Editorial Note: iMag asked Robert Hellmann of the Five O’Clock Club for some tips on how mentoring can help your career.

At work it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day — to react rather than plan, to focus energy on the immediate things that need to be done NOW! But there’s a huge long-term career benefit to taking a step back. By making the extra effort to develop a more strategic approach to your career, in the long run you’re more likely to get what you want! And mentoring can play a huge role in this approach.

So what is mentoring? It’s a partnership between you, the mentee or “learner,” and the mentor or “teacher.” You get the personal support and experience of the mentor to help you do your job better, while the mentor gains a new perspective, the intrinsic reward from helping you, and your loyalty. Ideally you’d like to find a mentor who’s both in a position you’d like to be in and in a position to help you — someone with experience, clout and connections.

So, are you ready to gain the benefits a mentoring relationship has to offer? Before you move forward, you should be able to answer “yes” to all these questions:

• The onus will fall on you as the “learner” to manage the relationship — are you willing to put in the effort?
• Are you open to hearing comments that may require introspection and self-criticism?
• Are you willing to try out new ideas or pursue new challenges?
• Are you realistic about what one person can do to help?
• Are you trustworthy? Are you able to keep the discussions in complete confidence?

How to find a mentor

You can check to see if your company has an established mentoring program. Many medium to large companies have a structure in place that encourages employees to develop mentoring relationships, and take their mentoring programs very seriously. Why? Because companies reap the benefits from mentoring as well, in terms of improved employee productivity and retention.

If your company does not have this structure, or you’d like to pursue something less formal, professional associations, including alumni associations, are a great source for mentors. Contact the association and ask about this. If you are in business for yourself, there may be organizations in your area that can help you find a mentor. For example, check out www.score.org, a non-profit national organization with local chapters that provides mentors and counselors for small business owners.

Here are some other things to consider:

Know what you want from the relationship. The more specific you are, the easier it is for the mentor (and others in your network) to help you. Think about your 3 to 5 year goals, in addition to the day-to-day challenges you face, and be prepared to share them. Examples of ways your mentor can help you include:

• Navigating office politics
• Developing a career plan
• Communicating effectively with your boss or colleagues
• Making new contacts in areas you want to explore
• Preparing an effective presentation
• Analyzing failures or mistakes so you can learn from them
• Developing a business proposal
• Improving your time management

Set up a structure — Agree on regular meetings, set up boundaries, and acknowledge that either of you can walk away at any time with no hard feelings. Have at least one meeting per month, or the relationship will wither from neglect.

Show your appreciation — Saying “Thank you” is a good idea. Small gifts as tokens of appreciation can also be appropriate. In this relationship, especially early on, the mentor is doing most of the helping, and it’s nice to acknowledge that.

Robert is Associate Director of the Five O’Clock Club Guild of Career Coaches. He’s also a Guild member himself with a substantial private practice, and teaches Career Development at NYU. Rob has over 20 years of experience in Marketing and Organizational Development through organizations such as JP Morgan Chase, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and American Express. In addition, Rob founded his own successful marketing/multimedia production company where he has worked with clients such as the Audubon Society and 1-800-flowers. His educational background includes a BS in Economics from Binghamton University and an MBA in Finance/Marketing from Fordham University.

You can contact Rob through the Five O’Clock Club at 212-286-4500, or by sending an e-mail to guild@fiveoclockclub.com