Randall OrnerHow many times have you tried to move up the ladder from low man on the totem pole to senior biomed or from senior biomed to manager of biomed? Would it have been easier to make those transitions if you had had someone to lead you through the maze of office politics or give you advice on the technical skills that you needed to acquire or sharpen for a promotion? Having a mentor can mean the difference between success and failure or the difference between mediocre success and accelerated success.

When I started in the biomed industry 14 years ago, some of the biomedical engineers I met were exceptional in their technical skills but lacked the professional skills that were needed to succeed. Others had great interpersonal skills, but they were not able to replace a fuse without assistance. The point is that everyone can use some help to succeed.

In The Mentor Connection (Dow Jones-Irwin, 1984), author Michael Zey cites Heidrick and Struggles’ study of 1,250 senior executives whose names have appeared in the Who’s News section of The Wall Street Journal. Two thirds of them said that they had had a mentor. Of those two thirds, one third said they had two or more mentors.

What is a mentor? A mentor can simply be a person that you see as a role model. Or a mentor can be a person that oversees another person’s career development through teaching, coaching, protecting, and promoting that person. You should try to pick a mentor that wants to be picked. A great way to find a mentor is to first select a person that you think would help you in your career path: a person you respect. Mention how much you enjoy working with the person or how much you have learned from them. If the person starts saying, “I don’t have time to help you,” drop it and look for someone else. A person that says they don’t have time is not the kind of person you want as a mentor.

In a mentor relationship, both sides—the mentor and the protégé—will benefit and have expectations. The mentor will benefit from the prestige associated with mentoring, the sharing of information, and from having a protégé to expand his or her sphere of influence. The protégé will benefit from being coached on how to act in certain environments, having a role model, and getting candid advice. The mentor will be most receptive to a protégé who is intelligent, ambitious, loyal, dedicated, and positive. The protégé will seek out a mentor who is fair, intelligent, honest, and understanding.

In my current position, I was able to move from a field service engineer (FSE) to a senior FSE/FSE trainer with the help of mentors. It is important to keep in mind that one person may not be available or have all the skills or knowledge that you seek. I selected different people to be my mentors along the way. Each one had a different set of skills that helped me reach different goals.

A mentor relationship is not like a marriage. It is not supposed to last forever. You can have two or more mentors at the same time. It is not uncommon to draw from the strengths of several people to help create the best “you” that you can be.

Another example of the success of mentoring is when I worked in-house and a friend of mine was hired as a biomed. He had field service experience but no real hospital experience. He asked me for some guidance and I told him that I would think about a good path for him to follow. I looked at his strengths and weaknesses and gave him some advice. He was able to reach the same salary level I was at in half the time it took me.

As I learned in the Army biomed school, “No one can get through this alone, count on your buddy.” A mentor can help you succeed or just help you get along in the day-to-day responsibilities of your job. Whatever your goal, a mentor can help you get there, and everyone benefits.

Randall Orner, MBA, a 14-year veteran of the biomedical field, is currently a field service engineer and field trainer for the Medical Systems Group of Olympus. He is a graduate of the US Army biomed school in Aurora, Colo, and is a Microsoft certified systems engineer (MCSE).