We tend to think older means wiser, but sometimes the best learning comes from our peers. Schools that use peer-tutoring programs have found the dynamic leads to higher academic achievement, and the relationship between students fosters social development and motivation.
But what about the kind of learning that’s done out of school–what about when you’re looking for a mentor?
“People typically look for those who have more experience, but anyone can be a rock star,” says Krisi Rossi O’Donnell, vice president of staffing and recruiting at LaSalle Network. In fact, she believes your best mentor might be the woman who sits next to you at work or the guy in the department down the hall.
A creative approach to professional growth, a colleague mentor is different than an accountability partner because he or she isn’t there to keep you on track to meet your goals, O’Donnell says: “They provide guidance, a sounding board and support,” she says.
To identify a good candidate, look for someone in your company at about the same level who is currently excelling–someone the leadership team acknowledges as having a promising future. Don’t choose a friend and stay away from those who gossip.
“It’s typically someone who has a work ethic or work product you admire–whether they’ve been at the company for 10 years or one,” says O’Donnell. She suggests that you look for qualities associated with success, such as aggressiveness, creativeness, ambition, and attentiveness.
When O’Donnell started her career 10 years ago, she tapped an entry-level salesperson who had been with the company for a year to be her mentor. “I recognized her strengths and knew she would be a key player,” she says. “I wanted to learn from her and grow alongside her.”
Today, O’Donnell’s mentor is the firm’s chief revenue officer: “Not only have we developed a strong friendship, but I know she contributed immensely to the professional I am today,” says O’Donnell.
Having a companion while climbing the corporate ladder is one benefit to choosing a coworker to be a mentor; O’Donnell shares six more reasons to seek out a coworker for career advice:
When your mentor works at the same company, the feedback is based on first-hand knowledge of your work, says O’Donnell.
“They know [your] tendencies, and have no reason not to be honest,” she says. “Peers might also be going through the same type of situation, making the relationship mutually beneficial.”
Being in the same office means the mentor has a deep understanding of the company. If they are in a different department, they can offer a different perspective.
“People don’t realize how someone’s role can influence a project when they’re part of a different department,” she says. “Different mindsets spawn different conversations and solutions.”
Working in the same office means it can be easier to get advice right when you need it, says O’Donnell. But don’t assume just because they’re handy that you can drop in, cancel your meetings at last minute. or show up late.
“Be professional,” she says. “The goal for these meetings is to become better.”
When your mentor is a peer, it can be easier to share your feelings and ask questions, says O’Donnell.
“This arrangement can foster a higher level of trust, since you aren’t discussing your goals and challenges with someone in leadership,” she says.
When pairing up with someone from the company, they can share their knowledge and perspective about the company.
“Everyone knows different things and everyone looks at the same things differently,” O’Donnell says.
A colleague-based mentorship can create a long-term powerful friendship, says O’Donnell.
“If you latch onto someone who is uber successful and gets promoted, in three years that can become a reflection of your career path,” she says.