Who should you ask for career advice?

4 Minute Read | Author: Hannah Tattersall

We all have career goals. From small objectives – a pay rise, or an internal promotion perhaps – to larger long-term goals and aspirations, they're in the back of our minds as we navigate our way through business.

What's hard is achieving them; knowing the right steps to take along the way. Sometimes we need a little help and advice. But who can we turn to when we need advice?

The journey

In her book, The Best Advice I Ever Got, US news anchor Katie Couric compiles words of advice from other writers, comedians, politicians and sports people who discuss perseverance, creativity, and giving back. Many of those interviewed said the best advice they got was to stop focusing so much on the destination and pay more attention to the journey.

Apolo Ohno, the retired American short track speed skating champion told Ms Couric: "It's not really about the destination, but about what it took to get you there. After I've crossed the finish line in a race, I sometimes think to myself,  'Oh my gosh, the past four years of my life have been dedicated to a race that lasted only forty seconds...' It's not about the forty seconds; it's about the four years, the time it took to get there.

“So that destination point no longer becomes the true focal point. It becomes a goal, it gives me a point to focus on, but in terms of overall importance it's not very significant. The things that I learned about myself and what I endured throughout those four years are really what mattered most."

The same mindset can be applied to business. Focus not on the destination but how to get there. And the best way to do that is to find people who've travelled the same route.

Role models

Susie Moore, US-based life coach and author of the book, What if it Does Work Out? says the best people to ask for career advice are those who are doing what you aspire to do – or who have achieved the specific results you want to achieve. Whether you’re working in banking, or aspire to be an actor, or the next Silicon Valley entrepreneur, there is undoubtedly someone who has already forged a similar career, who you can turn to for advice.

Moore suggests taking that person out for coffee, or asking for five minutes of their time to pick their brains over the phone. Most people can spare five minutes to have a chat to help you out – and usually they got to where they are by being helped in the first place by someone else. She says not to let their success scare you. 

“Remember, anything you want to do has already been done by someone else. Shorten your track to getting there by replicating what your role models have done,” she says.

“Are they inaccessible? No problem,” Moore says. “The real value is just observing them. How did they start? What steps did they take? What are they doing right now? Google is all you need. You can learn an endless amount from interviews, websites, LinkedIn.”

So pick up that phone, or shoot off an email, and approach your role model. You’ll be surprised how much you learn.

Mentors

Having a mentor whom you can ask for career advice is the best accompaniment to skills and education. You get to ask questions to someone who’s already done it all before. Professor Greg Whitwell, Dean of The University of Sydney Business School, says the university’s new MBA program currently being developed places greater emphasis on emotional intelligence and mentor-matching.

“To develop some of those kinds of skills with emotional intelligence and social intelligence, there will be an increased need for attention being paid to each person’s developmental need,” he says. “Increasingly, MBA programs are saying, 'we’ll provide coaching for you'.”