There is nothing to fear, the monster on the right is an amalgam of the qualities you should look for in a mentor. Katie Puckett explains how he was put together.

If your biggest project is veering wildly off course, your manager doesn’t understand you and you’re not sure where your career is going, what you need is a mentor.

Business leaders swear by mentoring. It can be defined as a one-to-one relationship with someone more experienced, with whom you can discuss your career or even your personal life. It’s not only for young people, but it is invaluable early on in your career.

“Ask anyone who’s been there – if they’ve had a mentor, they remember them all their working lives,” says Julia Evans, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders and a long-time fan of mentoring.

Many companies have set up mentoring programmes, but if there’s somebody you know from a different company or a different field, you could approach them. It definitely shouldn’t be your line manager.

Mentoring isn’t to be confused with coaching, which tends to focus on specific work issues – sessions are relaxed and you should feel able to discuss anything. What you get out of it will depend on your relationship with your mentor, so pick wisely.

“You’ve got to be comfortable with them – if you don’t get on with your mentor, you might as well pack up and go home,” advises Evans. “Have a meeting with them before you engage in a formal relationship – you may have to try several people.”

You’ll probably meet up with your mentor every few months, but what qualities does he or she need? These six traits – suggested by industry leaders and exemplified by the famous faces and body parts that make up Frankenstein’s mentor – are a decent start …

Credit: Miles Cole

Suggested by Julia Evans, chief executive, National Federation of Builders

1. Business-like

“It’s a skilled activity, not just somebody with more experience talking to someone with less experience – that can be disastrous. But it’s not a therapeutic relationship, it’s got to have structure and direction. It’s semi-formal – comfortable but businesslike. People think all they’ve got to do is tell old war stories when it’s really about helping the person to solve problems themselves.”

Suggested by Michael Thirkettle, chief executive, McBains Cooper

2. Calm

“They need the calmness, resolve and organisation to deal with issues without getting into a flap. Mentoring can be frustrating. The last thing you want is somebody who runs around panicking. When people arrive in a state, a mentor should be able to say ‘sit down, these things happen …’ Inside you might be having butterflies but you’ve got to be outwardly calm. And if there’s any element of arrogance, forget it.”

Suggested by Mike Nightingale, chairman, Nightingale Associates

3. Inspirational

“You want someone who’s aspirational, who’ll inspire and encourage rather than preach. I would speak to somebody, look at what they’ve done. If they’ve had an inspiring career and they’re charismatic, they’re more likely to help you than if they’re deadpan. You’re looking for a character – well, I would be anyway. Someone else might be looking for sensible advice or a stabilising influence. It depends what you want out of it, it’s completely individual.”

Suggested by John Spanswick, chairman, Bovis Lend Lease

4. Good listener

“You need somebody who’s going to sit there and listen to whatever issues you have, sometimes work, sometimes private. People just want to get it off their chest. Hopefully then they’ll be able to point you in the right direction about the options you have and what to do from their own experience. I’ve always had somebody I’d consider a mentor. We all tend to get things out of perspective and it’s good to talk to somebody about it. It helps you see things in a different light.”

Suggested by Steve McGuckin, development director, Land Securities

5. Straight talker

“A mentor should be honest and straight talking. They should tell you about reality, but guide you, not direct you. They should not be your line manager or have much influence over your short-to-medium-term prospects. They should have some experience of your intended career path, but what worked for them might not be appropriate for you or for the present day – so learn the lessons but do not try to copy them.”

Suggested by Tony Vasishta, development director, Tesco

6. Well connected

“It’s useful to be mentored by people who’ve got a lot of connections. Look out for someone who’s active in a lot of forums. They’ve got to make time for you as well, to be interested in development rather than just a free dinner every six months. You can get a feel for who is like this because their people will talk them up – they’ll say ‘So and so is really good with his or her people’. And it needs to be someone you can have a personal relationship with, not just someone who drops pearls of wisdom and then leaves you to get on with it. Look for role models who are successful – I was fortunate to have really good directors mentoring me. It definitely makes a difference – it’s the people who have mentors who get ahead.”

Frankenstein's mentors revealed

The six mentors in the composite image are as follows:

1 Business-like - Bill Gates (head)
2 Calm - Dalai Lama (body)
3 Inspirational - David Beckham (legs)
4 Good listener - Michael Parkinson (ear)
5 Straight Talker - Simon Cowell (mouth)
6 Well connected - Paris Hilton (handbag)