Reap the benefits of professional relationships
When you think of a mentor, you probably envision a person you’d like to emulate—the walking, talking answer to the old interview question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”—who will generously donate their time and set you on the path to get to where they are now. That’s certainly a nice idea. But think about how much technology has changed in the past 10 years; in 10 more, both you (and your potential mentor) will have entirely different jobs anyway.
Enterprise-sized companies often have formal mentoring programs, but most small businesses don’t. So how can you find a mentor who’ll help you navigate our constantly-changing world? By changing how you think about mentors. Here are some do’s and don’ts that’ll help you get started.
Don’t look for one perfect mentor.
It’s better to connect with an assortment of people who can help you with different aspects of your career growth. You may want to focus on mentors in these areas:
- Technical expert: Someone you can turn to for help because they have an extensive knowledge of something you’d trying to learn, such as a new programming language.
- Soft skills coach: A manager you respect (not necessarily yours) who knows you and can give you advice on any interpersonal skills you need to work on, such as communication and teamwork.
- Natural networker: A well-connected former boss or colleague who will introduce you to the right people and help you build your professional network inside and outside of work.
- Inside advisor: Someone you currently work with (or who has recently left the company) who can advise you on how to advance internally, if that’s what you’re looking to do.
Do keep it casual.
Mentoring doesn’t have anything formal—it can be as simple as a onetime business lunch (and remember, you’re picking up the tab). Instead of asking your mentor to commit to ongoing meetings that plot out your whole career, just touch base when you’re at an impasse and feel like you need some guidance. Don’t even use the word “mentor”; saying something like “I really respect your work and I’d like to get your opinion on a few things” will make it easier for your busy potential mentor to say yes.
Don’t assume you’re too old for a mentor.
We are all in such a rapidly-changing environment that even experienced professionals can use some advice here and there; if you stay curious and keep learning you’ll be well-positioned to succeed. If you’re beyond your twenties, be open to the idea of a “reverse mentor,” someone younger than you who has, for example, technical or social media skills that you’d like to learn.
Do seek out women as mentors.
If you’re a woman looking to grow in your field or a new one, finding other women who’ve been where you are is incredibly important. Seek out women’s coding bootcamps like Women Who Code and Girl Develop It to learn new IT skills and make connections; some bootcamps, such as Hackbright Academy, have alumnae networks that will introduce you to mentors in your field. If you don’t want to enroll in a program, check out a few Women in Technology Meetups to find leaders in your community. Other fields such as marketing, engineering or finance will have similar resources you can pull from to help you meet others with similar interests.
Don’t forget to give back.
Mentors are willing to help you out because they’re awesome people, some of whom have been mentored themselves and want to pay it forward. But mentoring is also a powerful form of networking for the mentee and the mentor. Think about ways you can repay your mentor in the future, whether it’s offering to teach them a new skill, recommending them for a job, or just generally extolling their virtues to anyone who can advance their career. Who knows? Someday they may even call you for advice.