While many of us are working or studying from home, professional development can be challenging. In many cases, lessons and opportunities have to be self-directed, which can be difficult if you’re just starting out or starting over. One of the quickest paths to success, however, can be to find a mentor to help with the process.
In a survey by Olivet Nazarene University, 56% of respondents said they’ve had a mentor, but just 37% are currently being mentored. For those who have a mentor, 76% say the relationship is important. According to Harvard Business Review, 84% of CEOs who have mentors said they’ve avoided costly mistakes and became proficient in their roles faster, and 69% said mentors helped them make better decisions.
Call them the “been there, done that” secret weapon.
My son, Nick Vozza, is a college junior studying finance. He’s found mentors in Jason Bond and Jeff Bishop, the traders and cofounders behind RagingBull, a stock market coaching and educational resource company. His dream job is to be an options trader, but the ins and outs of that career path aren’t part of his degree curriculum. “I was teaching myself to trade by reading books, watching YouTube videos, and just googling terms,” he says. “I was getting broad knowledge, but I wanted more than just the basics.”
Apple software engineer Melody Yang credits her career success to her mentor, Ramsey Allington, chief of staff of hardware engineering for phones and wearables at Google whom she met a lunch and learn event. “I just started planning for my professional career,” she says. “I had no idea what I should do. I wished I had someone to give me advice. I also needed someone I felt comfortable being honest and direct with. That’s when I knew I needed a trustworthy mentor who had extensive experience in tech.”
Mentors—especially those who have achieved a level of success you hope to emulate one day—can provide advantages as you move along in your career.
Gaining access to expertise
A mentor doesn’t have to replace educational learning tools, but they can help make the lessons come alive. “You could find a book on selling options, but making sense of it in today’s market and in a particular trade can be a little bit more complex,” says Bond, RagingBull’s head trading coach. “I’m a big pusher of a bunch of books, probably 10 that I think are phenomenal. But a mentor can point you to the important things that you want to get out of this book and help a student make sense of the books.”
Yang turns to her mentor when she needs a sounding board. “Whenever I am in doubt or need help, I just email him,” she says. “Then we set up time to talk through ideas. He provides me with resources and helpful advice. I always go to him with specific questions to make efficient use of his time.”
Speeding up the learning curve
Mentoring can speed up the learning curve. Bishop, RagingBull’s head of options trading, has an undergraduate degree in finance and a master’s degree in economics. He taught himself to become a good trader, and says it took 10 years.
Bond, however, sped up the process by getting his own mentor: Bishop. Before starting his trading career, Bond taught physical education at an upstate New York elementary school. During his 10-year tenure, he also coached varsity basketball and cross-country track. When he decided to get into trading, he contacted Bishop for help because he knew the power of a good coach.
“Anyone who wants to go from point A to point B in anything that’s complicated and skill driven will benefit from a coach,” says Bond. “The coach should speed up the learning curve and help them avoid the pitfalls that they either experienced or know about, so you don’t make the same mistakes.”
Bishop says it took Bond less than a year to master the concept. “He became really good using a few key things that I’d identified over the years,” says Bishop. “He became a successful trader really quick. A mentor can help you identify things that make you better a lot faster.”
Developing your potential
Taking what you learn and putting it into action can be intimidating, and a mentor can help build your confidence as you take steps in your career and push you to keep going. Knowing where to start and how to execute effectively can help you take the right steps, says Bishop.
“We didn’t really teach Nick anything he didn’t know in practicality,” he says. “He knew what a call was, who knew what a put was, and he knew how the stock market worked. But the techniques that you show on top of that—how do you actually use that—that is where you get the value of mentoring.”
Yang says her mentor helped her overcome doubts she had as she was starting her career as a software developer. “[He] was the person who constantly reminded me of my achievements, encouraged me to explore new things, introduced me to opportunities, and cheered me on when others didn’t think I would make it,” she says. “Because he believed in me, I was able to believe in myself. He saw my potential to thrive in the intersection of business and technology. Therefore, he guided me through the process of becoming an engineer who knows how to build products people need.”
Having a relationship with someone who is further ahead in your field also provides insights, inspiration, and a sense of optimism for the future. “My goal was to tap into the tech industry in Silicon Valley,” says Yang. “I had an avid interest in learning people’s career stories and how they succeeded. If I knew what steps they took to get to where they were, I would like to replicate some of their steps. Since my mentor was a successful leader at Google and in the tech world, I wanted to learn from him and considered him as a role model.”
Bond says being a mentor is inspiring, as well. “When you learn something in life, you want to share it with people,” he says. “And when somebody shares your passion and enthusiasm and they’re dialed in, wanting to learn, it makes me excited to share it. My energy level goes up almost like a shot of caffeine.”