At the beginning of your professional career, everything in front of you can appear daunting. During these formative years, you are deciding what you want to do, who you want to be and where you are going to start. Many of us change our minds about our future career before we hit the workforce, and then there are, of course, job changes throughout your career.
The overwhelming stress of this phase can be alleviated by finding a mentor to give you guidance and help you achieve your career goals. Learning from a successful mentor in your field of interest can elevate both your professional capabilities and confidence better than any Internet search results or well-intentioned parental advice.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of having a mentor in this competitive job market, as well as tips on how to find a mentor.
What a Mentor Offers
The most obvious benefit of having a mentor is learning from their real-life experiences in the field. You will be privy to their personal tips for overcoming professional challenges, making difficult business decisions or determining whether graduate school is a good investment. Because they know you, mentors and their wealth of knowledge will be far more useful than generic advice columns on the web.
For Fran Hauser, president of digital for Time Inc.‘s Style and Entertainment Group, being a mentor entails giving relevant and immediately actionable advice. “It can be as simple as suggesting people to follow on Twitter to stay ahead of digital trends, or being a mentor can mean walking someone step-by-step through negotiating an offer. What is most important is that I am accessible and honest in my guidance.”
In addition to gleaning insight from your mentor’s personal experiences, you could also benefit from their vast web of connections. If your mentor doesn’t have experience with a particular problem you’re facing, they’ll probably reach out to someone who can help. Also, you never know how certain connections will be beneficial in the future — anyone you meet could be a potential business partner or a job lead.
“Your mentor’s network is your most valuable group of contacts.
“Your mentor’s network is your most valuable group of contacts. As someone who is personally invested in your success, your mentor will open up their network to you. Just be cognizant of everyone’s time — make sure you ask for specific advice or introductions. Don’t let them do the work.”
How to Find a Mentor
It’s a lot easier to find a mentor than you would think. Before you start your search though, it’s good to do some preparation.
Write down your expectations. What do you want to learn? How often would you like to meet with your mentor and what will their time commitment look like? How long do you anticipate this mentorship lasting? Outlining these expectations from the beginning will ensure that you and your mentor are on the same page.
Find someone you can learn from. The ideal mentor is someone you respect professionally, with a career you’d like to emulate. Search for someone who is successful in your field or a similar one. Another important factor to keep in mind is personality — find someone you like on a personal level. If you actually enjoy communicating with your mentor, the experience will be more fulfilling.
Once you’ve decided what you want out of your mentor relationship, there are a variety of sources you can consult.
Levo League is a startup focused on young women’s professional development, providing career resources needed to help them achieve both personal and professional success. Through Levo League’s online platform, young women can search for a specific mentor in their industry, or “follow” the career of various thought leaders featured on the site. Levo League boasts industry-leading mentors including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine Kate White.
Mentoring is a topic that hits close to home for Sandberg, whose recent book Lean In includes an entire chapter on the subject and its importance. She writes that “asking for input is not a sign of weakness, it’s the first step to finding a path forward.” Her mentor status on Levo League’s site creates a one-to-many dynamic, whereby she can mentor a large group of individuals with a single dose of advice. Anyone on the site can ask mentors a question, and most of these responses are shared publicly, so you can pose your own questions or search the site for existing conversations on the topic at hand.
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to meet mentors in real life, too. But where?
A good first step is to check your city for local networks. Most cities have meetups for just about every industry or interest you could imagine. Be sure to also check out panels and summits nearby that are relevant to your field. Peruse available networking opportunities, seek out people who’ve had interesting careers and go introduce yourself.
Another great place to find a mentor offline is to tap the wealth of knowledge available around university campuses. Seek out a particularly charismatic professor or doctoral candidate, and ask them if they would grab coffee with you. Take advantage of the people with vastly different life experiences at your fingertips, be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, you’re not expected to know all the answers yourself.