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Ask HR: Can Experienced Workers Be Mentored?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


I recently took a lateral career position. The area that I moved to is extremely foreign to me. How can I go about seeking a mentor even though I am already 12 years into my career? Levi

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations on your new position! Often, there is a greater focus placed on mentorship during the start of our professional careers or when we are seeking to transition to management and executive roles. The truth of the matter is everyone can benefit from mentorship, especially for lateral career moves. A great mentor doesn't necessarily give you all the answers but can provide you with the tools or connections needed to be successful in your new career.

First, is there a manager or other professional you admire and feel would be a great mentor? If so, this may be the perfect time to engage the individual to connect on a mentor level or seek the individual's counsel regarding other professionals who would better suit your needs.

If not, reach out to your existing network via LinkedIn or other social networking sites. Put out a call for the type of person and experience you're seeking, and you might find an existing connection who may be able to mentor you. Or make an introduction to professionals outside your network to see if they are interested in being your mentor. 

Lastly, reach out to a professional association or the alumni association for your college/university. These organizations may have programs or events where you could make connections across industries and open the door to finding a mentor.

Best of luck with your new position and your mentor search!

I work at the distribution center for a large online retailer. We are in the midst of benefits enrollment, and I am having difficulty getting a response to questions from our HR department. I either get a referral to an FAQ page, am told that it's not HR's responsibility or receive no reply. Most of our HR staff works at our headquarters, but we are supposed to have an HR liaison onsite. However, there is rarely one available. How can I get answers to salary and insurance questions from a human being? Thomas

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I am disappointed to hear this. Nothing is more frustrating when you need, and frankly deserve, answers to critical questions and don't know where to turn.

As the name suggests, human resources should be a resource for people to either address a particular question or, at the very least, point you in the right direction to find a resolution. HR should welcome inquiries about the benefits they oversee.

I am virtually certain your company doesn't invest in benefits for its workforce only to withhold the details about them. After all, employers are often legally obligated to provide a summary description of their medical plans and make this information available to their employees, depending on their coverage type.

Essential benefits information should be readily accessible via the company intranet, in a handbook, and/or in an onboarding packet. Remember, these sources should supplement, not replace, human assistance.

Start by speaking with the people who know your workplace best: current employees. Ask your people manager and co-workers who they might suggest outside of HR for answers. Since it's your company's enrollment period, others likely have similar questions and/or experiences.

While I can't speak to the exact circumstances you're facing, some HR departments outsource benefits functions to a third-party administrator. Other companies have an employee self-service feature on the company intranet where employees can retrieve this type of information.

It's in employers' and employees' best interest to share this vital information in a clear, accessible way. Double-check your job-offer letter and new-hire paperwork to locate the company handbook, which should address some, if not all, of the information you seek.

I hope you find the proper answers to all your questions. 


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