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The Most Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned From My Mentor

From the small things like the importance of writing short emails to the big stuff like realizing that even your idols are human.

The Most Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned From My Mentor
[Photo: Flickr user Danoobiel]

If you haven’t figured this out by now, mentorship is essential for your career, for the adventures of adulthood, and for life in general. And the person who’s helped me the most so far isn’t my mom’s cousin’s BFF. It’s C. Jay Steigerwald, the co-president of Carey Financial, LCC (who happens to be my uncle).

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He’s taught me how to be assertive and go after what I want, and his commanding and bold guidance is something I don’t have from my other mentors. Plus, he’s always been supportive of my passions, helped me to lean in, and pushed me to sit at the table, even when I didn’t think I was ready. Here are the most notable and impactful lessons my male mentor has taught me:

1. Don’t Name Numbers First

Negotiating is scary, especially because you could screw yourself out of a few thousand dollars. Jay has always told me to wait for the employer to bring up salary when you get a job offer. “Generally, the one to bring up money first loses in the negotiation process,” he told me. “If you say you want $50,000, they might have budgeted $75,000 for the hire, and you just left $25,000 on the table.” Hearing him say that really made me think, and helped me plan out what to say during my next negotiation.

2. Make Bold Moves

Jay taught me to take a moment after a job interview to say, “Thank you for interviewing me. [Insert name], I want this job. What more can I do to convince you I’m the right fit?” With his help, I’ve learned to be bolder about what I want. Bold moves are what create a lasting impression.

3. No One Likes A Novel-Length Email

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” It’s what Jay has always told me about emails (who knew Shakespeare could help with work?). People are busy and don’t want to read paragraphs in an email, so I’ve learned to keep them brief (three sentences max), show my appreciation, and eliminate the fluff.

4. Ask for What You Want

I know there’s going to be a time in my career when I need to ask for a more flexible work schedule or time off for a family vacation. Jay has always told me that there’s a polite way to do so, and offering something in return almost always guarantees an approved request. His words that will always stay in my head: “Work hard and make them love you.”

5. Even Your Idols Are Human.

I remember saying to my uncle a few years ago: “If I ever had the chance to work at Vogue under Anna Wintour, I think I would die. I would be in awe and completely terrified!” In response to my terror, my uncle replied, “We’re all just people at the end of the day. We all get sick; we all have families; we all screw up; we’re all just people.” What he was trying to tell me is that I shouldn’t be afraid of anyone for their prestige or reputation. He prompted me to visualize the experts I admire doing other less-than-glamorous things. These visuals put it into perspective. We’re all just people, like he said. To this day, I think of this down-to-earth perspective to calm my nerves when interviewing someone important for a piece I’m writing, or connecting with an individual I highly respect. I should always be polite and humble, but I shouldn’t let someone make me anxious. We’re all just people.

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6. Make Meaningful Connections

In Jay’s role with Carey Financial, he makes speeches to hundreds of people several times a year. He’s guided me to see the importance in establishing connections with people to create lasting, positive impressions. Any time I asked him about public speaking, he’s always said, “If you feel comfortable, get up there and share some details. Let them know you.”

My own pro tip: Talk about pets. Everyone loves bragging about their furry, four-legged best friend.

This article originally appeared on Levo League and is reprinted with permission.

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