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Whether you’ve been in the workplace for 10 months or 10 years, don’t overlook the benefits of having a career mentor. From overcoming daily work challenges, to growing personally and professionally, a mentor can be the tiger mom, cheerleader and task master that you never even realized you needed to boost your career.
Benefits of a Mentor
Mentors go far beyond even the best manager or co-workers, that’s because when you rely on those you work with for career advice, you need to understand they are most motivated to reach company or team goals, and the group is more important than you, the individual. To deeply focus on your specific goals, a mentor is a must. Good ones will do the following.
Fill the knowledge gap. You can’t know everything, but the most successful people know what they don’t know and seek out ways to fill the gap. A great mentor will shine a light on ways to gain more knowledge, helping you understand if what you really need is formal classes or training, or if simply taking on an additional project at work will help get you up to speed.
Call you out on your weaknesses. Maybe you are too passive, lack confidence in meetings, or need better management skills. It’s not always easy to ask for help, but the best mentors will tell you where you should improve your soft or managerial skills, and they’ll do it in a way that gets you excited, too. Think about the best personal trainer you ever had – the kind that tells you to do 10 more reps even when you want to pass out, but you do it anyway because you know they’ve got your back. That’s the kind of mentor you want.
Act as an adviser. After you’ve developed a close relationship with your mentor, they can help you make tough career decisions because they’ll understand your ultimate goals. And while you might get caught up in short-term issues, a mentor will see the issues in a more neutral light and help you focus on those long-term goals.
How to Find a Mentor that’s Right for You
Before you go looking for a mentor, take time to understand what kind of advice you need to move your career forward and grow professionally. If you recently graduated from college, a mid-level employee in your field can help you navigate a well-understood path and inform you of best practices and pitfalls to avoid. If you are looking to switch careers or start your own business, someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry and will also be your best cheerleader might be a better match.
Look beyond the office. Large organizations tend to have loose mentor programs – matching up junior employees with more senior ones – but don’t stop there. Meeting with your work mentor is a great way to better understand the company and help you work up the ranks within the organization, but HR-assigned mentors probably won’t tick all the boxes for your career advancement goals.
Attend in-person networking events. Use these sessions to commiserate with colleagues, build up your personal network for future job seeking purposes and seek out mentors. Chat up those whose work or attitude you respect.
Do your research. Are there one or two people you really respect in your field, or someone who has a background where they overcame adversity to succeed in a way you admire? Send an email or a LinkedIn request, but keep it professional. Don’t gush or act like a starstruck teen and send vague notes about how you’d like to “pick their brain” or “learn all about their life.” Instead, send a few sentences making it clear you have done the hard work of understanding why you’d benefit from a mentor, why you feel they are the right person to help, and have narrowed down a list of top priorities you need to work on.