Have you ever wanted to meet one-on-one with professionals you admire? To find out how they accomplished their goals, get feedback on your own work, and seek out advice on how to move forward? That’s precisely how a mentoring relationship works. The hard part, which takes some effort, is finding the right people and an entry point.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your career, reentering the workforce after an absence, or looking to advance your already successful career, a good mentoring relationship can be a powerful tool for your professional growth. A savvy mentor can help you navigate professional ups and downs and provide you with objective advice – hopefully leading you to a new job, a promotion, or an improved work-life balance.
The benefits of female mentorship
Women in the workplace have made great gains over the past few decades, but are still encountering frustrating challenges like gender bias and discrimination, sexism and harassment, and distinct work-life balance expectations.
Not to mention the pandemic, which has had a far more negative impact on working women than men. Women have disproportionately lost jobs, reduced their work hours, and increased the time they spend on child care and household responsibilities.
Female mentors are more likely to understand these challenges and can help other women, especially those just starting their careers or changing careers, to tackle these issues head-on.
Not only that, but mentorship for and by professional women can help close some of the gender equality gaps existing in corporate leadership. Effective mentoring relationships help women to develop leadership skills, increase their confidence, improve emotional intelligence, and navigate gender-specific obstacles to career advancement.
Mentorship makes a difference
Harvard Business Review reports that “people with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even experience more work-life satisfaction.”
And mentors benefit, too. Through professional teachings and discussion – mentors sharpen their skills, expand their networks, and learn collaboratively with those they mentor.
How does mentorship work?
Mentorship involves the sharing of information. Experienced professionals have learned valuable lessons along the way that can be useful to you in your journey.
Mentors can support and nurture their mentees in many ways, including:
- Answering questions and offering advice
- Helping to resolve professional problems
- Giving constructive feedback
- Providing perspective/insight on various business issues
- Discussing methods and strategies to help grow a business/ build positive work environments
Finding the right mentor
Now that you know you’d like to work with a mentor, it’s time to look at what you need to do to choose a mentor wisely and thoughtfully manage the relationship.
1. Know your goals
Start your search by looking inward. What do you want to accomplish professionally? Where do you want to be in a year or three? The more specific you are with your goals, the easier it will be to find the right mentor. Use the SMART strategy to help you. Make sure each goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This method will help you to break down your goals into individual steps, making them easier to envision and accomplish.
Next, list out obstacles that could get in the way of you achieving your goals. Being this specific will help you to determine what you really need from a mentor. By understanding where you want to be, as well as what obstacles could be in the way, you can identify how a mentor can truly be helpful to you – from developing new skills to growing your network.
2. Search for mentors in your network
Mentors can come from anywhere. They can be from your LinkedIn network, professional connections, or people you’ve met at conferences. Being asked to be a mentor is a compliment. Don’t be shy about approaching someone you admire for advice. The ask should be a positive exchange for both parties, just be sure you’ve done your homework and developed a course of action before asking them to be your mentor. (See the next step.)
3. Develop your pitch
You’ve set your goals and have established why you think this person is the right mentor for you. But before you ask, make sure it's the right fit. Start with an informal meeting where you discuss your goals, before formally asking them to be your mentor.
Now you need an elevator pitch. This is where you should be clear about what you hoping to gain from the experience. Discuss how often you want to meet and for how long, and make sure it works for them. Keep it flexible, plans can always be adjusted.
If you’re starting with an email, be sure to research your possible mentor’s work. Then open with what you like about their work. Be specific about why you like it and why you want to meet with them.
If you've never met this person before, consider starting with a Zoom call and working with their schedule. To show that you’re on the ball, mention that you can put together agendas prior to each meeting to help align conversations to your goals.
One thing to keep in mind is that we're all busy – it’s possible they might say no. Don’t take it personally. If they say no, thank them for their consideration and be open to the idea of a future relationship.
4. How to be a good mentee
Advice on how to make the most of your relationship:
Create agendas - Before each meeting, send your mentor an agenda. Your agenda can include reviewing work, discussing roadblocks you’re experiencing in your role, or how to ask for a promotion or raise. This is your time, use it wisely.
Always take notes - Notes are helpful for you to review after your discussions. You’ll also want to send your mentor meeting recaps to help communication and focus stay on track.
Be open to feedback - You’re here for advice and your mentor's thoughts on how you can advance your career. Be sure to celebrate your wins by accepting compliments, but also be open to listening to and acting on constructive feedback. In other words, be coachable.
Keep venting to a minimum - You’re human, and it’s expected that when seeking advice you’re going to need to vent or talk about personal issues at work. Nobody will fault you for that, but keep it professional. Focus on finding solutions to the problems.
Keep it time-bound - The whole purpose of meeting with a mentor is to make things happen. That’s why it’s important to decide on how long you want the mentorship relationship to last. Using the SMART strategy, keep your goals and mentor relationship timebound. A good rule of thumb is typically four to six months.
Stay in touch - A mentor is someone who took the time to help you develop and progress your career. Be sure to keep in touch with them once your formal relationship has come to a close. They’ll likely want to know about your achievements or even help you when you experience setbacks.
Finding and maintaining a relationship with a good mentor is worth the effort. With great advice and guidance, you can make changes that could lead to higher salaries, promotions, and a greater work-life balance.