We all have those ‘go-to’ people in our lives. There’s your beauty guru pal who you rely on when you need help choosing a new moisturiser, your favourite hairdresser who’s always up for a gossip and that person you text immediately when you get good (or bad) news. But who do you go to when you’re in need of career guidance? If you thought of your mum, partner or work bestie, it may be time to think about finding a mentor.
Before we get into what a career mentor is, it’s probably best to first clarify what it isn’t. Your mentor isn’t someone who will help get you a job interview at their company, nor are they someone you can bitch about work with. Instead, think of them as a career spirit guide. A great mentor will act as a sounding board for any career challenges you may face (think, you’ve been offered a few different jobs and aren’t sure which one to take). While they won’t make your decisions for you, they’ll use their expertise to offer advice that will (hopefully) guide you towards a positive outcome.
We know it may seem a little self-indulgent, but hear us out. Many of the world’s most inspiring women—from Oprah Winfrey to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — partly owe their success to their amazing mentors. Even Richard Branson—who has his own mentor in airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker—once said: “If you ask any successful business person, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.” While there’s no doubt that having a brilliant mentor can help fast track your career success, tracking one down isn’t always the easiest task. That’s why we’ve put together a simple, 5-step guide to finding a mentor who will help you smash your career goals.
Not all mentors are created equal, so it’s useful to think about what would be of the most value to you. Would you like to sit down with someone who is where you want to be in a year’s time? Or perhaps it would be more useful to have a mentor with decades of experience in an industry you’d like to transition into? Everyone’s situation is unique so evaluating your individual needs and expectations will help guide you on the right path.
You may need to look outside of your current workplace to find a suitable mentor. Some other options are people you’ve met through networking groups, internships or volunteering, past workplaces or university or college. However, some companies do offer internal mentorship programs so it can be worth checking whether your workplace offers this opportunity.
Ideally, your prospective mentor will be someone you’ve met before (ie. not a complete stranger) so there will already be some rapport there. Rather than emailing them and directly asking if they’ll be your mentor, see if you can organise to meet them face-to-face for a coffee or arrange a phone chat. This way, you’ll have a much better chance of making your case and easing any of their concerns. Before your meeting, make sure you do your homework by finding out all you can about their career. Come ready to explain why you want them as a mentor (there’s no need to gush, just be genuine and straightforward), what you’d like to get out of the mentorship and how you would imagine it would work (ie. how much time per month you would require of them.)
As with all relationships, a mentorship is a two-way street. Think about if there’s anything you would be able to offer your potential mentor in return for their time and expertise. Perhaps you’re a social media gun and could help out with some ideas for their Instagram feed? If you really don’t feel like you have anything to offer your mentor, you may want to consider paying it forward by getting involved with a program like the Sister2sister program. It’s a year-long program designed to empower ‘at risk’ teenage girls by pairing them up with positive role models.
So, that amazing person you look up to agreed to be your mentor. Awesome! Before you leave (or hang up the phone), it’s a good idea to come up with a really solid plan for your mentorship. How long do you see it going for? Will you have a set day each month to meet? What’s the best way to contact your mentor? These are all things worth clarifying up front to avoid any miscommunications later down the track. Now, go forth and conquer your career, with the help of your newfound mentor!