was too resistant to further study, I was to fear filled but more importantly I allowed comfort to overrule ambition.

Had I done more research, had I had a mentor(s) a lot of this could have been prevented; in some instances, you may be lucky and your line manager may mentor you to a road to greener pastures, but this is not often the case.

A mentor may be able to help in one or all of the following areas: career information, planning, salary, sectors, networking, industry changes, software, taxation, investments or property information etc.

I would advise whilst you research your career, also look for a mentor, you may switch or ad additional mentors as your reach different levels of your careers and that’s fine too.

Ideally your mentor will be someone with at least a 5 year age gap, their career is in line with the direction you are pursuing, preferably they don’t work in the same company as you, they are honest, they give you room to make your own decisions, they like to teach and most importantly they actually like their chosen career.


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