Who you socialize with at work and what you do with your lunchtime and breaks is often a good indicator of where your career is headed and your upward trajectory.
For example: do you spend a lot of time at the metaphorical water cooler, chatting with people? What do you talk about? Gossip about fellow employees, dire predictions about where the company is headed, and what bad decisions management has made in the last week?
Do you eat lunch with the rest of the group, or do you work through lunch? Do you try to meet with people during lunch who might advance your career – either with insights or with connections within the company? Do you have a mentor?
If you find that you typically associate with people who are stuck in the same positions year after year, and you have a tendency to focus on the things your company is doing wrong rather than what solutions you can bring to the table yourself, you may be committing career suicide. Your activities might seem innocuous enough – after all, it’s important to fit in and get along with your peers. You don’t want to be seen as a suck-up or a yes-man.
Unfortunately, if you’re in an environment where your peers are destructive and only want to complain, you may want to start disassociating with them. While you’ll earn short-term criticism and perhaps even ridicule, you need to factor in what is best for your career first. Long-term respect and advancement beats having temporary friends who want only commiseration and a paycheck rather than a passion for their work and a rewarding career.
One way you can start breaking away from the pack and gaining valuable insights into the company and potential career advancement is by finding a mentor. A mentor is someone who is ahead of you in terms of skills and position; it is preferable to find someone who is in the same field you are in or want to be in, so you can get directly relevant advice to your circumstances.
Finding a mentor may seem difficult. Successful individuals can be intimidating to approach, and what do you have to offer in return for their time and their advice? Often, not much. However, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by their desire to help. Many people who are in positions of power today received help when they were in your shoes, and are looking for a way to pay it forward.
Approaching a mentor must be done in a certain way, however. People who are successful are often approached by individuals looking for them to provide a job or funding for an “investment opportunity.” If you approach a potential mentor with these goals in mind, then you are not really looking for a mentor, you are looking for a job interview. That is not the right attitude to take in this scenario. Instead, you should be seeking advice and wisdom. Potential jobs and career opportunities may present themselves later. For now, what you want is assistance navigating your current situation and leveraging your position into something better. Be inquisitive rather than needy.
You must also keep in mind that successful people are usually busy people. Do not be offended if they don’t get back to your initial inquiry right away, and be respectful and appreciative of their time. If you are having trouble finding someone, you may want to check the human resources department of your own company. Some businesses have formal mentoring programs that you may want to enrol in.
A good choice for people in the IT field is to look into classes you can take locally and form some bonds there – often, the professors or instructors are active IT professionals or else can recommend some connections for you. Remember, you want to find someone more experienced than you are. If you are building a career in consulting, implementing, or maintaining SAP systems, try to find someone with several years of experience dealing with such systems, preferably in a wide number of areas.
Another consideration for future SAP professionals is having a second mentor – one who can explain your business to you rather than just provide you with career advice and some technical instruction. From these people, you can learn how to spot opportunities in your company for providing solutions and gaining skills and experience. Knowing your underlying business is particularly important in SAP, as you must be familiar with its operations and goals in order for you to understand opportunities for improvement.
Having a mentor will help you focus on solutions rather than problems, which will differentiate you from your peers and start you on an upward career path that will be both lucrative and rewarding.