How to find (and be) a mentor in the workplace

Mentorship, whether formal or informal, is a critical part of any CPA’s professional development. Here are five things you need to know about crafting your own mentorship.

No matter where you are in your career as an accountant, you want a role that’s challenging and rewarding—and a work environment that supports your professional development. As the accounting industry strives to recruit and retain top talent, mentorship is becoming an increasingly important part of the HR equation.

“Taking the time to invest in the people that are working with you, to continue to develop their skills and figure out what they want to do, is absolutely critical for a firm’s success,” says Mark Vrooman, a partner in EY’s audit practice in Toronto. It’s also essential for your own professional growth and personal fulfillment, he adds. Firms like EY often have formal mentorship programs that thoughtfully match new recruits with mentors or “coaches” in the same practice of industry group, to help navigate their careers.

If you work at a small firm, in industry or for yourself, there may or may not be an official program in place. Don’t let that stop you. “Oftentimes, the most powerful counselling and mentoring relationships aren’t part of a formal program, but those that folks seek out themselves,” explains Vrooman.

So how do you craft your own mentorship, if a formal structure doesn’t exist? Here are five tips:

  1.  Think outside the box.
    Start by looking within your practice or team. Then broaden your search to other areas of the business, and even outside your firm or company. What about your CFO or CEO? Has someone you admire moved on to another employer? If you’re a CPA-in-training or an experienced CPA interested in mentoring the next generation, the CPA Canada’s Mentor Match portal is another great tool to help you connect.
  2. Start small and don’t be shy.
    Finding a mentor or mentee can be as simple as asking someone who interests you out for a coffee. It’s a low-risk, low-pressure way to get to know one another and see if you’re a good fit. At worst, you’re well-caffeinated and $5 poorer. At best, you have a new mentorship-in-the-making.
  3. Find common ground.
    You don’t need to have everything in common with your mentor or mentee, but make sure you have something. Maybe you work in the same practice or industry—or one in which you aspire to work. Maybe you have a similar personality or share an outside interest. Get to know your mentor or mentee: what gets him out of bed in the morning, what makes her tick. That personal connection is what will make your mentorship worthwhile.
  4. Don’t be afraid of change.
    As your career and skills evolve, so too will your goals and interests. A mentor that made sense when you first started off as a staff accountant at a public firm may no longer be the right match if, for instance, you’ve since gone the industry route or ventured out on your own. Check in regularly on your mentorships and make changes if necessary.
  5. Be a mentor—and mentee—throughout your career.
    Firms like EY try to instill a coaching atmosphere at all levels, from staff accountant to partner. But that idea of lifelong mentorship can be applied in virtually any employment situation. “Basically, you’re always training your replacement,” explains Vrooman, noting that both altruism and self-interest are at play. Remember, at the end of the day, you’re never too young to start mentoring others—or too experienced to still learn something.


What insights have you gained from being a mentor or mentee? Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.