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Every accountant needs a good mentor, but how do you find one? How do you convince an expert to help you without paying them? One of Australia’s leading accountants has the answer.

Coco Hou is the CEO of Platinum Professional Training. Platinum is one of Australia’s largest accounting training and internship providers with offices across all major Australian cities. Hou is also a CPA qualified accountant.

According to Hou, the biggest barrier people have in finding a mentor is the fear of rejection. People wrongly assume that people don’t want to mentor them.

“If you take the initiative to go out and talk to people you admire, you’ll be amazed about how many of them actually want to talk to you. Don’t forget: people want to mentored, but people also want to be mentors,” Hou said.

"It feels good to help people, which is why people become mentors in the first place! Experts want to pass on what they have learnt, and help good people struggling to make it in a competitive industry. All experts were once an amateur.”

Another barrier to mentorship is the failure of people to open up and accept advice from other people. Mentorships rely on the ability for a mentee to admit their wrong, and follow another person’s advice.

“To become a mentee, you have to throw your ego out the window. There isn’t a mentor in the world who will persist with a stubborn mentee who disregards everything they say,” Hou said.

“A mentorship starts with vulnerability and weakness on behalf of the mentee. If you think you’re always right, there’s no point seeking a mentor. After all, if you’re the perfect accountant, why do you need a mentor? To get a good mentor, admit that you’re not good enough and that you need help.”

According to Hou, the best time to find mentors is at a university, through an association or at a training centre.

“Most businesses can’t afford and don’t need a gigantic team of accountants. As a result, a lot of accountants work alone or in very small teams. The best place to meet people is through an educational institution or association events.”

“If you’re at university, get to know your lecturers. Talk to them after class. Ask lots of questions. Show your enthusiasm. Even email them for one-on-one meetings where you can discuss the course content with them.

“Lecturers and educators make great mentors. Not only are they experts in the field you are interest in, but they will have a range of valuable contacts in that field.

“If an industry leader calls a lecturer looking for a young, enthusiastic accountant, you want to make sure that you’re first on their list of recommendations.

“Educators make great mentors, but so do your peers. Talk to your classmates and get involved in social events. You never know, a friend of yours could end up being your mentor one day. At the very least, they might introduce you to their own personal mentor. It’s always worth casting a wide net.”

Hou believes that young people don’t know what to expect from a mentor, and struggle to define what a mentor actually is.

“A mentorship is a difficult thing to define. Put simply, you know it when you see it. What’s undeniable is that the best mentorships are built over time. Unfortunately for a lot of young people, mentorships don’t happen instantaneously,” Hou said.

“Don’t think that you need to put a label on a mentor-mentee relationship. Simply ask: ‘do you mind if I call you every two weeks to get some advice?’ If you do that, you’ve just gained a mentor without much effort! A request like that is also difficult to reject because it’s not a very big commitment.”

At Platinum Professional Training, Coco Hou and her team teach the next generation of accountants the practical skills required to become a professional accountant.

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