We get it, finding a mentor can be difficult and time-consuming. But when you do find one (or two), they can save you from making costly mistakes that can set you back in your career. Simply put, having a mentor will improve the quality of your decisions and provide opportunities that won’t be available to you otherwise.
There’s this idea that that mentors are older people with established careers and well-honed skill sets who provide guidance to younger mentees, but this isn’t always the case. The key to success is selecting the mentor who best suits your needs at any given stage of your career: entry level, middle management level, or executive level. If you’re an entrepreneur or creative person, you can think of these stages as early career, mid-career, and advanced career.
Things To Consider
Regardless of where you are in your career, it’s important to bear in mind that there are two aspects of working with someone else–essence and form. Essence is all about sharing heart-to-heart and finding common values. Form is about structure–how you will work together.
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor, meet with them first to find out if that person is a good match in terms of essence. Do your values align? Do your personalities click? Does the conversation flow?
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If you and your potential mentor have passed the essence test, you can move on to the form aspect of working together–what you intend to accomplish, how you intend to achieve your mission, when you’ll communicate, and where you’ll work together.
Early Or Entry Level
If you have recently started a job, you can expect to receive on-the-job training. If you’re lucky, your new employer might have a new hire mentoring program. Take this opportunity if you have it, because that person will not only understand the basics of the job, but they’ll be in a good place to tell you how to chart your career path.
Remember that entry level doesn’t necessarily mean youth. In today’s workplace, more and more baby boomers are beginning second careers. This trend was dramatized in the 2015 film, “The Intern,” where a 70-year-old widower (Robert De Niro), hoping to update his skills, accepts a job as an intern for an online retailer and becomes the mentee of its 30-something founder and CEO, Jules (Anne Hathaway). The film not only highlights a classic case of reverse mentoring, but also shows how mutually beneficial entry-level mentoring can be.
Mid-Career Or Management Level
Once you’ve settled in and learned the basics of your job, the emphasis will shift from technical skills to people and relationship skills. Your best mentor at this middle stage may be a peer–someone at your same skill and career level–because these people will be familiar with the kinds of challenges you face each day. To avoid conflicts of interest, it may be wise to seek a mentor in the same field but work for a different organization.
This strategy is advocated by Eileen Carey, the CEO of Glassbreakers, a Tinder-like online platform that matches female product managers, software engineers, data scientists, and other tech professionals with peer mentors.
Related: The Case For Co-Mentoring
“We’ve found that peer mentorship was more helpful to women that we spoke with than mentorship from women 5 to 10 years above you. People your age understand your context better and can help you move forward,” says Carey.
Executive Or Master Level
If you’ve reached the C suite or have attained a secure spot at the top of your chosen profession, it’s time to start thinking about becoming a mentor. This is an excellent way to experience the truth of the old adage, “It is better to give than to receive.” The rewards of passing along knowledge and wisdom may not be measured by promotions and increased earnings, but you’ll be enriched by a deep sense of purpose and joy.
Again, the executive or master stage is defined more by competence than age. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage when you have valuable wisdom and experience that can benefit others. For example, you may be a 28-year-old tech master, ready to mentor middle-aged but less experienced people in your field. The point is that you’ve become a leader and now it’s your turn to cultivate future leaders.
Being an executive or master mentor means that you are a role model, which means you will be guiding your mentee as much by what you do as by what you say. In fact, the best senior-level mentors employ top-notch listening and questioning skills, to draw out the concerns and aspirations of their mentees. When you do speak, be candid. Let your mentee learn from your failures, so they don’t have to make the same mistakes.
As we point out in our book One Minute Mentoring, behind even the most independent achiever is a person or group of people who helped that person succeed. So whether you’re at the early, middle, or advanced stage of your career, get into a mentoring relationship. It’s a proven path to reaching your goals, increasing your influence, and finding meaning.
Ken Blanchard and Claire Diaz-Ortiz are co-authors of One Minute Mentoring (William Morrow).